Promises, Promises, Promises This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The tears stream down my face, cascading over my cheeks and running into my mouth. I don’t even notice the taste, but my heart feels heavy, weighted with guilt and shame. I can barely think straight, and curl up in a ball, letting the sobs overcome me. After an eternity, I hear a knock at the door. It’s my mom. She asks if I’m all right and I meekly say yes. Mom sees right through me and attempts to comfort me, saying it wasn’t my fault, Mrs. W. was confused toward the end of her life and wasn’t angry at me. The words don’t help. My guilt still surrounds me like a dark cloud, and I can’t shut out the question running through my mind: Why didn’t I just keep my promise?

***

The smell of freshly baked ginger cookies and cinnamon permeates the hallway, enticing my every sense. I run to the stove, eager to grab one. Mrs. Wojtowicz, a robust, smiling, German woman, greets me with a thick accent, scolding me not to eat them all because they are for my dad. Mrs. W. is one of my dad’s patients and feels immense gratitude to him for having saved her life. Kindhearted woman that she is, she “adopted” me as a grandchild, having none of her own. She feels the only way to express her thanks is by letting me and my family into her heart. Being ten years old with no relatives nearby, I’m ecstatic. She bakes for the remainder of the day, and I’m perfectly happy to nap in the company of my surrogate grandma and her large, fluffy cats.

***

The years went by and Mrs. W. never forgot a birthday or missed a dance recital. She was a constant, reassuring presence in my life. Whether we were baking, traveling or just talking, I always enjoyed my time with her. But as I grew older, certain things began to seem more important. It was time for boys instead of baking, friends instead of museums and parties instead of long talks with a sweet woman with barely any family.

Even though I had become more distant, she was still there for me with a warm hug and a plate of cookies. One thing Mrs. W. and I had always wanted to do was have a fancy meal at the French Café. One cold November day I decided I wasn’t too incredibly wrapped up with my life and we went. “Finally,” she exclaimed, “I have taken my doll-baby out to the French Café for fancy-fancy meal.”

I just smiled patronizingly while she stared peacefully into space. My 15-year-old frame fidgeted restlessly. I should have been overjoyed that we were finally carrying out our fancy-party fantasy, but instead I was thinking about what I would do later that night. We ordered food we couldn’t pronounce and laughed about old times before I was a teenage ball of hormones.

Before I realized, it was time to leave. I looked up at my Mrs. W. and saw tears forming in her kind blue eyes. I threw my arms around her, trying to coax out the truth. She finally confessed that she was upset that we didn’t see each other as often since she moved an hour away. An idea came to me.

“Why don’t I drive down to spend the weekend when I turn 16?” I suggested excitedly. The look on her face was my answer, and I promised her it was a date.

I remember that feeling of freedom the first couple weeks after turning 16 – the open road, no more parents carting me around … total independence. I let that feeling overtake me and let the promise I had made to Mrs. W. slip from my memory. Never a pushy person, she didn’t remind me, hoping I would come when I was ready.

As it turns out, I never did visit Mrs. W. I never even said good-bye to one of my favorite people, and that is why I have been balled up and sobbing since my mom told me the news a few hours ago.

My mom told me Mrs. W. had been sick for a long time and seemed to be holding on until I went to visit. She had wanted to give me her jewelry and treasures before she passed, not having a daughter of her own. I didn’t know this. Mrs. W. was aware of her impending death, but being a strong person, never told me of her illness for fear it would upset me. When I didn’t come to visit her month after month, her will to live started to fade, thinking she had done something to make me not want to see her. She died silently, from a broken heart, I feel.

As I lay sobbing, it dawned on me how incredibly important promises are. I realized that even though I could not bring her back, I could keep one promise. She had always wanted to donate money to the Humane Society where she found her beloved cats. Mrs. W. could never spare any money, for the little extra she had was being saved for me. When she died, I decided to give the money she left me to the Humane Society to build a new cat room in her honor.

I’m keeping the promise to take care of not only her cat but many others, and I know she would be happy about my actions. I know now that breaking a promise can lead to breaking a heart … and that’s just too heavy a price to pay.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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