At 12 years old, I got a phone call that honestly changed my life.
The phone rang. It was around 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night. My mom had a board meeting that night and Dad had been taking care of us. The home phone rang repeatedly. I checked the number, I didn't know it. Dad said, "Who is it"? "Not a number I know," I replied. We let it go to voicemail.
Only a few moments later, the ring came again. "The same number called again." "Let it go to voicemail. Probably telemarketers."
See, it made sense that my mom wasn't home because her board meetings were, frankly, unpredictable. Little did we know, this would be a very unexpected phone call.
It sounds implausible, but I could tell something was wrong. It wasn't much later than I usually expected her, but it was late enough that I had been concerned for at least half an hour. I have no idea how I knew, but I knew.
Finally, they called my Dad's cell phone. That moment changed all of our lives as quick as a pencil's led snaps.
Since then, I have had a hatred of cigarettes, smoke, and nicotine.
My mom has COPD and needs a lung transplant. It's seven years later and she's still making it through, but it's not easy. It's not easy for any of us.
After that day I had to grow up at 12 years old. Even today, everyone thinks I'm 2-4 years older than I am. I'm mature because I had to grow up fast.
Sometimes I think of that as a blessing. In some ways, many of the things that resulted from that moment were. My mom stopped smoking, I really learned how to support myself and be self-sufficient, and I've gotten to travel to raise awareness about the real-life consequences of smoking.
But in so many more it has been the worst thing to happen to me. Hopefully, the worst thing that will ever happen.
In that time, and in my high school years, I got to constantly be concerned about my mom. I spent my 13th birthday visiting my mom in the hospital. During those dark times, all I really wanted was to bring red velvet cupcakes to the hospital and go to Taco Bell. I felt lucky to even get that. Every time I got a call during school I knew what was on the other side of that phone.
At 14, I was asking my parents about our money concerns. They told me to not worry, but I knew better. I knew that it was desperately hard for them to afford me, my sister, and all the hospital bills.
At 15, I was cooking, cleaning, and beginning to look at colleges. I had no idea how I would pay, but I knew I needed to for my parents. (Also, I sucked at cleaning and I only knew how to microwave.
At 16 I actually learned how to cook, and I began applying for colleges. I did it all on my own. I found scholarships, I wrote all my essays, all without help. My mom didn't need to worry about that.
Now, I've made it to college and I'm two years in, but 3.5 hours away from home and 4 hours from the hospital that my mom will inevitably someday get her lung transplant at.
One day, I got a call right before class. My mom got 'the call', and she was going to get ready to go to the hospital for that transplant. I cried for 30 minutes and almost missed class. It was the middle of the week, I had work and an exam on Monday and she would be 4 hours away. How could I go? On the other hand, though, it's possible that the transplant wouldn't go well, and this would be my last chance ever to see her. How could I not go?
That lung turned out to be non-viable, so it was a fluke, but regardless, the situation was real in the moment.
I fear constantly at college that I will get that call again. A call that could mean my mother's life will be completely turned around for the better or it could mean her life ends.
I worry every day about my mom and I have for the past seven years. I will never forgive nicotine and tobacco for taking away my childhood and making me fear for my adulthood, a part of my life that might not include my mom.
Don't let nicotine ruin your life. Don't make your children grow up too soon.