Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan
Psychiatrist

Cigarette: Seems to be in the memories although it isn’t!

Cigara: Anılarda Var Gibi Ama Yok Aslında!

At the age of six, we used to collect cigarette butts from the streets.  With my uncle’s son.  On the streets of Maraş.  Using our holiday allowances, we used to buy Astor and Kent.  They were bootlegged cigarettes.  Full of scents in colorful boxes.  One pack would last a movie.  At indoor movie houses.  Smoking was allowed everywhere.  Even in operating rooms.  In those years.  We were fully covered with smoke during intercity trips.  Cigarette smoke was accompanied by the smell of sweat, feet, and lahmacun stuffed with onions. I would say they were almost making love, and not accompanying one another.

When I was hosting an open radio program, I was going to learn from a teacher that my journey had already begun in the womb.  That’s to say, I was already addicted to nicotine through umbilical cord as my mother was a chain smoker.  Just my mother?  My entire family consisted of chain smokers.  Nana Leyla, Grandpa Memduh, my father, all of them…

I still remember the first puffs of the morning that would make my head spin.  With those long Maltepes.  In the eighth grade.  At home.  Hiding it from my father.  In the toilet.

When I graduated from the secondary school, ranking first, my mother offered me a cigarette with her own hands, saying “light one up”… That was the moment that I felt legalized.  I reached the light from the darkness of the underground, holding my cigarette.

My uncle would give ten-pack cigarettes to us, two adolescents.  There were some other packs bought with the allowances…

My dear grandfather smoked Yenice.  He was the first and only person to have ever told me “tobacco is very bad for health. You should stay away from it.”… And he ranked first in the list of those who left it.  What a beautiful man he was…

It was during my high school years.  I used to smoke ceaselessly at school, at every space, indoor or outdoor.  And I had a number of friends accompanying me.  As a matter of fact, we were the majority.  We would smoke nonstop, except for a couple of “buzzkills”. While playing cards or drinking… While listening to music.  While playing the saz… All the time…

This cigarette addiction of mine was in full flow during my university years, reaching three packs a day from time to time.  The walls and curtains of my small room in Göztepe/Istanbul were dyed with the nicotine color.   I would have heartburns. I had to take antacids constantly.

It accompanied each and every feeling I had, when I was sad, happy, excited, afraid, curious… You can’t even imagine.  It was such a fondness that you might consider never-ending.

As everyone who knew me was well aware, it was a part of me…

Almost half of my allowance was spent on Camel during the hard times in America.  English, medicine, and all kinds of scientific facts, all were covered with smoke in my mind. I would fail to read or think without smoking.  I could not even go to libraries.  I went so far that the Professor, who saw me run to the garden and come back for thirty times a day, was going to say, “You are allowed to smoke!”, which made me privileged at the NIH.  Oh, Phil Skolnick!  The current NIH chief.  I also smoked with him in the building…

Cigarette led to such beautiful friendships.  Yet there were also friendships that ended as one party said “go get your own cigarettes”; in brief, it was right at the heart of human relations.

The shortness of breath, which was with me from the very beginning, was going to increase in the last years.  Cough was going to be a symptom that defined me.  I was going to have to apologize to the entire country at the television shows that I appeared on…

From then on, friendships began to fall into oblivion, and painful memories started.  For instance, one time, I was going to lose consciousness due to coughing and ride the car into the crowd at a pedestrian crossing in Beşiktaş. Thankfully, the left front tire got stuck into the sidewalk and was torn into pieces… Or else! God protected me once again.  The policeman changing the tire with his hands over there was going to be an unforgettable example of humanism.

Henceforth, I was pitiful.  I was going to try to quit countless times only to fail to do so.

Then, finally, I decided swear on the Book.  It wasn’t going to be possible to quit without the help of God.  Because cigarette was an indispensable molecule of each one my cells…

Finally, I swore an oath. I quit.  I completely quit when I was smoking at least three packs a day.  And from then on, it suddenly disappeared.  I forgot about it.  I felt as if I had never met it…

It didn’t come to my mind even at the biggest moments of stress… An addiction of forty-five years, the womb included, came to an end.

What’s written in the books was true.  It was the strongest of the addictions.  Yet it was a must to try quitting countless times.  Without giving up.  Without getting tired.

It’s interesting, though.  It was leaving its place in the memories in a short period of time.

That’s to say, the years of smoking were actually the years that passed by without smoking.  Then, who needed it?  And my grandfather was right once again.

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