My own mother calling me a thief.
Of course, though not guilty of stealing anything (I won’t even sneak a grape at the grocery store until I’ve paid), I am not entirely innocent either. In fact, one could go so far as to say that I invited an accusation.
And she didn’t really call me a thief, at least not in those five exact letters.
Let me explain.
On my way home from work, I stopped for what was intended to be a quick shopping trip to pick up a few “essentials” at the department store. I was wearing a long black coat, the puffy kind that resembles a sleeping bag. Though it fits the fashion in Minnesota, where wintry sub-zero temperatures are the norm, the coat feels like overkill to me. It’s like something you would see on a homeless person in a Hollywood movie, where the homeless people all have the temperature appropriate clothing and, albeit strategically dirty, matching shoes.
The moment I walked into the store I took off the coat and folded it into my cart. I still wasn’t planning to stay long, but why spend even a few minutes uncomfortable when it only takes a moment to put on a silly coat. That’s when the coffee shop caught my eye. ‘Well, I have only had one cup of coffee today,’ I thought, ‘perhaps I will make faster decisions if I am slightly caffeinated while walking through the store’.
After getting a coffee I began strolling through the aisles. The coffee was warm and creamy. Opposite of the intended effect, it lulled me into a dreamy state. I shopped thoroughly, plucking things off of shelves that I’ve been considering for some time, but talked myself out of buying for one reason or another.
When, at long last, I reached the cash register, I had all sorts of appliances, gadgets, make-up, food, and funny hats in my cart. I felt a little embarrassed for going so crazy.
The woman at the register stared at the ground. I waited for her to look at me before rolling up with my cart. She gave me a hard glance, then smiled. I smiled back, and marveled at the power of unspoken communication:
‘let’s make this transaction a pleasant one’ her smile offered.
‘Sounds good to me’ my smile replied.
About half-way through the checkout she slid a bag of bulk hazelnuts onto the scale.
“Do you remember how much these cost?” she asked. “I don’t have a number for them.” “Ummm, hang on” I said, craning my head over my shoulder and sliding out of the aisle while squinting to read the little sign over in the produce section.
“Never mind, I’ll just ask someone over here. Judy, do you have the number for these nuts?” I slid back into line. When she was finished ringing, I swiped my card and loaded the bags into the cart.
The bagging was strange, it stuck out as being odd to me. Many bags contained only one item, and some were overloaded. I tried to figure out if there was some method to her madness, or if she was just not paying attention. Perhaps she wanted to separate the nuts from the sponges, and the hats from the toilet paper, and the paper towels from the vegetables. The vegetables were overflowing from one lumpy, swollen bag. I pulled the handles together and a bunch of leeks poked out of the top like a feather. She offered me a receipt and I rolled my cart out to the parking lot.
Dusk had fallen. Christina was, no doubt, beginning to wonder what was taking me so long. I hurried to load the groceries into my cart, then jumped in the car and drove home. Christina came to the car to help me with the groceries. In the elevator on the way up I decided to tell her about the new tea kettle I had just bought. “It’s a kitchen aid, with a black porcelain exterior” I said, as though describing a car. Our current tea kettle is horrendous. “Here, I’ll show it to you” I said, and before we had fully gotten ourselves in the door I went fervently digging through the bags.
“It’s here somewhere” I said, “I know I bought it”.
“uh oh, something didn’t make it into the bag again?” Christina asked.
She was referring to a time last year, when, after buying a pair of shoes we came home only to discover that the shoes never made it into the bag. When we went back to inquire about them, the shoes were nowhere to be found, but there was an empty shoebox sitting behind the register.
“I’m sure we just left a bag in the car” I said, and went down to look. I knew that the bag wasn’t in the car. I could feel it, and it stung. I tried to remember if the woman at the register was the same woman who had rung up the shoes. She did look familiar, but then, maybe I was just being paranoid. It was probably just an accident..or..was it?
I was torn. I would never know what actually happened, but I now had the choice of which story I was going to tell. Was I robbed, or was it just one of those things. I didn’t like being the victim of a robbery, but logic got the best of me. This had happened twice at the same store, and something felt wrong about the whole transaction.
Later that night, I ran into some friends at the coffee shop. “I think I was ripped off at the department store today” I dropped the statement. I was a victim after all, and sharing my story might help prevent it from happening to them.
“You know, I think that same thing happened to me recently” someone else said.
Uh oh, did I just start a rumor, or was it a justified warning? I still wasn’t sure.
On my way home, I called my parents. I had no intention of telling them the story, but while on the phone with my mother I decided to let her know in case she wanted to have the opportunity to comfort me for my loss.
“I was robbed” I said.
Silence on the other end.
“..and this is the second time it has happened too! I bought something and it didn’t make it into the cart and now I am sure the cashier has returned it and is going to spend the money on drugs or something” I blurted out.
“You were not robbed. It was probably an accident. Only guilty people accuse people of being dishonest Emily. You told me that, remember?”
“What? No, mom, I mean.. I know I have said that before, but sometimes people really do steal things!” I said. “I haven’t been stealing anything, I just really think that I was robbed. Trust me, it doesn’t feel good to be robbed. I don’t want to have that story!!”
“I am so sick of people claiming that other people are ripping them off all of the time. No one is going to steal from you, and if they do, they probably needed the money to feed their sick children or something. Honestly, Emily, why would you even accuse someone of something like that?”
It was useless to argue, she had a point. I had no evidence, and therefore, the story that I choose to pass on is nothing more than a reflection of how I view the world. Is it a lying world, where I need to keep my guard, or a kind world where I can open myself up to trust.
The stories that I choose to tell clear the paths that I will be compelled to tread.