Write about a time you broke: A promise
Yesterday’s assignment could have doubled up with today’s, because breaking an engagement is most certainly breaking a rather large promise, but that would have defeated the purpose of this entire exercise in daily writing.
But I’m sure I’ve broken many other promises in my time on this planet, promises both big and small. I think as we get older, we tend to dismiss the gravity of promises we’ve broken or re-write personal histories to justify our actions. And some broken promises are too painful to remember and we push them into dark closets hoping they remain there.
Cultural histories are full of warnings about the breaking of oaths and promises and the downfall of those who fail to keep them; so the breaking of promises is a very basic human trait. We have to bind our promises on Iuppiter Lapis, the Bible, or at a Norse bragarfull, to ensure that we keep them. Promises are the foundation of great epics from Beowulf to modern movies, such as Saving Private Ryan.
My promise breaking tale is neither a small promise nor a large one, but somewhere in between. My father died when I was five years old from lung cancer, most certainly brought on by working as a plumber around asbestos lined water heaters and not helped by smoking a pipe infrequently. As a result, my mother was rather demonstrative in her anti-smoking stance and made me promise vehemently that I would never, ever take up smoking.
My generation was one of the first that they really pushed the “anti-smoking” and “anti-drug” programs at the school age level. But we were weirdly placed after a generation who had believed smoking was fine from a health perspective and as young children, we had gleefully imitated the adults around us, pretending to smoke candy cigarettes like little mini-Betty Davises. And as teenagers, we were bombarded by media images of cool women like Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith who always seem to have a lit cigarette dangling dramatically from their hands, a tool to ready to emphasize a point or to seductively inhale to create a pregnant pause in an interview.
My first cigarette was with my friend Lynn–I think we stole a few from her Mom or Aunt’s pack and went to a local park and nervously lit them up. I don’t remember how that first cigarette felt, but I do remember Lynn and I frantically washing out our shirts and our hair at her house so our Moms wouldn’t smell the smoke on us. This routine became pretty common amongst my peer group going forward. Sneak a few and smoke away from the house. By my senior year of high school some of my friends were committed smokers, and I would occasionally smoke the famous OPC brand (Other People’s Cigarettes).
When I went away to college, I smoked in fits and starts, mainly driven by economics rather than desire. (A pack cost $1.75 then, so if it was a choice between washing clothes and cigarettes, clean clothes won, hands down). Grad school, with its intense pressures saw the peak of my smoking. It was around that timeframe that an erstwhile boyfriend that finally convinced me to quit, using the well-worn phrase, “Nobody likes to kiss an ashtray”. Since then, I’ve had a smoke here and there, but usually regret it the next day when my lungs protest.
I’m sorry mom, I broke that promise. But I do try to avoid the cancer sticks now and I’ve made those donations to the American Cancer Society in amends.