Been Caught Stealing
When I was six or seven years old, I liked to steal. I wasn't the kind of thief who stole whatever caught their eye in grocery stores and at friend's houses. My thievery was site specific. I only stole at school.
I loved school. It wasn't the learning we did while sitting in desks that I loved, because I was a pretty flaky kid who spent a lot of time thinking about things. I remember once that my friend, Aasiya, drew a picture of herself peeing in a her journal notebook, and then because I saw Aasiya's yellow crayon colouring in her pee puddle, I thought about how that was the same crayon we used to draw the sun, and the sun was way up in the sky, and God was also up in the sky, and so maybe that meant that God knew the sun, or maybe God was even big and yellow like the sun, or maybe God WAS the sun, and then I got into trouble for not putting anything in my journal notebook. What I loved school for was its aesthetic qualities. There were the smells of chalkboard brushes, the rubber bootroom floor, pencil shavings, and pink erasers. Even the notebooks had a sweet smell I liked to push against my nose. There were the sounds of feet scuffing under desks, ladies' heels in hallways, the hush of the library when the film projector was on, and the soft sound of chalk when it was held in one of those metal chalkholder sleeves. Everything was dry or hard or rough in a firm manner that implied an absolute solidity. As far as I was concerned, I could have lived in my elementary school.
I'm not certain how it came about, but Aasiya and I hatched a plan to hide out in the school until all of the teachers had gone home. Our teachers tended to cut out as soon as the last kid was out of the building and nobody locked the classroom doors, which we figured out from all the times after school when she and I dawdled around in the schoolyard and forgot something inside, so this was a conceivable thing to do. The first time we did it, we hid behind the long, green curtains in our second-grade classroom until we heard the janitor pass by with his floor-polisher in the hall.
"Psst," she spit from behind the neighbouring drapes, and we both crept out into the room.
I don't know that we originally planned on stealing stuff, but as we sneaked around, we started opening the teachers' desk drawers and the art supply cabinets, and they were all full of stuff that we thought was so cool. There was the footprint stamp my teacher used to stamp our work when it was really good, and there were those markers that smelled like paint thinner, and there was an entire roll of round stickers with anthropomorphized bananas on them.
We both wanted to take something, but I worried that it was stealing. In the end, we decided it wasn't really stealing, because these were all things the teachers gave us every day anyway. The footprint stamp was slipped into my bookbag, and the roll of banana stickers was slipped into hers. We each hid our items in the backs of our respective closets.
I felt kind of bad, but not because of the theft. I felt bad, because of the lying part of the whole deal. We had to lie about going to each other's houses after school, and after we had committed our covert thievery a few more times, we had to lie to the teachers through ommission by not confessing when they told our classrooms that things were being stolen. I really did believe that we were, in a way, entitled to the growing stashes of school supplies in the backs of our closets, but the lying I was clear about, and it made the back of my neck burn with shame when I thought about it. My plan? I was going to stop stealing so that I wouldn't have to lie about where I was and the teachers wouldn't ask about where things were going anymore. I was going to keep the stuff, though. I liked it.
My plans meant nothing to Aasiya, though. The school principal made one little speech over the intercom about how the offenders should turn themselves in to their teachers, and Aasiya stood up, right in the middle of story time, and confessed to the whole thing. I sat stone still, waiting for her inevitable fingering of me as her accomplice. When the teacher asked her if she acted alone, Aasiya turned slowly and looked in my direction. She couldn't bring herself to look right at me, instead directing her focus just over my head, but her implication was clear enough. I was mortified. Didn't she know that if we didn't say anything, the whole thing could just go away?
Under the awed eyes of all our classmates, I, finally, stood up, too.
In the many years since that incident, I have never revisited stealing, despite the fact that my first and only foray into the world of theft did nothing to impress upon me why it was wrong. I really did feel entitled to all of those school supplies. For the purpose of this story, though, I would like to tie it up neatly with a moral lesson well learned, but I cannot. I suppose what really stopped me from stealing was gaining more social maturity over time, but that doesn't stop the phrase "I, finally, stood up, too" from dangling there at the end of the story, begging for a tidy knot to close it all up.
What I am learning as I collect all these stories with end phrases that trail off without a sense of resolve, is that this is life. This is what life is like. As a person bent on teasing narrative out of even a walk to buy potato chips, this is hard for me to swallow. All these loose ends wave around like drowning victims, and I cannot save them until I am dead. That's the last narrative knot, at least as far as my character is concerned.
What I am learning, too, though, is that these apparent loose ends are not what they seem. The narrative, at least as far as it concerns the actual living of my real life, was never there. That loose end is merely where I trailed off again to think about balls of collected string, which lead to my latest crochet project involving a stuffed rabbit, which lead to memories of my late pet rabbit, Gordon, which lead to another beginning, another story, whose end trails into the water of others.
It's a curious thing crossing the wires of literary narrative, memory, and actual living.