Quote of the day...er...week...umm...hey, look, a quote!!

"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

For old quotes, look here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I promise (maybe).

I read this over at Noble Pig, and it reminded me of when I was a kid and one of my (many, many, no really, I can't count them all) quirks; I don't make promises.

Not often, anyway.

When someone does manage to wrangle a promise out of me, I'll promise to try, but not to do. I won't make a promise I am not certain of keeping - if I think weather, time, humanity, or my own perfidy will keep me from keeping my word...I won't give my word.

Promises flew through the air like popcorn from a lidless hot-air popper when I was a kid. I can't begin to tell you how many trips to Disney World were promised by my grandmother as rewards for good grades and/or behavior - but I can tell you that I went once, with someone who never promised we'd go, just showed up one day and asked Mum if he could borrow me and my brother for adventures in the home of the rodent with a side jaunt to Cape Canaveral (Thanks, GDH - that was awesome). Other than the one person who'd never promised to take us anywhere, the trips never happened. When I was six, I really believed the promises...then I cottoned on.

From my grandmother I learned that people make promises because it's more convenient than being honest, because they want something from you.

Now, I am not referring to mistakes like mixing up dates or times, or when something catastrophic happens and things can't be avoided.

Nope. I'm talking about promising your ten-year-old daughter that you are coming to visit her at boarding school this weekend and not showing up. And she refrained for going roller-skating with the rest of the dorm because she was waiting for you. So instead, she spent Saturday in a tree coming to the conclusion that she meant absolutely zero to you. That's what I mean.

If it happened only once, that would be one thing - but more than thirty times in four years? Umm...that's a pattern, a habit.

From my father, I learned that promising is easier than telling someone they mean less to you than the party, the boat, the hunting trip, the inconvenience of the effort of keeping that promise.

I was probably fourteen when the last straw hit me. It was such a stupid thing, really - my grandmother decided I wasn't fucked up in the head enough and maybe an eating disorder and an unhealthy attitude towards food were just the things I needed, so she placed me on a special diet. Easy for her to do - I lived at a boarding school where she didn't have to implement this bizarre diet - the staff did. Bless their hearts.

I was seriously limited in my dining options, since I wasn't permitted to consume anything with wheat, oats, sugars, yeast, or anything remotely resembling "tasty".

One night a week, we planned our own meals. One week, the other kids decided to have root beer floats for desert. I didn't say anything, just knew I wouldn't have any. As usual, I would probably just leave the room.

One of the relief house-parents knew about my restrictions and offered to get me some special ice cream - I couldn't have a float, but at least I'd have a special treat, too. Since I'd been living on rice cakes, tofu, and tree bark for months, I was happy to believe in her promises.

The anticipated night came, and we had our dinner (lasagna for everyone else, salad with no dressing for me)(yes, some eighteen years later I remember - that garlic bread smelled good!). I didn't mind that I couldn't have lasagna or garlic bread - I had a treat waiting for me.

Or...did I?

Yeah, umm...it seems that a certain relief house parent (I don't have room to explain this, here. maybe some other time) had forgotten.

So while the other kids were digging in to ice cream and pouring root beer, I was quietly waiting for my promised Tofutti. A plate was thrust under my nose. A plate with rice cakes on it. As an added bonus, some old, rancid, organic, no sugar added, stir the oil back in every time you open it peanut butter had been swiped across the tops. Festive.

And definitely not on par with Tofutti, ice cream, or root beer floats. I asked what had happened to the Tofutti she'd promised. She casually said "Oh, I forgot about that" and she made it clear that it meant nothing to her. I started to cry. Yes, I know, it was a stupid thing to cry over...but she'd promised. I'd looked forward to it for a week, endured meals I wouldn't feed to the worst of humanity knowing I had this one small thing in my future. I mentioned that she promised, and she basically told me to get over it, I was being childish (Umm, hello? I was a child!!), and it didn't matter.

When I declined the offered taste treat, I was called ungrateful - ungrateful for the effort this woman had made in un-bagging some stale old rice cakes and topping them with something akin to baby shit but with less appeal.

I took the plate, stared at it for a moment, and did something I'd never before done. I lost my shit. I threw the plate at the woman (I missed, but the offending cakes did stick to the wall in a most satisfying manner)(organic peanut butter apparently makes a fine stand-in for wallpaper paste, should you run out) and left the dorm. She yelled at me to stop, and I kept right on going.

I'd never rebelled against anything, never lost id like that before. It was a revelation. She stood in the doorway screaming, and I kept right on walking, over the lawn, past the big hexagonal school building, and into the woods. If I had known the word "fuck" at the time, I think I might have used it.

That was the last time I believed in a promise. Oh, sure, I'll hope that someone means it, but I don't put any faith in the vow - I don't trust promises, and (sadly) I am rarely disappointed in their breaking. I am (more sadly) usually stunned in their keeping.

I, myself, will not be forsworn. I'll die first. That's not hyperbole - I mean it. If I promise a thing, I will kill myself keeping my word. I have not broken any of the rare promises I've made in life, nor will I. I may ask to be released from a promise, but I won't break it. I won't disappoint my son the way I was disappointed - I won't wound him with that kind of carelessness. I won't do that to anyone.

Hell, I even hedged my wedding vows, promising not to love forever, but to remain as long as love lasted. No "'til death do you part" for me. Nope. It was "As long as love lasts". I won't promise forever...won't even promise next week. I'll promise the moment I'm in and no more.

I could go on about the promise that's kept me kicking through this old life, and the aftermath of my tempestuous, teen-angsty blowup over Tofutti (today, I would consider it a favor if you didn't give me any)(and doubly favored am I if you never, ever offer me anything with tofu it), but this has gone on enough.

I'll post that other stuff another time. I promise.

Oh, and? Noble Pig didn't break a promise - she made a simple mistake from which she and her child will recover and learn. I just feel the need to point out, again, that it's not the same...because she's a terrific woman, a loving Mum, and human. It was the disappointment that reminded me...that's all...


Suzy said...

I'm with you, if I make a promise I keep it no matter what. I never ask anyone to promise me anything because theyre not like me. Who is?

Susan said...

Holy cats, after what you described I'd hardly call it a quirk that you don't make promises! Who would blame you? I want to shake the teeth out of some people's heads right now...beginning with your father.

Kyddryn said...

There's only one Suzy...

Susan, it was more than twenty years ago...funny how clearly one remembers little incidents. Sigh.

Writer Dad said...

I never make promises I can't keep. I'm with you. My daughter asks me if I promise all the time. The answer's rarely yes.