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I Gotta Have It
Edwin Mercado
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I smoked my first cigarette when I was 12. My father, who smokes, was cleaning up the day after a party. He lit a cigarette, took two drags and just left it in the ashtray.

When he left the room to go to sleep, I saw my opportunity. It was a spur of the moment thought. "Edwin, take a drag," I said to myself.

I guess I wanted to try it because just about everyone in my family smokes or used to smoke: my father, mother, grandfather, aunts, uncles and my older sister. Then I thought, "But what if you get caught?" I was going crazy wondering whether I should take a drag.

I Hated It at First

I finally decided to go for it, so I took about five drags of the cigarette.

My first impression of smoking was terrible. The taste was nasty and I felt like throwing up.

But there was something about it I liked. Smoking made me get a lightheaded rush and that felt kind of good. I wanted to feel that same rush again.

So I started stealing cigarettes from my father and smoking them in my room or the bathroom.

Looking Older Helped Me Buy

I was soon smoking about four cigarettes a day, but it wasn't until I turned 14 that I started buying cigarettes. Since I started getting a whole bunch of facial hair, I looked old enough to buy them.

I didn't have much money, so I had to buy loosies, which until last year cost 25 cents for one cigarette. It became a habit, buying about three cigarettes in the morning and three after school. Since I was 14-I'm 17 now-I've hardly gone a day without smoking a cigarette, except when I'm sick. I'm addicted.

It's been hard to hide my smoking from my parents, because I want to smoke when I'm home.

The first time I got caught, it was because I had left cigarettes in my pocket. I had bought one and taken one each from my mother and grandfather.

My mom had come into my room one morning to wake me up for school. She saw my jeans. "You want me to wash these?" she asked. Without thinking, I said yes, so she emptied out my pockets and that's when she found the cigarettes.

One Angry Mother

I was brushing my teeth when she barged into the bathroom and said in a loud, scary mother voice, "What the f-ck is this?"

I dropped the tooth brush. "Ahh, sh-t," I said. "They're not mine, I found them."

"Yeah, right," she said and smacked me hard upside my head.

When my mother gets angry, it's not a pretty sight. Her face gets red and her lips turn smaller and it scares the hell out of me.

That whole day I was in shock because she caught me and I didn't know what to do.

I've Heard All the Lectures

It was the worst feeling in the world when my mother found out I was smoking. I felt like the world was going to end.

When I got caught, I thought about stopping. I did stop for about a week, because all I could think about was getting caught again. But I got a little less worried, and I started up again.

image by James Faber

I wish I had my Mom's willpower. When my mother used to smoke, she smoked about four cigarettes a day. She didn't really like it, but it became a habit. One day she said, "That's it for me; I'm going to stop smoking."

And she did. Within a week she had stopped totally. My father, though, has been smoking for over 20 years. He always says he's going to stop, but he doesn't.

My parents have caught me about five times with a cigarette in my mouth and about 30 times by finding cigarette butts in my room or in the laundry room. I get screamed at and punished.

As punishment for smoking, my parents don't give me money for a while. Plus, I've gotten about 100 lectures, where they ask, "Where do you get your cigarettes from?" or say "I'm going to kick your ass if you keep on smoking."

I've heard it all, so now I lie to save myself the lectures. When I leave butts around or have a cigarette smell when I come out of the bathroom, I just deny it.

They Know When I'm Lying

I've tried to smoke outside my house but when I come back, my parents ask me, "Where were you?" I say, "I needed some fresh air." They know I'm lying. I can see it in their eyes; they look at me as if I'm stupid.

I feel real bad when I have a hard time with my parents, and I tell myself I'm not going to smoke anymore, but I still do.

Smoking Makes Me Sick

I think my parents don't want me to smoke because they know how hard it can be to stop. And they don't want me to try smoking other things like weed.

I know smoking is bad for me because I'm only 17 and I can't even play three games of basketball. I usually have to stop because I can't breathe. I don't want to be in the hospital in 10 years, coughing up phlegm because I'm a smoker.

Smoking already makes me sick. From time to time, I get a sore throat that feels like I swallowed glass.

When I get this sore throat, I tell myself I'm going to stop smoking but all I do is cut down. And when my sore throat is gone, I start smoking as much as before. As I write this, I'm getting a sore throat. It makes me want to stop, but I keep smoking anyway.

Spending Mad Dough On Cigarettes

Smoking is also bad for my wallet. The first day I found out that they raised the prices for cigarettes, I felt like crying since I now go through a pack in about two days, three the most.

Packs of cigarettes used to cost $3.25 or $3.50, and now they cost $4.25 or $4.50. Some places in Manhattan charge $5.25. (I also buy three packs of Doublemint every day so my breath won't stink.)

I know I'm wasting my money on something like that, because I know smoking isn't good for me, but I can't stop. I don't think I could go a day without having a cigarette. What I like about smoking is that it calms me down. If I'm pissed off about something, I just smoke a cigarette and I'm not so mad.

When I don't have a cigarette, I get very cranky. And I don't know why, but my stomach starts to crave food. I could have just finished eating, but I get hungry. It's not a good feeling.

A few of my friends smoke, but they're not addicted like me. They only smoke sometimes. They tell me "Yo Ed, you need to stop smoking. You gonna just die one of these days." I tell them, "Yeah, I need to stop, but I can't."

I'll Quit on My Own

I know there are patches and gum that supposedly help you stop smoking.

I haven't tried those patches or gum myself, but I know people who say it's a waste of time and money. I think if you really want to stop smoking, you have to do it on your own.

I plan to stop smoking soon, maybe by January; I'll make that my New Year's resolution.

I plan to stop little by little, maybe cutting down at first to about three cigarettes a day. But if that doesn't work, I'll go cold turkey. I know if I go cold turkey I'm going to go through some hard times, because I'm going to have the urge to smoke, but I'm going to do whatever it takes to stop.

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(NYC-2000-12-05a)

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