Yes, it’s true. I was a thief.
I can’t recall ever stealing something from my family, not stooping to raiding my mother’s purse, for I understood that such behavior was unacceptable. I also understood that we had very little money, so what would be the purpose of taking the few bills my mother did have?
I did yearn for things. In fact, at times the desire was so all-consuming that it was all I could think about.
My mother shopped most frequently at what she called the five-and-dime. It was an all-purpose store that sold everything from deodorant to fabrics to toys to books. At that point my reading skills were just developing, so books did not hold me in thrall.
It was the paper umbrellas that got me. They were in a bin, all opened, showing off their beautiful pastel colors and wooden bodies. They called to me, over and over. More than once my fingers reached for one, intending to ask my mother to buy one for me, but when she did catch me, she slapped my hand away.
My desire escalated to such a point that I could not turn away. Could not fight off the feeling of wanting to possess just one. Just one paper umbrella.
I told myself that the store owner would want me to have it. That if the owner knew how badly I wanted it and knew that there was no extra money for frills, that the owner would walk over and tell me to pick the one I most wanted.
And so when my mother’s attention was focused on something further away, my hand snuck out and I took the pink umbrella. I stuffed it in the pocket of my shorts, hoping that it didn’t break.
At first I smiled because I now had an umbrella. Then I began to shake in fear of what my mother would do to me when she discovered that I had stolen it. I reached into my pocket to put it back, but at that moment, my mother insisted that I follow her to the register.
I expected the owner to read my face, to see the dishonesty in my eyes, but she didn’t. I knew my mother would catch me, for nothing got past her, but she didn’t.
When we left the store, I thought alarm bells would ring and the police would be called and I would go to jail, but none of that happened.
All the way home in the car, I waited for the angry words of disapproval, but they didn’t come. In fact, it wasn’t until hours later when my mom walked into my room and saw my playing with the umbrella that anything awful happened.
She didn’t spank me, but she did take the umbrella away.
Later that evening when my dad came home from work, my mom confronted him with the evidence that his daughter was a thief. His outrage was both painful and immediate. He removed his belt and repeatedly struck me on my backside until I was sure that it must have been bright red.
The next day my mom drove into town, parked in front of the store, and escorted me to the counter. She stood there as I confessed, arms crossed over her chest and an indignant look on her face.
The owner didn’t want the umbrella back, which made me very happy, but that happiness was short-lived. My mother would not let me have it. Instead she pushed me out of the store, lecturing about how I had embarrassed her and that I was lucky that the owner was not going to press charges.
When school started I was signed up for a Brownie Girl Scout troop. I don’t remember asking to do this, so since we had limited funds, I’m not sure why my parents insisted that I belong. Maybe they thought I’d develop morals or that, since I was socially awkward, that I’d learn to belong.
Things went well the first few meetings, but then the yearning struck again when the leader placed a package of brightly colored rubber bands on the table. Oh, I wanted them! Not just the two we were supposed to use for our project. No, I wanted the entire bag!
I was transfixed by the myriad of colors sitting there, waiting for me to pick them up. They called my name, begging me to please take them home.
I remembered the umbrella incident, so moved away, thinking that the call would lesson, but it didn’t. Instead it intensified to the point that all I could think about was the rubber bands and what it would feel like to own them.
When it was time to clean up, all the girls pitched in. The bag was one of the last things left on the table. I reached for it, hoping that someone else would beat me to it, saving me from myself, but it didn’t happen.
To me, this was a sign. A miracle. Those rubber bands were supposed to go home with me. I held them in my fist and walked toward the tub were all supplies went. The closer I got, the harder my heart beat until it was pounding ferociously in my chest.
At the last minute I veered and went to my bag. I slid the package in with my homework, zipped it up, and then stood by the door.
Like before, I expected to be caught by either my leader or by my mother. Neither happened. I was able to get the rubber bands all the way home and hide them in my room.
I never derived any pleasure from them because I was too fearful of being caught.
Eventually I snuck the package outside and stuffed it in the garbage can.
That was my last foray into the criminal lifestyle.
I still wanted things as passionately as before, but the threat of being caught and disciplined was too much.
Whenever something called my name, I forced myself to walk away. I might not have been the best student, but in this case, I learned my lesson well.