Incapable Of Quitting

In an excerpt taken from his memoir, Blood Horses, John Jeremiah Sullivan movingly reflects on his father’s tobacco-related death:

Late one night, in the room where I slept whenever I stayed with him, I sat down at his old desk, his father’s desk. In the drawer were his “quitting journals”, as he called them, special notebooks, set apart from the others, filled with his rapid, loopy script. He would start a clean one with each new attempt to kick cigarettes. I had glanced at them once or twice when he was alive. Now they belonged to me, along with all of his “creative work”, under the terms of the will. They were largely self-excoriations, full of black thoughts, efforts to locate and take hold of his own willpower. How badly he wanted to change. Worse than any of us could have wanted that for him. (There was a notecard on the table by the bed, written when he was going to a support group: “Reasons to quit: 1. It worries my children.”) I flipped through one of the notebooks. He was writing about how embarrassed he was every morning when he would start to cough and could not stop, and he knew the neighbours could hear him through the thin walls. Turning the page, I found a one-sentence paragraph, set off by itself. When I read it, I knew that I would never look at the journals again. “If I should not wake up tomorrow,” he had written, “know that my love is timeless and fond.”