I smoked my last cigarette three years ago on July 31 in a motel parking lot somewhere in South Carolina. There was a half-moon in the sky and a large man in a red pick-up truck was talking to somebody on the phone about Jesus. Insects whirred in the bushes across from a 7-Eleven. I’ve smoked so many last cigarettes, and I remember all of them. Nothing feels finer than making plans to quit smoking while lighting a cigarette.

I miss the aesthetics of smoking, the ceremony of fire escapes, solitude, and ash. Instead I run. I creak and jiggle and curse five nights a week. It’s a lousy replacement. If I knew the world would end in a year, would I start smoking again? I often contemplate this question while I grind out my miles.

One night I was idling at a red light in New Orleans when an elderly woman approached my car. She tapped on my window with a cane. “Please help me,” she said. “I have cancer.” She asked me to drive her to the discount tobacco store, and I did.

Each night in 2020, I wrote a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I wanted to etch these days into my memory. Before the world changed completely.
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