I truly believed that people subsisted on bread and water and slept on a concrete bed. Jail was one of my worst childhood fears; the mere thought of it was enough to keep me awake at night and out of trouble during the day. For 99.9% of the time, that is.
It happened when a neighbor, two years older, entertained an urge she had tried on her own already, in other places. I knew that it was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was called officially. How could I resist the delicious prospect of a such a small bag of red licorice? She made it sound so easy. Just a quick slip of the hands from the shelf into our book bags. No one would see and no one would tell. Just free candy, my favorite kind, from the local candy store.
Fraught with anxiety on the four-block walk from our apartment, I tensed my muscles, aching under the strain. I asked some questions, but I was pulled along like a magnet, repelling the good against by my better conscience, afraid of being called a coward, yet unable to back down. I was quietly directed to the back of the store and told to quickly unzip my bag and put the licorice inside. We hurried out; no one saw and no one told.
My mother found the red licorice stashed away in the bottom of my bedroom drawer the next day. I felt too sick to touch it. She asked me how it got there, and if I knew what shoplifting was. I answered all her questions -- fear, guilt, shame, and humiliation written all over my face – and nodded my head. I just learned at the age of seven.
I was sent back to the candy store on my own to return the bag and to apologize to the owner. For the second time in two days the walk seemed like an eternity; my footsteps felt heavy, as though I was coming out of mud, my pores taking in the ooze but coldly sweating out the effort. The man leaned over the counter, his bald head shaking in mild disappointment, shining under the florescent lights. He uttered not a single word, but he sighed and nodded his head in understanding and acceptance. I handed over the goods and, with my head bent low, quietly retraced my path.
: A Socratic Conversation, Thursday, 6/24, 4-5pm