Most people do not realize what is it like be irrationaly connected, on the deep corners of our minds, to something amazingly strong, an evil that cannot be defeated, a dark demon, a phobia. I have been attached to one of these fears for as long as I can remember, and to this day, and night, I can recall more disturbance in my mind caused by it, than by any other single factor, with the notable exception of my best friend’s death. A phobia has no place in other people’s mind, for they are too occupied doing their deeds and living their lives to wonder if is there something they consider ridiculously harmless that might hunt you at night, make you cry alone on the bed and shake uncontrolably in what seems like a joke of God. And they are right, I can’t stop living my life with a cell phone just because of the sheer remote possibility that someone experiences my having it as countless pain, enduring as long as he thinks of it. It takes years, shattering years to first understand that this rules applies to your phobia as well.
I don’t like cigarretes. More than that, I can’t stand cigarretes, actually, to be precise, when I see someone I like smoking, I experience pain. One may think, “Well, that is a great thing, you will influence people to stop, and that is good” Not. It is not like if I felt like I should make a comment about healthy habits, be ignored with a deep puf of smoke, and then life goes on as if it didn’t happen. This is not the kind of pain you can associate with disconfort, or a needle (unless that is your phobia) or someone punching you in the stomach. When I am around someone who is in the verge of starting smoking, or that has just about started, I feel like I am at war. To be at war is to be afraid all the time, for you do not know when the next buzz that seems like just another insect will crash your skull and enter and destroy your brain before you can figure it was a bullet. When I am at war, constantly my back contracts, sending what I feel to be packages of adrenalin to my muscles, speacially on the back and the legs, if the war was real, that would be great, for it would in fact help me move quickly and think about what to do next, but I am just walking around with one of my friends in a very sunny day by the streets of my city. With no raison d’être, the adrenalin becomes a memory stamper, giving me acute muscular contraction, loss of blood pressure, dry mouth, visceral pain and a clean and distinct picture of the moment, so that in the next few years on unlucky days I can have it presented back to me during my nightmares.
It may sound as if I am exaggerating, I am not, I hold, and can instantly retrieve in this very moment, a mental picture of ten people (no guess, TEN people) , in the exact first moment I saw them smoking, or heard from a reliably source they started doing so. In the honest process of checking whether I could in fact retrieve some of those passages, I had to do so. In the process, my hands and arms got cold, my right hand shook, it brought me the lyrics of Roger Waters to my mind, but I hear a “can’t” instead of a “can”
“Hello, hello, hello
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?
Come on, come on down,
I hear you’re feeling down.
Well I can’t ease your pain,
Get you on your feet again. “
“When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look, but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child has grown, the dream is gone.”
Now you begin to have an idea of what it feel like. I write this text as a cry of desperation, as if I were calling the universe itself, and saying “Okay, I have bluntly admitted to feel it, now, can you please, by all means, ease my pain, isn’t that how it is supposed to work? You aknowledge the problem, you accept it and it is solved, please help me. “ And all I get is another answer from Waters, nothing “But the blind indifference of a merciless unfeeling world”
To be at war is not just about fear, constant deep fear that something utterly unexpected might befall upon you or the ones you love. It is about loss. I have no clue of what might have been felt by the soldiers during all the wars past, present and future, but I do know what is it like to feel in a battle against a silent enemy, and sooner than I think, have to watch a friend’s fall. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is not that people simply die for me when they smoke, this was only the first four years, it is that something dies in their place. It is partially infancy, it is to some extend peace, but it is, most of all faith. My faith in the world decreases to a crushing zero point stability, when that happens. I cry as I write the last phrase, feeling the horror of the infinity of life and my impotency in front of it. My breath cannot be dragged back to normality, all I can feel is that, thus far, I have been losing the battle, but how could I ever win, no one starts life smoking, I only have to loose, since everyone started on my side. It aches. I do not want to stop writing, I want to see where this leads, I still believe there might be something good coming out of it. Crying stops. Oh, the unbearable feeling that there might have been something I could have done, there was an alternative way. Of course, when I think of it rationally I do understand that people are simply living their lifes, and making their choices, and it is just in my own inner world, that, not to cut the Waters string of thought: “Each small candle lights a corner of the dark”.
The worst thing about my abnormal fear and hatred is not what it makes me feel, but the immense disproportion between the importance I give to it, and the importance that others give to it. Take for instance an episode, in which a friend, who started smoking a few years ago decided to smoke after we and another friend ate some pizza. The one who didn’t smoke asked for one, maybe just because he had to wait anyway. I was like I had been frozen alive and dragged to my car, supposeddly to wait for them. But all I could think of was “I must find an excuse to go away, to stop seeing that, to stop the pain, to feel the blood back to my veins”. What an absolutely crazy, insane situation, how could I ever expect anyone to understand what not even I could? And so I did, I made up the first excuse I could that was strong enough, and got home as quickly as I could. I knew all the time that going away wouldn’t make him smoke less, maybe it is the case that, if I had told him the reason I was leaving, it would even make him smoke more (after all, what is a little sarcastic joke with your friend who stubbornly keeps telling people that smoking is bad?). But I had not left for self-tricking, I left to suffer alone. I know how stupid and ridiculous I am for picturing invisible battles in the dark abysses of the merciless unfeeling world. For that reason, I suffer alone, I do not need the extra feeling of feeling an outcast to cherry-top the decay of a loved one. I need not be told how absurd is what I feel, and how I should be concerned with my own life.
As with all fears, not looking at it is slightly better than both knowing and looking, so it is enormously tragic to see someone asking for a cigarrete or picking up a package when I know that I have to be around, such as when we are alone.
But not all and each of them is ignorant of the degree of my pain. All but one know that I hate it, they hear me say how much I hate it, and how I feel bad about it sometimes, but only some three have heard the phrase that I consider that best expresses what I mean by the dark abyss: “I know that you do not know how I feel, for I am sure, absolutely sure, that if you knew, you would never smoke in front of me again” It is true, if I knew there was something that I could do not to trigger such a feeling into someones heart, and that the effort for me was only that big (say, not to ever eat in front of him) I would undoubtely do it. The thing is, there might be such a thing, but, just like me, people are not willing to tell. I can never know, and, in practice, never help.
As a growing adolescent, unaware of my relative importance to other peoples affairs, I took those who started smoking as enemies, as if they were to be blamed with the fires of hell, just for choosing to make me feel like they did. What an egocentric bastard am I. I really believed that it was on purpose for about four years, counting from the first episode, when I was eleven.
I said all but one are partially aware of my condition. The reason why there is one who knows is that for once I feared more the prospect of losing that one unexpectedly than I feared having to tell her the story. This part of the story is the one that involves betrayal and nightmares. I am not a jealous person, never was, not for romantic relashionships at least. I have many times imagined, and sometimes dreamed of her (my girfriend) kissing other guys, that was no evil, sometimes just a little strange, or weird, but never something to be worried about. One night, though, I have felt what I now consider to be an outrageous feeling equivalent to jealousy in other people, that made me suffer more than most of what ever happened to me. I could actually count on one hand how many times I felt that much pain, impotence, and self-absorbed confused anger towards the world. I had dreamed that she was underneath a three, on the corner of a crossroad, standing peacefully, and simply got a cigarrete, lit it, and started puffing, looking at me purposefully as if no big deal was going, with a clear intention of hurting. I woke up to a dry mouth drowning in a lake of tears. I woke up so scared I almost jumped, and as I came to gather the parts of the dream, my tears got thicker and started mixing up with saliva, nose fluid, and whatever it is that can drop out from a terrified, confused, lone human being, faced with the intentional betrayal of the one he loves. You could ask if I didn’t realize it was a dream, but that is not how it works, once you set such a feeling cascade, nothing can stop it, you will see the waterfall flow to the end of it, and so it was. Some forty minutes later I managed to call her, told as well as I could the dredge of the experience, and asked her, by all means, to do whatever was to me, but to never, under any circumstance, smoke behind my back. Now imagine yourself in this poor girls place, would you not feel a heavy burden if you ever felt the urge to smoke? Was I allowed, in the canons of the rules of the world, to do what I have done? I do not know, but I felt like I’d die if I didn’t ask her that. Looking backward, I do not think it was such an outrageous thing to ask, she was never interested anyway, and she did, and still does, care about my feelings enough not to ruin my life without a strong need. You see how poisoned is my mind, should I ever have written the ruin my life right behind here? Of course not, I know that such a thing would never cause my heart to stop or my projects not to take place, but that is how I feel it. I am a rational person, most of the time, but when I try to think of issues that relate to the dark abyss within me, reason is powerless, logic has no place, each small candle lights a corner of the dark.
Today I once again dreamed of it, there were two others this time, also friends, dream-like unfaced characters, fortunately, there was no dark purpose in any of their faces, they were completely unaware of any harm they might be doing, so was she. I cannot however depend forever on the choices of people of taking care of my fear for me. She is no longer my girlfriend, and when I sent her the message today, I feared immensely that the game had changed, that after our last fight she no longer cared for my feelings as much as she did before, and she would answer “Well, pity for you, for I started smoking two weeks ago, start getting used to it.” Perceive that I am, on rational level, completely aware that she does indeed no longer care for me as much as she did, how could she? after all, our lives are still flowing, and new feelings and worries come to all of us. I should be grateful that one, I can still send her a message, and two, I am aware that even if I did no longer exist, she still would have her own reasons for not smoking, which are as simple as “I don’t like it”. From where I stand, within the abyss of my own fear, no paths can be seen that would bring me light. I foresee that it will continue to happen, just as it has, weakening a little bit every year, like all the bad things that we start getting somehow used to. As an ex nigerian Military told Chris Abani: “ It will always be difficult, but if you cry like this every time, you will die of heartbreak. Just know that it is enough sometimes to know that it is difficult” It is in order to achieve this state of mind that I have written this text, and I hope for this one time, the universe shares a bit more light than it has so far done for me in this issue.