Friday, November 15, 2013

"I forgot"

My younger son, who admires military life, can drive me around the bend when it comes to completing chores around the house. "I forgot," he will say, as if, having forgotten, the matter is somehow out of his hands and he is absolved. What the hell -- forgetting is human, right? So if anyone forgets, they are simply expressing their humanity and hence forgivable and ... well, we can forget about it.

How true, how complete, how kind ... and how lazy.

I forgot.

When it comes to the military, I wonder how well "I forgot" might play in a fire fight. I forgot the ammo. I forgot the grenades. I forgot to relay some vital piece of intelligence. "I forgot" and as a result, some of my dearest friends may be lying dead at my feet. And in such a scenario, is it too much to suggest that "I just killed the people I love?"

In such extreme circumstances, I would not like to be around anyone who hung his hat on "I forgot." Such people are unreliable in a time when relying on others is crucial. Unreliable people are dangerous. They are careless about what they claim to love.

I can remember standing in a military formation once and a lieutenant cussed me up one side and down the other because I had neglected to button one pocket on my fatigue blouse. He gave me what's-for in no uncertain terms and then assigned me to some shitty detail so that, perhaps, in future I would not forget. At the time, I thought it was pretty unfair ... hell, it was just a button, right? No big deal. I just forgot. Forgetting is human ... so let's forget it.

But the lieutenant was right. If you can't be responsible in small stuff, how can you be relied on when the serious shit hits the fan? It is in the little stuff that anyone earns their spurs, their right to be trusted and welcomed into the local community.

I forgot.

The little stuff -- the stuff that does not include life-and-death scenarios -- is important. Every "I forgot" has a way of creating difficulty for someone else -- a someone else who may be near and dear or maybe is just an acquaintance with whom a bargain has been struck. "I forgot" ... and whatever it is that constitutes "my word" is diminished.

At my age, I have little right to climb on my high horse about those who rely on "I forgot" as a means of evading responsibility while maintaining a good impression of themselves. My capacity to forget is gaining on my capacity to remember. But what I forget has not yet overtaken my promises to others. If someone asks me to pick up a bottle of Coke, the odds favor my remembering and then doing it. But on Wednesday, I was convinced for a couple of hours that it was Thursday until my daughter corrected me.  It's no big deal, on the one hand: Old farts are known for forgetting. On the other hand, sometimes I hate forgetting: Who knows what damage, willful or otherwise, might be done? I dislike doing damage. I dislike becoming untrustworthy.

The realm of "I forgot" has a hundred tendrils but in general I think it's a good practice: Every time the words "I forgot" threaten to provide a haven for escape or ease ... well, forgetaboutit! Own it. Things work better that way. If you want to think well of yourself, then learn not to rely on exculpatory salves like "I forgot."


  1. "I Forgot!", grrr i hate to have to say that. With the "I forgot!" comes the dopeslap from myself for forgetting, as well as the embarrassment of having forgotten!

  2. There's a better excuse than "I forgot":
    "It's my first day!"

  3. > "I forgot" and as a result, some of my dearest friends may be
    > lying dead at my feet.

    Wow, your son's poor memory has killed people? That must be very stressful for you both. :-(

    Seriously though, people with certain kinds of chronic memory issues (for example: ADHD/autism spectrum issues with good compensatory skills) often do very well in high-stress, decision critical fields with tons of responsibility; like firefighting, emergency health care, and the military. In other cases (like severe Alzheimer's), issues with memory can be completely disabling. And everything in between.

    Of course I understand that what you're actually saying is that your son is using "I forgot" as an excuse. And maybe he is. Or maybe he's not. It's hard to tell from the outside, even if the outside is a member of your family.

    But as an otherwise perfectly competent person with autism spectrum disorder and a near complete inability to remember certain kinds of information reliably, blame around memory issues that I really, truly cannot do that much about is one of the most hurtful social prejudices I have to deal with on an ongoing basis.

    Because I'm obviously smart, and appear "normal" and competent, people have a hard time understanding that my areas of deficit are not just me making lame excuses, and over time, after multiple attempts to use good coping skills, explain nonjudgmentally, etc, eventually I just give up on people who are particularly rigid and stop making commitments with them. Very few relationships are worth having to play the role of the "irresponsible" bad person all the time.

    On the positive side, one of the most helpful pieces of advice I ever read was in a book on coping with ADHD (I forget which one of course, lol). As is frequently the case, it was written for parents trying to deal with their inattentive, hyper, forgetful, annoying children, but the advice was good for everyone imo:
    Remember you and your loved one (or yourself) are both on the same side. Being forgetful sucks for both the forget-er and the forget-ee. So rather than casting each other as the enemy, cast the neurological problem itself in that role and work together to find compensatory strategies.