"I told you so."

October 9, 2007
By Catherine Gasaway, Mabelvale, AR

It's 5 a.m., and I'm wide awake. I shouldn't be awake--I still have an hour of hard earned sleep left before the cell phone on my pillow goes off, the Red Hot Chili Peppers song coaxing me awake to meet the day. I fight hard, struggling to hold onto the hour I have left. I'm warm,burrowing lower under my black comforter. It's calm and dark in my room. And it should be silent. I shove my pillow harder over my ears, hoping for silence. But through the slight muffling the pillow provides, I still hear the wet, hacking cough coming from the opposite end of the house. The wet, hacking cough I wake up to every morning. The wet hacking cough that comes from 30+ years of smoking.

I first noticed it when I was seven. I'd always been told "don't touch this, don't touch that," and up to this point, my seven year old mind was more interested in playing with Barbies than in questioning why I wasn't supposed to touch something. I knew that if I touched mommy or daddy's cigarettes, I'd get in trouble. Good enough for my seven year old state of mind. Then I hit first grade, and with that comes new and amazing things. Like visits from the school counselor and my first drug and alcohol lectures: "don't do drugs, don't drink alcohol, don't talk to strangers!" I saw the logic in all of these things--drugs, alcohol, and strangers in vans waving candy around could hurt me, so I had to stay away. Simple. Got it.

Only, under the big, bright red "x" on the poster urging me not to do drugs was something I saw dangling from my parents' fingers everyday. Something I had been warned not to touch all my life. A lit cigarette.

But tobacco kills. Mr. Whitlow, my counselor, said so. Why would my parents take part in something that could kill them? I was shocked, confused, and scared. My first grade mind was unequipped to handle the myriad of emotions. Here began my zero tolerance for smoking.

Fifty-five percent of Americans are addicted to smoking cigarettes or smoke cigarettes regularly. I wonder if any of them ever had recurring nightmares featuring dark, smoke filled
rooms and the deaths of their parents. Ever spared a thought for those around them, inhaling the smoke. Ever once thought about what's in a cigarette: arsenic, benzene, ammonia, carbon
monoxide, etc.

I have a "No Smoking" sign posted on my bedroom door. I finally got over the phase where I posted them in my house on every avaliable surface. I refuse, with every bit of stubborness I possess, to be around anyone who's smoking--I see smoking as an utter lack of respect, a "let me blow arsenic enriched smoke in your face" sort of thing. I wash my clothes, continously, one time after another, to try and scrub out the smoky smell I relate with death. But it never seems to fade. The fact that my parents smoke will always keep me from respecting them as much as I could. Everytime my sister erupts in a king-sized asthma attack; I lose respect for them with every wheezing gasp for air.

And it scares me. I don't want to be 25 and burying my parents. I don't want to toss that first handful of soil onto their coffins, thinking "I told you so."

I don't want to see a friend talking through a hole in his or her throat, thinking "I told you so."

I don't want to be lying in a hospital, one of over 440, 000 other people suffering from secondhand smoke related illness, thinking--

"I told you so."

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