Before the liquor theft, my first crime was a jewelry heist. As a ginger, I couldn’t involve myself in something run-of-the-mill like snatching a pack of gum or a candy bar from the grocery store while waiting with my mother in the checkout line. I would have been far too terrified of the repercussions. Instead, I somehow found myself embroiled in stealing the plastic beaded necklaces of a young lady in my class who had the misfortune for some reason or another to be in leg braces.
I did not at all set out to rob Desiree–that would never have been and still isn’t in my nature. Although, upon reflection, I have engaged in far more thievery in many different manners than I would have ever thought possible. In this instance, however, I truly did involve myself in it quite innocently.
Experiencing myself as a misfit, I had a tendency to befriend others who I sensed might endure the same fate. With her peanut-shaped face generally emanating one of two emotions, either suffering or scorn, and her spindly metal-hindered gait, Desiree was a natural target for nasty elementary school bullies. Even children who didn’t have those tendencies wouldn’t risk being kind to her for fear of retaliation by the meaner kids.
So, in a one girl effort to save her from her fate, I determined to become her friend. Interestingly, despite my best intentions to better her circumstances, I don’t think Desiree actually liked me. In fact, I am reasonably sure she found me to be patronizing and annoying. It might have had something to do with my tendency to project my own angst on her and to blindly assume that because I was taking pity on her that she would want to be my companion.
It was completely baffling to me why she was as nasty to me as the bullying kids were to her. Why wasn’t she nice to the one person who would actually acknowledge her, who willingly devoted her time to actually playing with her? Where was her spirit of reciprocity? Her gratitude for heaven’s sake? All of this remained a mystery to me.
As in many situations where one person seems mysterious, elusive, even withholding, my need to understand her grew exponentially with what seemed to be her disinterest or even distaste for me. I tried everything to get her to like me. I gave her my dessert at lunch, shared my things with her, told her secrets both real and dreamed up to try to convince her that I was worthy of friendship. Eventually I either wore her down or grew on her or maybe she came to believe that she could trust me and that I wasn’t playing some cruel game with her that would backfire into making her a fool with terribly hurt feelings.
Our dynamic had palpably shifted on one particular day when we were out on the playground playing some made up game or another, segregated from the others as usual. I believe it must have been a game of make believe, house or school or something of that nature because Desiree had her purse over her shoulder and was speaking to me. The memory of this is distinct because Desiree always carried this beat up little purse with her wherever she went. It was a great curiousity to me but one of those things that was a taboo topic with her. On this particular day as she spoke, she rested one of her crutches up against a piece of playground equipment and took the purse off her shoulder. She opened it up and pulled out several strands of plastic beads. I was crestfallen to discover that the great treasure of the purse was a bunch of ugly, dull, amber carnival beads. There was absolutely nothing about them that was attractive except that they were normally concealed in her mysterious purse.
Desiree asked me if I would like to wear them, what appeared to be her greatest treasure. I must have had the glamorous female role in whatever we were playing for her to make such an incredibly generous offer. Of course, I would not refuse a gesture of this magnitude. I put them on and the next thing I remember somehow Desiree toppled over (maybe because she wasn’t using both crutches) and was crying in pain. The playground monitor came running to her assistance and forgotten were the beads and the purse.
When I returned to the classroom in my absentminded way, I took the beads off, put them in the purse, and shoved the purse in the bottom of my book bag. Here is where things get really unusual and actually quite inexplicable. Rather than make any attempt to get Desiree’s property back to her, I brought my book bag home as I normally did.
When I got home I panicked. I knew if I got caught with someone else’s things I would face severe consequences and I knew I needed to avoid that at any cost. So, I did the only logical thing. I hid the purse under my jacket and walked far into the woods behind my house. When I thought I had gone far enough I dug under the rotting leaves into the soil. I dug far enough down to put the purse in and cover it up. After looking around wildly to make sure no one had seen me, I ran as fast as I could back home praying that I would not get caught.
Desiree did not come back to school right away. I don’t know what happened to her that day that resulted in such a lengthy absence. I do know that I never made eye contact with her again much less had a conversation with her. It has always been one of my greatest shames, even though it technically probably pales in comparison with many other things I have done in this redheaded adventure of mine. For what it’s worth, all you Desirees out there, I am truly sorry.