Petty Theft

Growing up, there was a Mott’s 5 and Dime in the strip mall between my middle school and my house. Frequently, as we walked home, my friends and I would stop in and browse, usually buying a pot of Wet ‘n Wild lipgloss (my favorite was pina colada scented and smelled exactly like I thought summer should–reminded me of really tall, tan, blonde girls in white bikinis. apparently, that’s what I thought summer should look like. Alas.) or pencils, or something.

I had been visiting Mott’s for a couple of years, when one day, I had knelt down beside a flocked poster art kit to count the money in my bag, looking to see if I could afford it. To my surprise, it suddenly registered that the shouting adult (shouting, “Shoplifter!”) but ignored, was shouting at me. At me! Why? I was a stridently moral thirteen-year-old, and shoplifting would never have crossed my mind. No way. I still remembered the spanking I got when two older children talked me into stealing candy from a grocery store in Buford, South Carolina. Mom tells me I was about two. No way. I wasn’t about to repeat that scene! My butt was burning all day, plus Mom took away my favorite pajamas (froggies wearing pink bows.)

I was horrified. I explained what I was doing, righteous indignation rising up as I did. The adult did not apologize, but said, “Well, you shouldn’t look like you’re putting things in your bag.” He walked away and I stood there brimming with tears of angry embarrassment. I have never forgotten it.

This morning I went to Walgreens and as I was picking up the items I needed, I caught myself holding them far away from my chest, and started to laugh. That’s how I shop now. I hold any small items half an armslength away from my body, lest anyone think I am trying to pocket them. “See? I am holding this with the intention to purchase! I have no intention of stealing! See?”

It’s funny what sticks with you.

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