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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Day I Defeated Peer Pressure

In third grade, my school began our lengthy D.A.R.E. (Drug Awareness and Something-that-starts-with-R Education, or something equally as catchy) program. We spent hours in class learning about drugs. Mostly cigarettes (because to us naive 8 year olds, cigarettes were by far the worst drug in existence). We learned how they can give you lung cancer, and how the smoke can be harmful to other people. In my mind, that translated to "only bad people smoke cigarettes."

We also learned about Peer Pressure. This terrified me. To me, this was something that didn't happen until high school - but it was an inevitable horror I was doomed to face. Nameless high school bullies would corner me in the massive, yet deserted hallways between classes, and they would force drugs upon me. Because, to me, drugs were cigarettes, this meant these bullies (usually boys with long, scraggly pony tails and ominous black t-shirts, in my visions) would be literally trying to force cigarettes into my mouth and lighting them, and I would have no choice but to smoke it, or risk never breathing again (as I couldn't logically breathe without smoking if a cigarette were being held to my mouth).

After learning of the dangers lurking in those thin, white tubes, we were sent home with a survey sheet and instructed to ask both our parents the questions, so we could come back to class the next day and discuss the realities of drug abuse in our personal lives. The survey included a few memorable questions, including: "Do you smoke cigarettes?" "Did you ever smoke cigarettes?" "Were you ever negatively affected by Peer Pressure?"

I, being the very straight-arrow, goody-two-shoes little girl that I was, was beyond eager to go home and question my parents on these most intimate details of their youth and early adulthood (it didn't occur to me that my parents could have actually smoked before they were 18, seeing as how that would have been illegal).

I questioned my mom first. But I had the upper-hand through our interrogation, as I knew already that my mom had smoked. She'd told me before that she smoked until she got pregnant with my older brother, and then she'd quit.

Smugly, I asked her, "So, Mom. Have you ever smoked before?"

She calmly gave me her feeble story of knowing the dangers of smoking and quitting when she knew she would be putting her child's health at risk. I wrote down her answers with a feeling of superiority. Clearly, I had never smoked, so I viewed myself as better than her in a way - Peer Pressure hadn't gotten to me. Oh, my poor, simple mother and her misguided cigarette smoking ways. She just wasn't strong enough to stand up to Peer Pressure! (I learned later in life that, more than likely, my mom was the one who pressured her friends to smoke - in high school, nonetheless - as she was a bit of a rebel. She staged walk-outs at college, was out there burning her bra with the best of them, and actually smoked things other than just cigarettes; though, fortunately, our survey didn't ask that, as I believe my innocent little school girl head might have exploded at that prospect.) The rest of her answers were insignificant to me. I already had all the information I needed. My mother had been a smoker.

I waited with such eager anticipation for my dad to come home that night. Finally, after dinner, I got my chance to interview him. Approaching the questions with true curiosity and no bias whatsoever, I asked him the first question, "Dad, have you ever smoked cigarettes?"

"No," was his clear and simple answer.

I was stunned. My father. Had never smoked a cigarette.

"Never?!" I screeched incredulously. "Not a single cigarette? Not even a cigar??"

"No," he said smiling, proud of his lungs' clean bill of health and the studiousness of his youth.

In light of this revelation, my father became a super hero in my mind. He had never smoked anything. In. His. Life. He was invincible. He had stared Peer Pressure in its cold, dead eyes, and he had come out victorious. Nothing could stop him. He was... My Dad.

At that moment, I made a promise to myself. No matter how great the Pressures offered by my Peers, no matter my age, location, or situation, I would not smoke cigarettes (or anything else, for that matter). If My Dad could do it, surely I could, too. I would build on the strength I had inherited from him to say "no" to Peer Pressure, and my lungs, too, would remain smoke free for all time. Together, we were an unstoppable force of Peer Pressure negation.

Years later, while working at a t-shirt printing store in the local mall, my worst fears came to fruition. I worked with a boy around my age who, ironically, had a long, scraggly pony tail, and frequently wore black t-shirts. One day, he told me he was going out for a smoke break. I expected him to be gone shortly after informing me of this, but when I turned around, I noticed he was still there.

"Why don't you come with me? You could borrow a smoke from me." Oh, Peer Pressure, you sly beast, you. Taking on the form of Austin's body, just to try and press your evil wears upon me. Knowing this with the pinnacle of my D.A.R.E. training, I looked him straight in the eyes and, squinting ever so slightly against the glare of his dark temptation, I stated, "I don't smoke."

"What? Sure you do. Everybody smokes. Come on." Trying your best, I see, Peer Pressure. Well it won't work on me!

"No, I don't. I never have. I'm not going to start now." Taking out the big guns now.

And to my absolute surprise (but surely, somewhere in my subconscious, I knew this day would come - I'd dreamt about it since the third grade), Austin actually stepped closer to me, and literally tried to shove a cigarette into my mouth.

I pushed him away, and, in the process, broke his cigarette. He told me I'd have to buy him a new one, and I just laughed at him. Poor, defeated Peer Pressure. One last attempt to get me on your side, but it won't work. I will not contribute to that filthy practice. Austin left to go on his smoke break without further incident.

A year or two later, one evening, when I was home with My Dad, he made some snide, joking comment about me being a "bad kid," implying that he believed I smoked and drank (thus further propagating the wrongly assumed belief that so many people have of me as a pot head). I laughed and informed him that, not only did I not drink, but I had never, not even once in my entire life, smoked anything. All because of that D.A.R.E. survey in third grade, and My Dad's unique ability to defeat Peer Pressure. "No, Dad, I've never smoked anything, because I wanted to grow up and be like you - and you told me in third grade that you'd never smoked. Anything."

My father got a surprised look on his face. "I told you that?" He said while starting to chuckle. "Well, that was a lie."

The sound of your known world crashing around you can truly be defined as a "deafening silence." The room stood still as everything I'd ever known, the very principles upon which I'd based my entire life's ethic shattered with those simple words: "that was a lie." I couldn't breathe. How could he have lied? He was My Dad! He was a super hero! Together we could defeat Peer Pressure! And yet, it had all been an innocent lie to guide a third grader on the right path through life.

That part of the lie, at least, succeeded. And quite well. As of that moment, I was determined to rebuild my life's principles. So everything had been a lie. I had still conquered Peer Pressure, even without My Dad at my side. He may have lied, but I'd inherited the strength and will power, nonetheless. I could continue our saga even in his absence. I made a new vow to myself that I would never smoke anything, not even once, in my entire life, so that when my own children were in third grade and came home with a D.A.R.E. questionnaire about cigarettes and smoking, I could tell them in all honesty that I had, in fact, not ever, not even one little time, ever in my life smoked anything.

I could feel the super powers begin to flush through my veins.

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