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A Lesson about Smoking and Drinking
Kimberly, Age 15, IL

‎At the ignorant age of six, I would visit my uncle at his house in Carol Stream every week. Speculating my uncle’s each and every move, I would watch as he would disappear periodically and enter the garage with a beer in his left hand and a cigarette in the other.

I, for one, did not really care because I was simply focused on enjoying my play time with my cousins. With a child’s attention span like mine, nothing really mattered aside from Legos and riding a petite, blue horse. My uncle’s routines never really struck me as a threat until I had matured and began to understand when he was ill. Without displaying any symptoms, he seemed like he was in the same condition as he always was, so it was not much of a deal until he wasn’t showing any progress that he was getting any better. After a medical check-up, the reasoning behind his illness was revealed to his family. My uncle, only 66 years old, was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Not only did he have lung cancer, but his liver was also in a weak condition due to the substantial amount of alcohol he had consumed. After we received the news, my views of his drinking and smoking were turned around; his daily routines shifted from being harmless to being harmful in a matter of seconds. But still, I kept the thought of it in the back of my head because being a teenager, there were other more important issues that I had on my mind. I tried to concentrate on my schoolwork and getting satisfying grades for my parents while also trying to juggle school drama and track practices. Although I was concerned for my uncle, it seemed to me that he was still healthy enough and stable enough to keep himself going.

As time elapsed, I became distant from my uncle. After visiting him from time to time, I saw that he was still continuously smoking and drinking, so it calmed my nerves and assured me that it was still like the old days.

Two weeks before my family’s vacation to Florida, we received a call.

“He’s in the hospital,” our aunt mumbled with a melancholy tone. This came to us as an eye opener, but we had seen it coming in advance so we were not shocked. Our so-called stable uncle was not in the same state as he used to be.

“We have to visit him,” our dad suggested.

As teenagers, my siblings and I were disappointed because our plans had to be cancelled. At the time, we did not see it as selfish or conceited and we were let down that we had to disconnect from our friends for a day.

At the hospital, we spotted our uncle. He was not in the condition he was in before. He was lying in his bed, incapable of even taking care of himself. He could not even support his own body. He had a tube that provided him with oxygen and a different food tube traveling to his stomach that barely satisfied his famine. As we stood there in the room, it was absolutely silent. No sounds came out of anyone’s mouth. We just stood there and observed. We observed our uncle, nearly bald and stick skinny, as if he were a victim of the Holocaust. No one knew what to say. My thoughts were hovering over my head but not ready to come out. Everything was quiet until my uncle spoke up. He first pointed at my oldest sister, Karen. As my sister walked toward him, he struggled, but managed, to hold his hand in the air, signalling to her that she should place her hand in his. He spoke to her briefly and then pointed to me, the second oldest in the family. Anxiously, I walked over to his bed and grasped his hand. As I held his hand, he told me the words that were repeatedly being played in my mind long after the moment elapsed.

In Chinese, he whispered to me, “Never smoke and never drink,” and I listened. As I hustled out of his room without even hearing what he had to say to my younger brother, I still could feel the touch of his hand against mine. The feeling of my uncle’s touch lingered on my hand long after he had let go and his words echoed throughout my head. It gave me a moment to think. I was entering high school and it was a command that every other adult had told me. But, for some reason, his words actually impacted on my actions. Parents, including my own, teachers, coaches, and advisors had all told me the exact same thing throughout my life growing up, in even more than four words and in extended detail, but it still wasn’t the same. This time, instead of having the words traveling in one ear and out the other, they remained with me.

As his lesson remained in my head, I moved on and went on my vacation to Florida with my mother, brother, and sister. Although it was meant to be a family vacation, my dad chose to stay at home because of work. Three days before we were supposed to depart from Florida and arrive in Chicago, my father called. He first told my mother that my uncle had passed away. After eavesdropping, I immediately grabbed the phone and spoke to my dad.

He softly mumbled, “Your uncle was in too much pain to stay alive and had already consulted the doctor about his decision. He decided to remove his oxygen tube.” After that phone call, all I did was cry. Typically, when someone died, I tried to keep my agony to myself, but for the same reason that his words actually meant something, I couldn’t. Because he actually taught me a lesson in life, not to keep repeating what everyone else had said, but because he wanted to save my life from what he had gone through with all the pain, he meant more than any material thing to me.

Being a high school student, many situations have and will approach me that have to do with smoking and drinking. Not only will they continue to reoccur though high school, but they will also reappear in my future college life and in my upcoming career. Visiting my uncle in the hospital taught me a valuable lesson that I know to always remember and cherish. Though he didn’t say much, his words combined together to form a lesson that actually stuck.

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