Why I cannot smoke… anything

I learned rather early that life is more exciting if I have friends of different ages. The older ones can function as role models or examples to shun, and the younger ones may help me to see things from new perspectives.

One of my earliest older friends was Ulla, who was six years older than I. I was six when we became friends. Ulla was the only child of an elderly couple who lived close to us. Ulla was mature for her age at 12 in the beginning of the 60s. She used makeup and her interests were fashion and boys. I believe she chose me as her best and only friend because she didn’t have siblings and maybe she saw me as her little sister. I admired everything Ulla represented and thanks to her I could get further away from home sitting behind her on her red bike.

One day Ulla found out that we should learn to smoke cigarettes. It was fashionable and so grownup. Because niether of Ulla’s parents smoke, she tasked me to steal a couple of cigarettes from my father, who was a chain-smoker of green North State cigarettes without filter.

The practical part of the task was not too difficult, because my father often left his cigarette package on the living room counter. The worst was the feeling of guilt because I knew it was wrong to take other people’s property and that I would be punished if I were caught.

After I had stolen cigarettes, just two of them, I met Ulla behind the black currant bushes at the rear of their sauna. Ulla lit the first cigarette with matches she had found in the sauna. She breathed in the smoke as if she had done it many times before and gave me the lighted cigarette. At the first attempt, I got just a little bit of smoke in my mouth and started coughing. Ulla then advised me how I should first blow out all the air from my lungs, squeeze the nostrils with my fingers and then suck in the cigarette smoke when drawing air in my lungs. I followed her instructions.

Now smoke filled my lungs and stomach and I felt dizzy. After a couple of seconds I vomited. Tears were running down my face. I wanted to go home. Ulla became frightened and followed me to our mailbox. She did not dare to come in with me.

I don’t know whether it was my smelling of cigarette smoke or looking guilty or whether my father had noticed that some cigarettes were missing, but I got a round of beating.

That started my lifelong antipathy for cigarette smoke. As a teenager I tried smoking marijuana a couple of times when it was offered at parties, but I just could not inhale and felt like throwing up.

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