“I really want to do something in radio, I think. Like I want to be Howard Stern or something fucking cool like that,” he said.
The kid couldn’t have been more than 17 years old, 18 max. I had no idea who he was and I don’t think I even bothered asking his name. It was probably on the CVS name tag attached to his uniform: khaki cargo pants and a navy blue polo. He was driving me in his extremely dirty vehicle to a Walgreens about ten minutes away so I could buy a box of nicotine gum and I was starting to feel a little weird about being in the car with a stranger who probably just recently got his license.
My phone rang and I answered.
“What’s taking so long?” my boyfriend asked.
“CVS keeps their nicotine gum behind the pharmacy counter and the pharmacy was closed so I’m going to Walgreens. It’s like right around the corner,” I said.
“He said he’s going to Walgreens?” the boyfriend said with a tinge of concern, relaying the information to our friend Samantha.
Samantha had invited us to her house in New Jersey for drinks and dinner on the very same weekend that I quite impulsively decided to quit smoking. After several cocktails (5? 6?), I had chewed my last piece of gum and was suddenly losing my mind and craving a smoke. I excused myself to take a two minute walk to the shopping center around the corner to buy some more Nicorette which both Samantha and my boyfriend were completely agreeable to. They even gave me the task of also stopping to pick up a bottle of tartar sauce for the soon to be ready fried fish.
“Samantha says Walgreens is one town over. Like 15 minutes away by car! How the fuck are you getting there? It’s too far to walk!” the boyfriend shrieked.
“It’s actually only like 10 minutes. We’re almost there,” I coolly replied.
“We?? Who is we?!”
“Me and the kid from CVS. He said he would drive me to Walgreens to get nicotine gum,” I said as I listened to them discuss my escapade in very worried whispers. I was entirely dumbfounded as to why they found this to be so troubling.
“Is everything okay?” the kid from CVS asked, one hand on the steering wheel and the other picking a zit or something.
“Yes. Sorry. Hey. Tell Samantha I’ll be back soon! We’re pulling in now. Just fucking relax,” I said.
“Hurry up,” he said, “And the tartar sauce.” CLICK.
What happened inside of CVS leading up to this little joy ride is somewhat blurry. I remember walking around the pharmacy area looking for the nicotine gum and not being able to find it. I remember a store clerk telling me that the pharmacy was closed and that it was behind the counter and locked away. I remember getting loud and telling them that quitting smoking is no joke and that they might be responsible for people lighting up a cigarette again and do they really want that on their conscience? Do they?! I remember the store clerk getting on the phone and unsuccessfully trying to get ahold of the pharmacy manager who had the key. And finally, I remember the store clerk asking another store clerk (the kid) to take his lunch break early and drive me to Walgreens.
Let me pause here to point out a few things about this story that simply astound me.
First of all, why the FUCK was I so concerned with not smoking a cigarette? I was a drunk asshole! Taking the smoke away wouldn’t change that. Why did I not simply buy a pack of cigarettes and try to stop again once I was able to regain access to nicotine gum? I had consumed the equivalent of half a bottle of liquid poison and had been drinking nonstop for 3 years straight without ever making such a bold and outlandish attempt to stop. But in this instance, I absolutely WAS NOT going to smoke. I didn’t care what it took. I could be a raging drunk alcoholic (and I was), but a fucking cigarette smoker? NO GODDAMNED WAY. NOT ANYMORE.
Second, I’m certain I smelled like Mayberry’s Otis Campbell, and instead of Andy Griffith coming to arrest me and put me in that fake jail cell, these clowns were offering to get into a car with me and do me a favor?! What on earth were they thinking?? I really feel like going back to that CVS and finding those store clerks and telling them just how reckless and dangerous they behaved by allowing an obviously drunk stranger to get in the car with them. I mean, I’m not a mean drunk and I know I would never intentionally cause anyone any harm, but I’m also a big brother with two younger siblings, and I would absolutely smack the shit out of them if they ever did anything as dangerous as this kid from CVS.
Lastly, I have a lot of shame about the whole thing. I feel horribly guilty that I didn’t have the mental wherewithal to decline the offer and not put this kid in a situation that I’m certain his parents wouldn’t approve of. I feel like I need to apologize to him, to his mom and dad.
“Are you drunk?” he asked as we pulled into the parking lot of Walgreens.
“Not really. I had a few drinks with friends,” I replied.
“I got drunk last night. It was pretty cool,” he said in that “bro” kind of way.
I should have told him to be careful or he’d end up like me. But I didn’t. I bought my nicotine gum, he drove us back to CVS, I gave him $10 for gas and his time, he went back to work, and I started walking back to Samantha’s house chewing and feeling better now that I had my fix. I was ready for another drink.
At the time, my life seemed to be irreparably out of control. Everything was broken. I couldn’t go one day without alcohol. I was compulsively destroying myself at a very rapid rate. But somehow my mind had decided that if I could just control this one thing, it meant that all hope was not lost. It meant that maybe there was a chance for me to one day get myself sober again. I didn’t realize it at the time, but quitting smoking in the midst of my active alcoholism was my way of screaming out to myself. I was leaning over and looking down at myself sitting helplessly at the bottom of my dark, alcoholic well.
You can do hard shit, John. You can stop drinking. You can.
Somehow I did manage to stop smoking even though I kept drinking. And it took another three years before I would be not only smoke free, but alcohol free. It took three long, hard, miserable years once that tiny seed was planted before I found the willingness and strength to try getting rid of alcohol next. But there is no gum to chew for this monster of an addiction, is there?
I got back to Samantha’s and walked inside. They looked equally concerned and relieved that I was back.
“Dinner’s ready,” she said. “You forgot the tartar sauce, didn’t you?”