When I was around seven, I became a criminal.
I started shoplifting from the neighborhood Safeway store. (It was more than just groceries then. It sort of had a bit of everything.)
My friend Vana and I did the stealing, together, at first. I don’t recall whose idea it was.
I think the first item we took was something really small and inexpensive, such as a candy. There was such rush of danger to it. An adrenaline high.
I know I enjoyed the risky feeling of it. Of getting away with something. Of doing something wrong and not being caught.
There were a few more items, leading up to the very difficult-to-steal stationary set. It was a large box set, and the fact that I somehow managed to get away with it was more the real prize, I think, than the stationary itself. (It was grown up stationary, not even something I wanted.)
But the pièce de résistance was a gold ring. The ring probably cost $50, but it was harder to get to and it carried higher stakes if caught. I don’t even think Vana was in on this one. I was egging my own self on by this point. Pushing my own limits and capabilities.
I am still not sure why I felt compelled to turn to such lowly capers. We were not rich, but we were not in need. I had a room full of things. My needs were mostly met, at least materially.
I did not even enjoy any of the items I stole. I felt so guilty. I tried to thrown them down the storm drain, but could only throw away the first thing I took, the candy. The rest I stashed on the top shelf in the corner of my closet.
From that corner, those items taunted me daily. They called me “Robber.” “Stealer.” I was nauseous with fear most of the time. Fear of being found out. Fear of what my parents would think of me if they knew. That stash kept me up at night. It felt as if it was alive on that shelf. As if I was harboring a defenseless animal or something.
Finally one night, when I could not stand it anymore, I went into my parents bedroom and announced that “their daughter was a shoplifter.”
In a rush of shame and tears, I told the whole dirty story. As I had been up until that point an incredibly reserved and careful girl who made perfect grades and never rocked the boat, I have the feeling they felt that I had probably been under the influence of Vana, who they judged as wilder than I.
I led them to my stash and showed them the evidence of my sickness. Instead of being concerned for my sanity, looking back, I think they were somewhat impressed by what I had gotten away with stealing.
As punishment, my parents had me take the items back to the store and confess my sins. Luckily and unluckily, there were no repercussions from the store.
My parents seemed to feel that my real punishment was knowing their disappointment in me. And they were right in that. It just leveled me.
I still feel shame around it, even though I work at forgiving my child of seven for needing to take those things. She needed something. It wasn’t those things.
I say it was unlucky that there were no repercussions.
I think that my seven year-old was really lost. I think I was terribly lost. I think I needed help and attention but had no idea how to ask for it.
I didn’t get the help I didn’t know I needed then.
But I never stole again.