Determination, Part 1

(by anonymous, 24 November 2003)

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Tracey Goh looked out of the window from her 21st floor apartment to 
Sydney's Chinatown below and sighed and ran her fingers through her long, 
black hair. 

Tomorrow her mother was arriving from Singapore and she was nervous - as 
nervous as she had ever been before. 

Tracey had a problem and she knew she needed to deal with it when her 
mother arrived. Tracey had to tell her mother that she was a smoker. 

Tracey was 19 and was in her first year of an Economics degree at the 
University of Technology in Sydney. She had been an overseas student in 
Australia for 3 years - doing the last two years of high school at 
Presbyterian Ladies' College and finishing in the top 5% of students in the 
State. But she had also learnt a lot of other things while in Sydney. 

* * * 

At first she had stayed in the home of a middle-aged couple without 
children who received money from her parents to look after her. She had 
stayed there for two long years - they were nice enough people, but she 
just didn't feel like she could be herself. 

In the last few weeks of high school, when the pressure was at it's very 
greatest, Tracey felt like she needed a release. One Sunday, the night 
before her advanced mathematics exam, she went for a walk down her street. 
She had noticed some of her schoolmates smoking before, of course, but it 
hadn't occurred to her to smoke. None of them were close to her and she had 
never thought about trying it. In Singapore, very few people smoked except 
working-class people like contruction workers and waiters and kitchen 
hands. She hadn't known hardly anyone who smoked in Singapore, except a 
couple of boys in high school. But now, she decided, it would be fun to 
find out what it was like - a welcome distraction from the pressure. 

She walked towards the local corner shop and walked in and went to the back 
of the shop. She chose a drink and some chocolate and went up to the 
counter. She waited for the person in front of her to be served and then 
handed over her drink and chocolate. She waited for a second and then said 
"And could I have a packet of Alpine Lights please?" The shopowner glanced 
at her for a second and then put the cigarettes on the desk and said "That 
comes to eleven dollars thirty please". 

Tracey got change for a $20 note and walked out of the shop. She hadn't 
really thought this through and after walking about 30 seconds she realised 
that if she wanted to smoke she'd need a lighter or matches. She felt 
really silly now, she felt worried that the man in the shop knew she had 
just bought her first packet of cigarettes and now he was going to know it 
for sure. All smokers would already have a lighter or matches. But Tracey 
gave herself a mental kick and made herself believe that the guy didn't 
care who she was - she was just a person buying stuff in his shop and he 
wouldn't give it a second thought. She went back into the shop and waited 
behind another customer. When he was finished she picked up a lighter from 
a box on the desk and handed it to the shop owner and said "just that 
thanks". He passed the barcode on the lighter over the reader and took a 
two dollar coin from Tracey. He gave her 70c change and muttered "ta" and 
Tracey left the shop. 

She now felt excited - she had all the stuff she needed to try smoking. She 
looked at her watch - she'd only left home 10 minutes earlier. She had 
lived in the area more than a year and a half. She didn't want to be seen 
by anyone she knew - although apart from her guardians she was only an 
acquaintance of a couple of other people. 

She decided to go to a park around the corner from the shop. The park had 
fences on the two sides of it and there were houses beyond. It was 
basically like an empty plot of land that could have had houses built on it 
but instead was used by the council as a children's playground. There was a 
bench there facing the slide and monkey bars. There was no-one in the park, 
with it being 7 o'clock on a Sunday evening. The sun had gone down and it 
was quiet. 

Tracey put down her little shopping bag and took out the cigarettes. She 
had chosen Alpine Lights because they were menthol and she'd noticed girls 
smoking them before. The pack was aqua and white in colour and had a 
snow-capped mountain on the front. She fumbled with the packet slightly and 
then found a piece of plastic to pull and pulled it around the outside of 
the pack until it came off. She then slid off the plastic from the lid of 
the pack and opened it. The cigarettes were covered by a piece of silver 
foil. She folded that back and saw the cigarettes inside. She lifted the 
pack to her nose and smelled it. It smelt like chewing gum, only much 
stronger and more somehow better. She slid a cigarette out of the pack and 
closed it and put it back in the shopping bag. She then took the lighter 
out of her pocket where she'd put it and put the cigarette in her mouth. 
She flicked the lighter and jumped very slightly when the flame came out. 
She flicked it a second time and tried to shield the flame from the slight 
breeze. She leant forwards slightly so as to have the cigarette catch the 
flame and sucked on the cigarette. She noticed a second later that it was 
burning. She took the cigarette out of her mouth and as she did so, some 
smoke came out of her mouth. She touched her tongue against her lips - it 
tasted bitter. She put the cigarette into her mouth and sucked on it for a 
couple of seconds. She then withdrew it and held the smoke in her mouth for 
a second and then blew it out again. She smoked about half the cigarette 
like this and decided she couldn't finish it - it was a bit too much for 
her. She put it on the ground and trod on it. She put the cigarettes and 
lighter in her jeans pocket and had her drink and decided to walk home. 

Tracey wasn't sure if she had liked her first experience of smoking, but 
felt excited by it. She was happy she had tried it - she felt like her 
whole life was just studying and she never did anything for fun. She also 
felt she'd done something naughty, something that would shock people who 
knew her and it felt good that she'd done that. She also knew that she 
wanted to do it again - it didn't matter that she didn't really know how to 
smoke properly - everyone took some time to learn. 

She went back home and resumed studying for her exam. The next day, Tracey 
did her maths exam, which finished around lunchtime. She had the rest of 
the day off, plus the following day, before having to go back for her 
Chemistry exam. That morning, Tracey had decided that it was best that she 
take her cigarettes with her rather than leave them in her room, because 
she didn't want them to be found. She put them in her schoolbag and then 
after school she caught a bus to the city and got off the bus at Circular 
Quay. She took off her school jumper and replaced it with her own one and 
went and took a seat at a café near the water. She put her cigarettes and 
lighter on the table next to the ashtray and waited for the waitress. She 
ordered coffee and a muffin and after these came, she ate the muffin and 
put sugar in her coffee and tasted it. Then she decided it was time to 
smoke. She felt self-conscious, but didn't want to hide away. She took out 
a cigarette and lit it, keeping the smoke in her mouth, she blew it away 
from the café, towards the street. She tapped the cigarette awkwardly in 
the ashtray and tried to avoid looking at other people, as she was 
paranoid, thinking that she was being watched. She also worried that when 
she puffed on the cigarette and then blew out the smoke that the wind would 
blow smoke on other people and they would be annoyed with her. She knew 
from watching people smoke that they breathed the smoke into themselves. 
This was also logical because how else would they get lung cancer? She 
decided to try to inhale the smoke. She took a quick puff and then took a 
sharp intake of breath. It felt like she had just inhaled a huge 
oxygen-tank full of cold air. Her whole chest felt full of the cold air and 
she felt like she would cough. However, she quickly decided to hold her 
breath and then again breathed in just a shallow breath. She then made her 
lips in the shape they are when you whistle and slowly breathed out. She 
saw a long stream of smoke come out of her mouth. She also felt a calm kind 
of buzz, like a gentle kind of contentment. She continued on and smoked 
nearly the whole of the cigarette before putting it out in the ashtray. She 
felt dizzy, and a little sick, but also felt exhilarated. She drank her 
coffee and ordered another one, and smoked another cigarette, although she 
didn't take as many puffs this time, feeling still a bit dizzy. She held 
the cigarette up while resting her elbow on the table and tried to look 
relaxed. Over the following days, whenever Tracey was out alone after 
school she found places to sit alone and practice her smoking. 

Ten days later, Tracey returned to Singapore for the holidays, with high 
school having finished. She found out while she was there that she had been 
accepted into the course she wanted to do and her parents were happy with 
her. Her father was a merchant banker and her mother was a former nurse who 
then did a lot of work for charity, including raising money for cancer 
research. They were good people - they had always been strict with her, but 
loved her too. She felt safe at home and they gave her a good example to 
follow - she believed she had to work hard and she would be rewarded. 

Tracey had finished her first pack of cigarettes after her guardians had 
dropped her off at the airport. She had her last two cigarettes in the 
airport smoking lounge. It was very smoky in there, but she felt a sense of 
fratenity in the room with all of the other social pariahs who were 
cordoned off in one room of the airport far from all of the healthy people. 
She had to have a wash and chew some gum after that - even though she 
wouldn't see her parents for several hours, she wanted to make sure they 
couldn't smell smoke on her. 

While in Singapore, Tracey didn't dare try to sneak out and smoke. She 
still wasn't really addicted - she had only smoked one pack over eleven 
days and didn't have a routine smoking time. A couple of times while in 
Singapore, she saw people smoking and looked at them with a little envy, 
but otherwise didn't smoke until she bumped into her old school friend, 
Jenny Chung, who she'd been at school with for the first four years of high 
school. Jenny wasn't a very close friend back in school, but she had gone 
to finish high school in New Zealand and was also back for holidays. They 
met by accident at McDonalds, and Tracey agreed to go and have coffee at a 
nearby café. It was quite a windy day, so Tracey was surprised when Jenny 
asked if they could sit outside. After a couple of minutes, Jenny said 
"Tracey, do you mind if I have a cigarette? I know it's bad for me, but I 
started a while ago and I can't stop". 

Tracey said, "Oh, I see - yes, it's a bad habit. It's OK, go ahead". She 
watched Jenny light up her cigarette - it was a brand she hadn't tried 
before. She had an idea. 
"Actually, I tried smoking too when I was in Australia. It was kind of OK" 
"Really? Would you like one? 
"Um, OK. Thanks" 

Tracey picked up the pack and saw the brand was "Mild Seven". She took out 
a cigarette and picked up Jenny's lighter. She lit the cigarette and then 
exhaled the smoke down towards the ground. She then crossed her arms with 
the cigarette in her right hand and below the level of the table. She was 
excited and happy to be smoking, but she immediately felt self-conscious, 
as if a hundred accusing eyes were looking at her disapprovingly. Although 
Singapore is crowded, she believed someone who knew her still might see 
her. She tried to smoke as calmly as possible, but Jenny said "You haven't 
smoked that much before, huh?" 
"No, I was just getting used to it". 
"I've been smoking about six months now. I had a boyfriend who smoked and 
one day I asked if I could try and I liked it, so I started straight away. 
When I came back to Singapore the other day, I just couldn't help myself. I 
sat down after dinner and took out my cigarettes and smoked. My parents 
were disappointed and shouted at me, but I told them I was going to smoke 
whether they liked it or not. My little sister won't speak to me - she 
thinks I'm a bad person, but who cares? You have to be yourself." 

Tracey smiled knowingly. She couldn't possibly imagine doing the same 
thing. She continued to enjoy her cigarette, her first while talking to 
someone else, although she continued to turn her head away from the street 
while she was having a puff, just in case someone she knew walked by. She 
asked Jenny "Is it difficult to be a smoker after you're addicted?" 

Jenny said "Sort of - you get bad-tempered sometimes if you can't smoke, 
but then when you are finally able to smoke, it's better than ever because 
it's a relief and you really enjoy it more. I really love to smoke - I 
don't think I'll ever want to give it up. I just love everything about it - 
it makes me feel relaxed, I like the taste, I even like the smell and how I 
look when I blow smoke out of my mouth - I think it looks kind of stylish". 

Tracey felt like Jenny and her were the same. She had only smoked one pack, 
but Tracey already felt that smoking suited her - it was fun and enjoyable 
and made her different. She decided that when she got back to Australia, 
she'd find her own place to live so that she could smoke regularly and 
learn to enjoy it as much as Jenny did. 

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