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Well, here I am. My "countdown" got sidetracked by the holidays a while ago and it took me a bit to get back on track. I'm sure this group, above all others, understands.

My name is Blake, I'm an ex-smoker, and I'm new here.

I started back in '96. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zimbabwe. It was so peaceful out in the bush, at the school where I was teaching...fifty klicks to the nearest town, along the bumpiest gravel road. Life was routine: get up, teach school, do errands, hang out. Day after day after day. I loved it. Out in the bush with no one to bug me, doing my own thing, getting the job done.

One day I picked up a pack of menthol smokes, branded "Everest." Lit one up and buzzed like crazy. One a day was enough, when the day was done and I sat outside of my house and watched the sunset and waited for the Milky Way to come out. Once I counted five satellites in the sky at once, it was so clear and pollution-free.

I don't remember when it got out of hand, or how I got up to half a pack a day. I don't remember when I switched brands, either, to Berkeley Extra Milds. "Extra Mild" turned out to be a big lie. I came back to the US and found out that I'd been smoking the equivalent of Marlboro Mediums. Different cultures, different labels. (My brand here was Winstons, before I went back to from whence it all came, menthol Newports.)

It was so easy to smoke in Africa, especially Zimbabwe. Tobacco's their biggest cash crop, I think, or maybe tea is. I heard once that a third of the tobacco in Marlboros comes from Zimbabwe. But you could be walking down the street and find someone with a tray of sundries set up on some milk crates, little things to satisfy your cravings. Mostly candies, but a lot of vendors had packs of smokes set out and would sell them to you individually, match included. Twenty Zim cents and you could get your fix, right there.

Well, I'm done. I'm sick of it. It's not the same any more. In the past week I've had four cigarettes and each one brought up the same thoughts, the "why are you still doing this?" thoughts. It's amazing how you should be walking one direction, but your feet magically take you in another, to the newsstand, where they will take your $3.75 and tell you to Have a Nice Day. I am not having a nice day, dagnabbit! My jaw hurts from chewing the flavor out of this gum, regular gum and not nicorette, and it's not the same. But it's getting better, slowly.

Nice to meet you, everybody.

1 week, 20 hours,...ah, screw it.
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