by Jean Perdicaris
My significant other quit smoking five years ago – November 16, 2012 – precisely one week after we reconnected. He’d been a smoker for 40 years – the same number of years we’d not seen each other. (Yeah, we’re one of those couples that found each other on social media.) He was a recent Floridian transplant to the Mid-South. I was living in Texas. Anyways, if you ask him, he says the key to his quitting was jolly ranchers – the watermelon, grape, & sour apple variety by the bagful. Our first year of courtship was a commuting one, and jolly ranchers served as a chaperone on our dates. They were a habitual presence. Every two, three, or four weeks, we’d meet up in east Texas – the geographical mid-point for us. I’d bring jolly ranchers. He’d bring jolly ranchers. We’d shop for jolly ranchers. On occasion, we’d have to “hunt” for jolly ranchers. It was those times that salvation was often found in a still wrapped, albeit sticky hot flavorful mess, underneath a car floorboard. I don’t know how he determined that jolly ranchers were his ticket to success. He’s an unconventional guy, and he had an unconventional method. It had to have been so difficult, but he quit. In hindsight, I wonder how he managed during those interim weeks we were apart. He was alone. He had no tangible support. It’s still hard for me to discern because he never talks about it. Ever. I was living alone in another geographical state, and he was living alone in a bit of a mental state. I do know he quit smoking around smokers. At that time, it was part of his occupational culture. Other than jolly ranchers, his other prime ploy was going to the designated smoking areas, and, pardon the pun, blowing smoke at his peers. He’d sit in their mist, literally, and taunt them to puff their exhaust in his face. That had to have been intense, but he says it was a way of continuing to belong within his coworkers’ inner circle.
The more time has passed, the more I appreciate the significance of his quitting. Recent google stats say seventy percent of smokers want to quit, but only six percent succeed. He’s shared he could pick up a cigarette every day. He’s shared he has to quit every day. I appreciate more and more the wider world’s smokers’ struggles in quitting, and shame on me for taking a sanctimonious stance on our second date. (I had issued him a “quit me or quit them” proclamation.)
My significant other & I are pushing sixty. We’re older. We’re wiser. We’re darn cute together, but I don’t think either one of us realized that this one single step – his compelling decision to quit smoking was, decidedly, the most important undertaking to a better life for the both of us. We’re living a happy little life in northern Mississippi, and I give him most of the credit. While he’s had a wildly successful five-year run, I’m pledging to do a better job at empathizing with those who, every day, are trying to quit.
I work at a health science center – one that includes several trauma hospitals. Ironically, there are designated outdoor smoke areas. I have a newfound compassion for most of those smokers. They deal mightily with many psychological & physiological dynamics – addiction & withdrawal. I imagine these smokers I see are also coping with a loved one’s physical suffering and pain. Why else would they openly smoke in this multi-hospital environment? I used to identify people as smokers versus nonsmokers. I used to reel from second-hand smoke. Now, because of my beloved, I just viscerally sense the second-hand struggle. For them, every day is a smoking gun. For me, every day is a frame of mind.
Jean Perdicaris Contact
Jean is the senior administrative services assistant in Student Affairs & Enrollment Services at UTHSC. She has a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and spent years as a choir director of multiple youth and adult programs. She believes her teaching background, along with decades as an active community, church, & school leader as well as a dedicated power walker, is well suited to meet the many demands of a multi-functional department. Jean grew up in Europe, Oklahoma, and Texas. She joined UTHSC in 2016 and is delighted to now call northern Mississippi home.