A few weeks before I started the sixth grade, I began to turn off my feelings. By then I was completely drained of emotion. I had become fed up with the teeter-totter effect of my new life. On the upside, I was elated to play in the bright rays of the summer sun. On the downside, I dreaded being teased by other children or having to wait like a trained dog for the remote possibility of a visit from Father. I was fully aware that a cold change was taking place inside of me. I did not care. I told myself that in order to survive, I had to become so hard so that I would never allow anyone to hurt me again.
At times, instead of riding to the park, I would journey to the local grocery store and stuff my pockets full of candy that I would steal. I didn’t even want the sweets; I knew I could never eat all those candy bars. I stole to discover if I could get away with it. I felt a put wrenching thrill of calculating my next move, followed by the spine-tingling sensation of strolling out of the store uncaught. Sometimes I’d steal from the same store two or three times a day. Whatever I did not smuggle into Mrs Catanze’s home, I’d give away to kids in the park, or I would leave the candy in small piles just outside the store’s entrance.
When swiping candy became too boring, I raised the stakes by stealing larger objects — toy models became so arrogant that several times I would simply strut into the store, snatch an oversized model and stroll right out — all in less than a minute. Some of the kids from the neighbourhood who had heard of my candy giveaways would follow me to the stores and watch me. I loved the attention.
It got to the point where the kids would dare me to steal things for them. My only concern was acceptance. It was almost like the days when I would play with the younger foster children at Aunt Mary’s home. I felt so good inside whenever the kids would call my name or greet me as rode into the play park. Now I was receiving the same kind of attention again.
Whenever I decided to steal a serious item, I became extremely focused inside. Before making my move I would imagine every aisle and the entire layout of the toy shelves. I plotted my primary and alternate routes of escape. In the event that I was caught, plan number one called for an ‘off-the-cuff lie, while plan number two meant that I would simply run like hell.
One time, as a group of kids, waited outside the store, 1 turned myself off, once again becoming a cyborg — half-human, half machine. My mission: grab and go. Johnny Jones wanted a B-17 Flying Fortress model airplane. I accepted the challenge, taking three deep breaths before grabbing the glass door and pulling it toward my chest. I could hear the boys cheering me on, but I shut them out as the door closed behind me. I knew that somewhere in the store Johnny was watching. He wanted to see my bravery in person. I didn’t care. I had an objective to accomplish.
In order not to be noticed by the string of checkout clerks, I walked down the first aisle leading to the back of the store. I then swivelled right and slowed my pace. By then my ears had become like radar, distinguishing between the sounds of the shoppers and the store employees. I slowed my pace before: turned next again and bent my head down to see if anyone behind me. The coast was clear. My heart was racing my objective came into view on the top shelf of time, I knew this job was going to be a challenge. For a soli second, something didn’t feel right. I thought of aborting. Negative, I told myself a second later.
As I reached up with both hands, I could hear, then feel someone walking up the aisle. I shook the thought clear as I strained my legs to reach a little higher. A moment later I plucked my prize from the shelf. I showed no emotion as I marched down the aisle, passing Johnny, who was grinning from ear to ear.
My chest was beating like a drum. Now the hard part. Just in front of me was the door to victory. Ever so slightly, I dipped my head and listened for anyone behind me or someone shouting for me to stop. The delicate moment had arrived. My face became tight as I reached out to push that door open, just enough to allow me to slide out, so in case someone had followed me, that person would have to spend the extra time and effort of pushing the door open — providing me with an additional chance of sprinting away. I smiled to myself, knowing that I had thought of everything.
Behind the glass door, I could hear the group of boys clapping and shouting for me. Johnny was already outside, his eyes as big as pancakes. I broke my concentration for a moment — but only for a moment thinking what my latest risk would do for my acceptance among the group. At times in the past, the boys had teased me and played tricks on me in the park. I knew all along that they were taunting me, but I went along with the gags anyway. Any attention was better than none.