The Sorriest Kind of Suicide
I remember my good friend Jessica my senior year of high school, wearing a funny T-shirt to school on a dress down day. This shirt had in bold black letters, "NO SMORKING," with an American no smoking sign on the front. She bought the T-shirt off , a website devoted to the Japanese slang, crossing the Japanese and the English languages. I remember her talking about how much she hated when people around her smoked and I always nodded my head in agreement.
Inside it was a deep profound understanding of the many effects of smoking, and a reminder of how much it angers me when people still, despite all the information and warnings, choose to smoke.
I have always had the opportunity to smoke, but never the temptation to engage in this type of activity. I just always knew the effects of smoking first hand. On a summer trip to Europe with different classmates, almost everyone decided to smoke, including people who never tried it before. Instantly they were hooked on the drug more addictive than heroin. Some of those people smoked for months after the trip to Europe. They were caught, trapped, and ensnared by the pressure to try something new, something that in the United States was illegal for them since they were under eighteen. The indigenous people of Europe smoked, as there was hardly a time I did not see someone with a cigarette in hand, so they thought why should they not try? I asked many people on this trip; some of them my classmates for almost four years, why would they choose to kill themselves slowly. One answer I got haunts me still; from a healthy vegetarian girl no less. "We all have to die of something."
Something. Something? Something! You want to die of something? Do you even understand what you were saying? Cancer is not something; it is everything. It gets deep into the human system and rarely gets out. It consumes everything a person is, their life, their lifestyle, their family, their future, their self entirely. Something is benign; Cancer is every breath you take.
I guess she wants to kill herself leisurely. Fine by me. Maybe her family feels different. Maybe her father, or her mother, or her sister, or her dog wants her to live, instead of having them say "I had a daughter, a sister, or a owner."
I had an uncle. He would have been forty-nine this year on September 28. Uncle Johnny was very special to all of us in my family. He was almost as tall as Abraham Lincoln, 6'2", dark hair, curled and frizzed, (almost an afro), dark eyed lean and muscular; a would have been athlete if it was not for a dog mauling that happened when he was ten. Still despite his past, he rode his bicycle from my grandma's house in Hyattsville, MD all the way to Ocean City, MD, about a four-hour drive by car. His endurance outdid most. He always amazed me with everything he did. He loved sports, especially basketball. He enjoyed rock music thoroughly. He made me a mixed tape once full of these rock songs with expletives and suggestive content and gave it to me when I was naïve enough not to understand what was happening. He was a free rebel and fun loving, and had always been in trouble. He was stubborn as a mule and proud of it. He never officially graduated high school and was in construction. For a while, he was always needed money, and my mother was the one to lend it to him. No matter what situation he was in, he always bought me little trinkets and gave me all the little free stuff he won on radio contests. I had more beer memorabilia by the age of twelve than anyone could imagine.
He gave me little stuff because I was his favorite niece. My older cousins were college age, and I was always at my grandmother's house where he lived since she took care of me when I was not in school. He would play with me active games and take me on walks. One of my most vivid memories of him was when the Bodyguard soundtrack was number one in the nation. I was coming downstairs to play in my grandmother's basement at the age of seven, and he heard me. He immediately turned up Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" and started singing the song to me. He sang the song about me. He grabbed me on the stairs, but I was laughing and wiggling away from him, him singing the song all the while, tickling me until I could not breathe. I can still hear him singing and see him dancing in front of me, as silly as ever.
I remember him taking me for walks in the woods to the neighborhood playground to play on the basketball courts. I always asked him why he put two pairs of socks on in the summer. It always baffled me. He always responded with it did not make his feet sweat so much. No matter what questions I asked when I was little, he always had little bits of wisdom that stick with me even now. Another instance is when he was driving me to play in his pool at his apartment building he shared with his longtime girlfriend. I kept flinching because I thought he was going to hit all these birds in the road, and as being the ten-year-old animal lover, he told me not to worry about the birds when I was driving, they always fly away, but squirrels on the other hand were not so lucky. He always responded to any question bluntly, in his gruff voice. The best illustration of this when I was going though my boy band phase, and this BBMAK song came on the radio. He turned to me and said, "Don't tell me you like this pop shit." I laughed girlishly and he quickly switched the radio to something much better.
Despite all these good things that happened, all the while he smoked. In the car, waiting, with most of my family on my grandma's back porch. He had been smoking since he was twelve, and smoking for that long is bound to do some damage, especially when he had been drinking for a long time too. The doctors said that him smoking and drinking made his throat raw, and invited the carcinogens to make their nest. He was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in the spring of 1999, when I was in seventh grade. The cancer spread all around his vocal chords, and all the way through the region. He quickly underwent a surgery that took out his vocal chords and most of his larynx. He breathed through a hole in his neck and spoke out of an artificial box that he had to stick in the hole. It was heart wrenching seeing that strong of a man go so weak and gray in such a short amount of time. My mom and I visited him soon after his surgery, and we were there to help my grandmother out because he needed constant care. His bandages needed to be changed since the cancer kept pouring out along with gross discharge, his liquid food he ate through a tube in his stomach needed to be poured, his pain pills needed to be administered, and he did not need to be alone.
I remember sitting in that apartment playing my game boy, occasionally glancing up to see how he was doing. He slept most of the time, and day by day, he grew thinner and thinner, where his ribs were seen under his skin. I saw a hero fall.
I saw my hero fall.
I remembered how I would always rummage though his wallet out of curiosity, and he would tell me he had the most beautiful love in the world. I would say who. He would respond by pointing at my current school picture he always carried around with him and then kiss me. Again, I would giggle. Now the strong man who carried me around the yard just because, who would joke and tease me constantly, never in a bad way, could barely lift his eyelids.
One year after his surgery, he was fully recovered and active once again. He even took me to his pool the next summer. He asked me how the water was, and I told him it was perfect. However, he noticed I never swam but walked around in the water, so he bought me a noodle, and a snorkel mask and breathing tube so I would not be bored. "When you are bored, I am bored." All he could do was sit there sunbathing and watch me; like the little boy who broke his leg looking at his friends playing football. Water would drown him if he swam because it would go through the hole in his throat. Sometimes I would watch him on the shore. He was either drinking a beer, or sleeping, and yes, sadly enough, still smoking. He still sat there looking at me, and when he realized that I did not know how to swim I took swimming lessons by his grace. He would ask me to swim for him since he could not anymore, and I did. Despite his illness all that time he was docile and cheerful.
Yet from that summer forward, he declined rapidly. He could actually eat some solid foods, but soon he would choke and the food would come out mangled and covered with saliva. It was not something pleasant to see at the dinner table, but having the strong stomach that I do, I never lost my appetite. Tears just invaded my eyes because he could not eat his favorite meal of steak, my grandmother's famous mashed potatoes, and green beans anymore, and he became bone thin once more. He worsened and worsened.
Then I had to do the hardest thing I have ever done; I had to write a goodbye letter. He was going under quickly and he had another procedure to get rid of some more of the cancer that kept growing. My mother went up to be with him, and I would have except I had school. This occurrence was right at the beginning of my first year of high school. I wrote clichéd messages in the letter, but then they probably meant the world. I even wrote a little poem for him because I was starting to write:
I Dreamed a Dream
I dreamed a dream of happiness
And you were there
I dreamed a dream of happiness
A smile on your face
Without a care
My mother told me he broke down when he read it. Ever seen a grown man cry? No matter what they tell you they do.
By January, he had passed away. He was gone so quickly, in less than two years. He died January 8, 2001, and my grandfather had died two years before on the tenth; Johnny was a pallbearer at my grandfather his father's, funeral despite his weak deposition. He was still so strong afterwards. At Johnny's funeral, I remember when my aunt was trying to pick out the music for the funeral, and they could not think of which song to play at the exit. I was sitting on the stairs, thinking about all of his favorite songs: Hotel California, Steal My Sunshine, and than it hit me. "How about 'I Will Always Love You?'" I immediately broke down myself and hugged my mother.
At the funeral's exit, I listened to the lyrics of the song for the first time ever intently. It was Johnny's song to everyone upon saying goodbye.
It is said that each cigarette smoked takes five minutes off the smoker's life. When I think about it most of my family has smoked for decades. A close friend smokes, and I have known a few others who have too. I question why, why must they commit the sorriest kind of suicide when they can spend five more minutes saying how much they love those dear, and know how much they were loved. Every second is precious, why would anyone want to waste it?
The worst thing about smoking is that most of society probably does not care about smoking and think it is a choice, and it is not their problem. Since there are many debilitating illnesses that are caused by smoking, than everyone should care. Taking care of an aging population who have smoked puts a drain on the health care system. Also second hand smoke is a problem as well, because it is just as dangerous as first hand smoke and endangers other people's lives. Hence it could be said that the choice to smoke is a choice to expose others to danger.
I just do not understand the stupidity of people who still smoke. It is hurtful for anyone around the second hand smoke, not just for the sole person making the choice to destroy their organs. However, it does not make sense in my mind why someone would want to kill themselves slowly over twenty, thirty, or forty years. They can do it, but it is the stupidest choice anyone could make. It is not 'cool' to kill yourself, and not everyone is doing it. What is going on in their minds? There should be no reason to smoke, and there should be no pressure to do so. It should not be a choice for people to think about period. In that time it takes to make that decision to smoke or not to smoke, it would be one second everyone would be thankful for if they decided to do the logical and sensible thing. Who wants Cancer? When has Cancer become the 'in' thing?
Hold on to those relatives who smoke because one day they will not be there. They will be in the hospital bed, regretting that first cigarette, coughing up tumors and die of suffocation from what they chose to inhale. You will be in the room suffocating on the stench that cancer causes when it leaks out of the system. You will be the one crying at the funeral. You will be the one to write an essay or to tell a tale, not beginning with "Once upon a time," but with, "I had a mother, father, grandmother, sister, friend, who died of what they willfully chose to do." Never commit the sorriest kind of suicide, why, why? Too many people around you love you too much to let you go.