I discovered at a young age I was good at stealing. As a bright, normal-looking 10 year-old, I could walk into a store smiling, say hi, and walk out with a coat full of baseball cards, candy, cap guns, Playboys, whatever.
My parents would send me to the store for milk or bread, so they knew me there. The owners were a married couple in their aprons, always happy to see me, remarking how cute – going to the store by myself, again!
Stevey was a kid a few years younger than me, maybe six. He had curly hair and reminded me of the picture of a cartoon pig on the package of the local brand of bacon, Hatfield. He had a little piggy nose and big brown eyes, and was often sick.
I showed Stevey the ropes, and took him with me to the store. I explained how it was done, and convinced him to nab a box of baseball stickers.
Stevey was perplexed: wasn’t this stealing? Isn’t stealing bad? I told him we were just borrowing it, don’t worry about it!
We went on stealing, just out of school for the summer. I hid the Playboys off-site, near a power generator the apartment complex had masked with a few Thuja trees.
One evening we got the call: Stevey’s mother wanted to come talk to my parents. Evidently, Stevey had amassed a stockpile of baseball cards, fireworks and peanut chews. When she asked Stevey how he bought all this, he said he was BORROWING them from the store. The dumb-ass hadn’t even thought to hide them from his parents.
I stood by the washing machine, waiting for the reckoning, recounting my ways. I was full of shame.
They knocked at the door and came in. Stevey’s mom and dad had coached him to deliver the account of what transpired, and Stevey did so with gusto, also with a look of contempt and distrust for me, as if I were some infectious rat.
The theme of his monologue came back to the idea that I had ‘couraged him to do all this. That was the root of my crime: couragement. The transference of guilt from Stevey, to me.
My dad and I drove to the store and he made me confront the owner, to confess my crimes. I got off easy with the store, but the sense of shame hung with me for years. Apart from some condoms, blank cassette tapes, and disposable razors, I haven’t stolen anything since.