Crimes of Passion

            When I was a child, my family was poor. We always had food, clothes and a place to live, so we weren’t destitute. Much of what we did have came from relatives. This included everything from furniture to food.

            I don’t recall ever being extremely hungry, but I was never full. Apply this to not just the physical sense of lacking food, but to the emotional. I missed something that was wholly mine. Yearned for something that had never been owned, worn, felt by someone before coming to me.

            At the time I lacked the words to describe the feeling. There was an emptiness that was never filled. As a consequence, my eyes sought objects that were small, so insignificant that they would not be missed.

            My mom frequented the Five and Dime, a general merchandise store that catered to people like us. My mom loved to roam the aisles, feeling this, holding that, occasionally buying the things she came there for: a spool of thread, buttons, a swath of fabric.

            Perhaps I learned from her that it was okay to pick up and hold things that you weren’t going to buy. Maybe I was taught to slip things in your purse when the owner wasn’t looking. In later years I learned that my mom often left stores with hidden items. If that was true, then I was an observant understudy.

            My sister’s birthday was approaching and on this trip to the Five and Dime my mom needed candles for the cake. In that section there were tiny pink dolls, plastic cribs to match, and paper umbrellas on thin sticks. I wanted them all. One of each size, shape and color.

            Something inside of me must have known that it was not okay to pocket too many items, at least not on one trip. My hand reached for a plastic baby on its own accord. It felt smooth and easy to touch. It weighed nothing. It fit perfectly in my small hand and even better in the pocket of my jacket.

            I wanted more. The crib, the umbrellas. I trembled and sweat broke out on my forehead. I couldn’t talk. When we approached the register I knew I was going to get caught. My eyes looked down. I feared that the owner could see guilt, could see the inside of my pocket. He said nothing.

            On the way home my fingers held that baby, still inside the pocket. At home I buried it in the backyard, hiding the evidence.

            One plastic baby didn’t satisfy the want inside me.

            The next visit to the store I pocketed a box of six crayons. The problem, I realized once home, was that I couldn’t use them without my mm knowing that she had not paid for them. The crayons joined the plastic baby in the backyard.

            By now I was a seasoned thief. I planned my outfit, making sure I had at least one pocket. I knew I had to roam the aisles like my mother did, feeling this, picking up that, examining something else. When mom led us to the trinket aisle I knew what I was going to take: an umbrella. The problem was, which one. I chose the blue. It slid into my pocket just as the other things had done.

            By now I wasn’t afraid of looking at the owner. After all, I had stolen before and not gotten caught. With the umbrella secure, I accompanied my mom to the register, stood complacently while she paid, then walked out. Except something different happened.

            The owner asked my mom to wait, but not until after I was outside. I don’t know what was said, but when my mom stormed outside and grabbed me by the sleeve, I knew I was in trouble. She dug in my pocket and produced the umbrella. With it held aloft, she pulled me back inside the store. She handed over the umbrella which was now broken thanks to her tight grip.

            I was told to apologize. I refused. I had done nothing wrong in my mind. I had seen my mom slip things in her purse over and over. If I had to apologize, then so should she. I didn’t say it, thankfully.

            After much prodding I mumbled an apology. The owner then forbade me from ever entering his store again. I thought his punishment was excessive considering it was only a tiny umbrella.

            My parents decided I need moral guidance so they enrolled me in a Brownie troop that was being formed at the Catholic School I attended. I didn’t know anyone and had no intentions of making friends with them.

            I don’t know how I knew, but I understood that the girls and mothers who ran the troop came from wealthier families. It might have been the newness of the girls’ uniforms versus my faded one from a thrift store. Perhaps it was because the mothers wore necklaces and earrings, something my mother didn’t have. Maybe it was the way they treated me: like an idiot who didn’t understand English.

            It wasn’t on the first meeting, but maybe the third, that the mothers had planned a craft activity. It involved the use of colorful rubber bands. I don’t remember what I made, if I made anything at all. What I do recall in vivid clarity was the desire to own the bag of rubber bands.

            My palms began to sweat. My heart beat wildly. I couldn’t take my eyes off the bag. Whenever a girl took a rubber band from the bag I cringed inside. I wanted that bag so badly that my stomach hurt.

            I had to have it. I had to take it home. But how? How could I sneak it home without being caught?

            The solution came when it was time to clean up. The bag still sat on the table, all alone. It called my name. I moved closer to it. The desire intensified. I checked to see where the others were. The girls were giggling off to the side. The mothers were in a circle, talking. No one was near me. No one was watching.

            The entire bag of rubber bands slid into my school bag. I latched it shut then hurriedly left without saying goodbye.

            My mom was waiting outside. We drove the long way home in silence. At home I took my school bag into my bedroom as I always did. I removed the rubber bands and hid them in my underwear drawer. Moved them to under my mattress. Stuffed them in a shoe. Found a hole in the back of my closet and stuck them in there.

            When my mom finally asked how the Brownie meeting went, I told her it was dumb and I never wanted to go back. That was a lie. I had had fun. The mothers were kind. I felt safe there, at a time when I needed safety. I feared that the girls and mothers knew I had taken the rubber bands. That was the reason I couldn’t return.

            My crime of passion ruined what might have been a good thing.

Election Day Thoughts

            I still recall my first opportunity to vote for a president. I was not a political activist, but I became one because I wanted to make what I thought was the right choice for all Americans. I attended rallies, workshops, seminars and listened to countless speeches. My university was predominately liberal, but all voices could be heard. And listen I did.

            When it came time to vote, I did so with great pride.

            My candidate won and went on to become a good president, a good leader. He lead with compassion and thought.

            I never regretted my decision even when I changed political parties for the next election.

            In over 50 years I have never missed an election cycle because I feel it is my civic duty to vote. When I study the issues and the candidates I am constantly aware of how, many years ago, not all Americans had the right to vote. If you weren’t a white man, you had no voice. When women finally won the right to vote, many chose to vote as their husbands, fathers or brothers told them to do. Politics was considered above the head of women and discussing political ideas was considered unseemly.

            My candidates didn’t always win, but I told myself that the winners would still represent me, would still keep me in their minds as they brought forth bills. At times I was sorely disappointed. Decisions were made that angered me or negatively impacted me, such as when taxes were increased or boundaries were gerrymandered to enhance the strength of a different political party than mine.

            For the most, part, however, I understood that the voice of the many was what drove decisions, what won elections, what dictated how laws were interpreted and enforced.

            Until 2016. My candidate did not win, not because of popular vote, but because of an archaic system called the Electoral College. I understand why the founding fathers established the College many years ago: it was to make sure that all states had equal voice in choosing who would be president. However, at that time, much of America was rural, with people scattered across vast swaths of land.

            Those “fathers” most likely didn’t expect things to remain static, that America would remain mostly rural. They also probably expected change to take place as time and circumstances dictated. There has been no change. So what we have is a system in which a wide-open mostly rural state has the same two votes as a densely populated state. Essentially this means that not all voters are equal, not all votes count.

            The current president won because of the Electoral College. His “two votes” came from predominately rural states, states that for the most part are mostly white, run by white males. His victory represented those white ideals, not the majority of Americans, not the majority of women or people of color. We have seen the results, over and over as mandates have been signed and laws have been passed or rules have been challenged which weaken the voice of anyone who is not white male.

            The importance of voting has become more and more apparent as the years have passed. During 2016 many sat out the election because they didn’t like a particular candidate, sort of a protest non-vote. There were Independents who chose to vote for candidates who stood no chance of winning because of our primarily two-party system. Because of the many who chose not to endorse the candidate who did win the popular votes, our country ended up with a president who represents a narrow spectrum of America: white males.

            By the time you read this, it will be too late to vote. Hopefully you did turn in a ballot. Hopefully you chose wisely after much thought and research. Hopefully you are pleased with the outcome.

            After the results were announced in 2016, many across America mourned. Hopefully the same will not happen again.

            Americans have always been proud of how we come together, regardless of many diverse circumstances, in pride in our country. We are not perfect: far from it. We make mistakes. Often we learn from those same mistakes, but it sometimes takes many, many mistakes before we do something about it.

            We need to understand that choices have consequences. Just as when one buys a particular brand and model of car after much research, choosing a political candidate requires the same amount of careful research. The difference is that car buying affects only one family while the political candidate affects thousands, millions, billions.

            My hope is that Americans who chose not to vote last election, Americans who chose to vote for a third-party candidate, have awakened to exactly what that wrought.