“Gentry?” The assistant called out from an open door on the left side of the waiting room.
I glanced up from the magazine that I was pretending to read. I did not want to seem like I was uncomfortable, even though I certainly was.
“Follow me please.” She gently smiled.
“Come in, Gentry. Please have a seat on the black leather sofa.” The psychologist said quite calmly.
I glanced around the room before taking a step forward. There were several awards, his college degree, and his license to practice hanging on the walls in very expensive frames, and placed strategically throughout his office. It was obvious that he tried to have a more comfortable, welcoming feel, but his style just did not allow for that too much. I did feel at ease that he had those documents hanging on the wall. It made me feel like he was knowledgeable about his career of choice.
Gingerly, I walked towards the black leather sofa, and carefully sat on the edge of the couch, gently placing my hands on the tops of my thighs. I wasn’t sure what to do with them otherwise.
“You are more than welcome to get more comfortable if you would like.” The psychologist said as he sat in a black leather club chair directly opposite me, mimicking the same seated position. “My name is Dr. Edward Callis, please call me E.C.” He grinned brightly.
Noticing that he too had sat on the edge of the couch, I adjusted my body towards the back of the couch as unnoticeably as I could.
E.C. smiled once again, and moved towards the back of the chair as nonchalantly as he could while asking, “What would you like to discuss?”
My hands began fidgeting with one another, and I noticed that my right foot was bouncing up and down. I quickly glanced at E.C., wondering what he was thinking. He didn’t appear to be thinking anything. He seemed calm, patient, and vacant in thought. I took in a shallow breath; I certainly didn’t want him to see me take in a deep breath. I then began spilling my guts like word vomit. “I’m addicted to smoking. I’m not sure what it is about smoking that I am addicted to. It could be the nicotine. It could be the smell of the cigarettes. Or it could be that it is just a habit. I have smoked for twenty years.”
I noticed at that moment that he looked at me with a shocked expression.
Before I thought he would speak, I said, “I am thirty now. Before you say one word, let me stop you right there. Yes, I have smoked since I was ten years old. My wife has threatened to leave me. She wants to have a baby, but refuses to bring a child into a world where this baby would be exposed to secondhand or even third-hand smoke.” As quickly as the words had escaped my lips, the words stopped, and I waited for some type of response from him.
“Your wife only wants what is best for your child. Her actions are not unwarranted. Secondhand and third-hand smoke is horrible for her and a fetus. Not to mention the first-hand smoke that you are getting, by smoking the cigarettes. Have you been trying to quit?” He said as he rested his temple on his index finger and his chin on his thumb.
Typical psychologist look I thought before replying. “I have been trying to quit for the past three weeks. I am doing better.” I paused. “I think.” And paused again. E.C. didn’t interject so I continued talking. “I live in St. George, not here in Mesquite. I had a company meeting in Mesquite a couple of days ago — at a casino. Obviously, the casino is full of smoke. I started jonzing. I could feel the smoke fill my lungs. I purposely sat next to someone who was smoking. I wanted to feel the smoke burn deep inside me. The smell of the cigarettes was heavenly. I couldn’t stay away from the smell. My wife thinks the smell is disgusting. She says that she cannot stand to be around me when I smell like an ashtray.”
A sadness crept into the conversation and seemed to take over the emotions of the room.
“Gentry, your wife wants to start a family. She wants a healthy pregnancy, and a healthy baby. I know it’s difficult, but you have to quit for her, or you risk losing her. You have to stay away from casinos. It may seem silly, but any type of smoke residue is unhealthy for anyone. If you want to stay married to her, you have to stay away from cigarettes and cigarette smoke period.” E.C. sternly communicated.
“Easy for you to say, you aren’t addicted to cigarettes, or cigarette smoke like I am.” I thought as I rolled my eyes.
I opted to drop my psychology sessions. I didn’t like how he made me feel guilty, or how he made it seem like I did not care about my wife or starting a family.
* * * * * *
One day, I found myself waiting for E.C.’s assistant to call my name. I stared at the door on the left side of the waiting room, feeling impatient and antsy. When the door crept open, I anxiously leapt out of my seat, startling the assistant as she swung open the door.
“Gentry, it’s good to see you. How have you been?” E.C. genuinely asked, motioning for me to sit on the black leather couch again.
I scanned the room, looking to see if anything had changed. Everything was how I remembered. He certainly did not like change, I thought.
E.C. sat in his usual black leather club chair with his index finger on his temple and his chin resting on his thumb, and softly asked, “How is your marriage?”
Silence filled the room.
It always impressed me how patient E.C. was when silence controlled the atmosphere, and how uncomfortable it made me. It was a very clever tactic, I thought, and then began talking as if I could not hold back any words that were forming inside my mouth.
“She is becoming more distant. We hardly speak anymore. She leaves the room when I walk in, but not if I have just showered. She can’t sleep in the same bed as me, unless I take a shower right before bed. She says that I smell like an ashtray most of the time, and expresses how disgusted she is with me because of it. And always, one single tear falls onto her cheek, before she turns her back on me.”
My words instantly came to a halt, like my lips were sealed by the wave of a magic wand or something. I could feel my nose and cheeks getting flushed. My eyes quickly filled with tears, and before I could wipe them away without E.C. noticing, a few tears spilled onto my cheeks.
An uncomfortable silence quickly filled the room, kind of like a smoke grenade. E.C. grabbed the box of tissues sitting on the glass coffee table that was between us, and handed me the box. Even though he wasn’t sure of what I might say next. The look in his eyes was genuinely sad. I’m certain that he had pieced my thoughts together, and figured it out. But he waited patiently in his I’m concerned and I’m listening psychologists pose.
I wiped my eyes, then nose, and threw the Kleenex in the trash can next to me. My eyes looked all around the room, trying to focus on anything but E.C.
The silence was too much for me to handle. It was like a dam had exploded, and the words rushed out of my mouth. “I don’t want to lose her, but I am not sure how to stay away from my addiction. It hurts me that my actions and my addiction is hurting her. She cries every day. When she sleeps in the other room, she cries for hours until she drifts off to sleep from exhaustion, dehydration, or both; I’m not quite sure. I also hear her cry in her sleep, but she doesn’t wake. She is the love of my life. But, she doesn’t understand my addiction. She thinks it’s simple to stay away from cigarette smoke, especially because I no longer have the urge to light up a cigarette. It’s not easy, E.C! It’s difficult! The seductive high that I get from the nicotine floating into my lungs is irresistible. My body trembles, and then the desire builds like a volcano. When the smoke from a nearby cigarette enters my body the desire erupts, and my body tingles in a heavenly bliss. The feeling is – – soooo – – erotic.” I paused for a moment, and as the tears streamed down my face, I looked E.C. in the eyes and said, “My wife and I no longer share intimacy. She is just too disgusted with me. The feelings that I get from inhaling secondary cigarette smoke is the closest erotic feeling I have received in quite a while. It’s more than just a high. It’s an intimate, provocative type of high.”
I realized that I hadn’t taken a breath for a few minutes. I paused to allow my tongue and voice a bit of rest.
E.C. felt that this was his opportunity to interject. “Gentry, a few minutes ago, I heard you say that your wife will not leave the room and will sleep in the marital bed as long as you have showered. Do you remember saying this?”
“Yes, yes, I do remember saying that?” He said as he sat up a little straighter. He wanted to make sure that he heard every word.
“Your wife is pleading with you. She lets you know that she wants you around, and that she loves you – – when you don’t smell like an ashtray.” E.C. said sincerely.
My eyes instantly focused on my lap, instead of E.C. I couldn’t make eye contact with him. I was ashamed of the weakness that controlled me.
“Gentry?” His voice was soft.
Barely, making eye contact, I replied, “I know, but I don’t know how to stop. I’m at the casino just about every day.”
E.C. sat straighter in his seat, and placed the palms of his hands on top of his thighs close to his body.
“What does your wife say about that?” He then shifted back into his typical psychologist pose.
“You interrupted me when I was trying to tell you.” My voice sounded annoyed.
“I do apologize. Please, continue.”
I took in a deep, slow breath, and exhaled the air inside my lungs little by little. “I go to the casinos every day I am working. I’ll either stop in before or after work, sometimes both. And sometimes during my lunch break.”
“You gamble now?” E.C. asked concerned.
“I, – – I hardly sleep anymore.” I quit talking for at least five minutes. I could see E.C. from my peripheral vision. He looked like he wanted to say something, but remained quiet. I was grateful for his silence.
I took another deep breath in, and as I exhaled a stuttered word escaped along with the pent-up air. “I, – – I.” I couldn’t finish my sentence. I felt like I was getting choked up. I didn’t want to be emotional.
“Take your time.” E.C. said with a caring tone in his voice. “Are you drinking and driving?” He sadly asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“No. No, I am not drinking and driving. I don’t crave alcohol.”
Relieved, E.C. said, “You picked up a new addiction? Gambling?”
“No, E.C. Well, not really.”
“What do you mean by not really?” He questioned.
“I slowly gamble. I am only gambling so that I can be close to someone who is smoking.” I glanced at E.C. I wanted to know what he was thinking.
“You want to be close to someone who is smoking? Why is that?” E.C. questioned.
“I told you, I quit smoking a few weeks before to my first session with you, but I can’t stay away from the cigarette smoke. I need the smoke burning my lungs. It makes me feel good. That is what I crave. That is my addiction. I am addicted to the secondhand smoke. Gambling is a way for me to get my fix. Plus, I only gamble what I would have typically spent on cigarettes. So I am not dipping further into our finances.”
Silence quickly spread throughout the room. Feeling perturbed, I didn’t feel like speaking anymore.
E.C. could sense that I was not wanting to continue the conversation, but he offered his end of the session thoughts anyway. “Gentry, I applaud you for not lighting up another cigarette for quite sometime now. However, as you now know and have known, secondhand and third-hand smoke is just as harmful. Did you know that people who have never smoked a cigarette, but have been subjected to secondhand smoke are just as likely to get lung cancer as an actual smoker, if not more likely?”
My eyes felt as if they widened beyond the capacity of my eye sockets.
“Your addiction is different from any other addictions I have counseled. I honestly have never thought about secondhand smoke being an addiction. If you are not careful gambling more than likely will turn into an addiction as well. I am afraid that marriages end due to financial stresses. And Gentry, gambling is a financial issue.” E.C. sadly stated.
I allowed E.C. to finish, and then stood to end the session. With a vacant expression resting on my face, I looked him in the eyes for a minute, then without another word, and one foot in front of the other, I cautiously walked out of his office. I didn’t look behind me. I felt lost and alone. Instead of heading home to my wife, I went straight to a casino. I positioned my body as close as I could to the person beside me without appearing like I was some sort of creep. I needed to feel my lungs burn. I needed that secondary high. I couldn’t remember what intimacy felt like with my wife. But the high that I get from secondary smoke feels just as good.
I was so high-strung when I arrived at the casino, that I was hoping that I would be able to sit between two smokers. That thought sent chills down my spine. I was in luck, I had circled the casino once, and on my second go around I had found a place where I could be between two heavy smokers. I eased my way into the seat. Instantly, my mouth watered, and my entire body tingled from head to toe. I drew in the longest, deepest, yet quietest breath I have ever drawn in, and then I held it for as long as I could. As I slowly released the smoke-filled air in my lungs, I noticed that I felt like I was floating above the ground. “Yes, yes, yes, this is what I crave”, I said fairly loud, but not loud enough for my gambling neighbors to make out. It was just too loud in the casino – – “Thank God.” I said with a sigh of relief.
A few weeks later I found myself back in E.C.’s office sitting on the black leather couch again. My extremities trembling.
“You don’t look to good Gentry, are you feeling okay?” E.C. started the conversation this time.
“Actually, – – well.” I just couldn’t spit any words out. Tears streamed down my face without warning. I inhaled deeply, but it hurt, and caused me to go into a coughing fit.
“Relax, Gentry. Take your time.” E.C. calmly stated.
My eyes moved quickly around the room. Maybe I was trying to distract or confuse my thoughts or something. Then the words started to come, “I thought that I had come down with a cold. My doctor ran some tests, and then delivered the diagnosis.” Tears still flowing like a river. I couldn’t stop them.
E.C. grabbed an unused handkerchief from the drawer in the end table next to his chair, and handed it to me. It was obvious that tissues were not going to cut it this time. “What was your diagnosis, Gentry?” He solemnly asked.
“I have lung cancer, and I don’t have long live.”
E.C. said nothing. A few tears filled his eyes.
“I haven’t told my wife. This type of news could be devastating to her.” I didn’t think that my tears could fall any faster or harder than they already were. But I was wrong. “I never thought that my addiction could lead to my death. You just don’t think about that kind of stuff. You only think about the addiction and getting the fix.” I wiped the flood waters away from my eyes. “My poor, beautiful wife. She is my everything, even though I have failed to show her. She is my angel, my beautiful, perfect angel. I have wronged her, and now I can’t take it back. I can’t make it right. I love her more than she will ever know. I pray that one day she will forgive me.”
Instantly, I dropped to the floor. I knelt on the carpet, bowed my head, and with my palms together in a prayer like fashion I pleaded for my wife to have peace. To live a life full of happiness. And to forgive me for being a selfish addict, even though I felt that I didn’t deserve it.
– Anneberly Andrews –
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