I had asthma when I was a kid. I was too young to remember the severity of the attacks, but I do remember being fed some concoction that involved buntot ng butiki and dahon ng kalachuchi. I don’t remember the taste at all — maybe it wasn’t that bad? I dunno.
When I started school I realized that I preferred staying indoors. I didn’t mind missing the outdoor fun. I was always the most useless player in a game anyway. The only “sport” I excelled at was hula-hoops. I swear, baks, nobody could ever beat me at hula-hoops.
I stopped having asthma attacks so I thought I was able to outgrow the disease. At 17, I started smoking.
At first I would smoke secretly in the unlit backyard of our boarding house. I learned from friends that there was a “correct” way to smoke, and I took that as a challenge. I bought cigarettes by tingi — one or two sticks at a time from the takatak manong at Philcoa — and I endured the mosquito bites in the dingy corner of our bakuran while I trained my lungs to accept nicotine.
The first few puffs made me feel woozy. I wanted to gag and my brain hurt pretty bad. Eventually, after multiple tries, my lungs started to welcome the drug. I learned the right technique too, drawing the smoke into the right track in the throat and holding it in before blowing it out. I loved it.
At one point I was smoking at least one pack a day. Sobrang lala. It wasn’t even the “cool” factor that got me into the habit. I was engaged in a high stress commitment and I didn’t have the self-discipline to not rely on caffeine and nicotine.
One day I woke up and I couldn’t breathe. It had happened before but this time I was alone. Nobody was around to help me and all I could do was repeatedly bang my arm against the wooden wall (an admittedly futile call for help) and think relaxrelaxrelax tangina relax. I thought for sure that that was the end of me. It probably lasted for only a few seconds but it felt like a tortuous eternity until my breathing stabilized. I decided to quit smoking. I was 21.
But I would still smoke every now and then, even after that incident. Rarely though, maybe 10 times in the last few years. Most of the time it’s because I’m seeing a guy who smokes and — have you ever tried smoking? Nicotine tastes like shit unless your tongue is also infested with that shit. It’s gross.
Anyway, I haven’t smoked in a long time. A few months maybe. Say three.
Recently I started wheezing and coughing again. The doctor said it could be bacterial infection. I was prescribed with antibiotics and I am also back on the puffer. I hate puffers. C once told me I look cute when I’m using the puffer. To him, cute = vulnerable. Whatever.
The other day my phone died while I was driving home from the gym. I didn’t want to listen to the radio so I set the dial to Audio CD and hoped that I had a good disc on. It was Insomnia & Other Lullabyes by Cynthia A.
Manang Cynthia reminded me of high school. I wasn’t a smoker then, but I once caught a classmate mid-puff in the washroom. The same classmate also brought weed to the dorms but I chickened out when she offered. Classmate and I never became close friends but we kept each other’s numbers. In college, whenever she would visit QC from Baguio, she would hit me up and we’d share a bong. I haven’t talked to her in a long time. Maybe I should. Maybe not.
Now why am I even sharing all this. I don’t know. I’m wheezing as I write this. I’m looking at the puffer, wondering if I should start shaking it. Maybe I should. Maybe not.
Just don’t smoke nicotine, kids. Nakakapangit. And don’t date people who smoke. They’re soooooo — emphasis on soooooo — not worth it. Charaught.
This was a free writing attempt. I wrote this a few days back when I couldn’t sleep because my lungs felt like they’re about to give up. Hayayayay.
The featured image is of Joni Mitchell taken by Doug Griffin. Rippingyarns is another Cynthia A album that sounds better in the title.