Crime and Punishment
I was big news in our village last week.
Want to hear even more lucky? The girl took only one card, the one I never use, so the company knew to call right away. She left my drivers license and another credit card. When I called the police station, they practically lit the Bat Signal. "Long blonde hair and a long sleeved sweatshirt?" asked the police officer on my porch an hour later, who had already checked the gas station video. (My babysitter, who had her card stolen in Chicago, waited days until an officer contacted her about her case.)
It was all over in a couple of hours - card cancelled, fitness center alerted, police on the chase. I had drinking plans that night with two old friends, so my stolen card was barely on my mind except as an interesting anecdote to share after the first round. I didn't think about the elaborate network of law and finance and other institutions working in spheres around me to stop the blond girl who had dared threaten the social order.
But I was the one who had put these spheres in motion and when the detective called to tell me there had been two arrests, I could hear the triumph hiding in his carefully modulated voice.
"Well, congratulations!" I had to tell him. "That doesn't happen very often, does it?"
"Thank you," he replied. I resisted the urge to ask him what I could do for the poor stupid girl they picked up at the pawn shop. He sounded so pleased, I didn't want to spoil his fun.
A week or so later, the local paper arrived and I was near giggles as I turned to the blotter for my moment in the spotlight. But no, there's nothing. Half disappointed, I flipped aimlessly through the pages and to my big surprise, found my story on page seven. Covering half the page. With two mug shots.
I do not sound good in the article. I'm the "44 year old area woman" who "put her purse in an unlocked locker," and who "did not know her credit card was stolen from her wallet" until the call from the bank. Don't I get any credit for speedily calling the cops? For cogently IDing the perp and providing the description that helped make the case? No? No? I guess I have to be the bumbling example, the lesson out there for all the naïve residents who leave their purses out in the open, tempting fate.
In her mug shot, the young girl who opened my locker, who opened my purse and took my card frowns at the camera. She has not learned the smiling mask celebrities use to cover their shame. Her accomplice, who was bailed out with a private lawyer, manages a smirk. My overactive imagination weaves an elaborate story about the rich bad boy masterminding the scheme and using the girl from the wrong side of the tracks just to piss off his parents.
I look at the girl's face and I feel enclosed in layers of security and unearned privilege. My husband looks up the girl on the Internet and finds pictures of her laughing. And here I am, writing about her for all of you to see.
And yet I can't help thinking of the old adage "there but for the grace of God go I." I'm no big fan of the concept of a deity picking and choosing which worthy will receive His favors, but I do understand a certain sentiment behind the words: this girl could have been me.
I also had a crappy boyfriend once, a guy with money problems and few scruples, a guy who, a few years after I quit him, was not above impersonating a sick girl on the internet for donations. I know, ICK. And when I was with him in the middle of it all, I remember the awful feeling of having few options.
I've gotten the calls for bail from family in the middle of the night. Sometimes I paid, other times I had to let go. I am well able to imagine how much hope has to be lost before the only way out seems to steal from another person.
Now I have the trappings of a staid life. "It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust," said Samuel Johnson. Now there is an incomprehensible divide between where I am and where I could have been. My pretty daughters are my get-out-of-jail-free cards, my adorable accessories, my little partners in crime. They steal the neighbors' tulips and sneak away with the neighbor boys' hearts. I take my towhead four year old and the sweet-cheeked six year old to an unfamiliar north shore beach with an expensive daily pass fee and the girl at the gate says, "oh, go on in."
"Oh, hi," she said. "I peed."
She is fine. But I know I put her at risk. My enormous remorse shares space with my conviction that, faced again with the circumstances, I might do it again.
The girl who stole from me is in county jail. I wish her well.
Portions of this post were published on Cindy Fey's blog, We All Fall Down.