Monday, November 18, 2013

My First Guilty Conscience

Judy was my friend and neighbor in the first grade.  Our dads were stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, and we spent a lot of time in one another's homes.
One day while playing at Judy's house, I saw a quarter on her dresser.  Wow!  A whole quarter!  I earned pennies and occasionally nickels for chores, so a quarter seemed like a lot of money to me.  I was surprised Judy would be so careless about such a valuable a piece of change.
The whole time we played with our dolls, I kept thinking about that quarter.  I could buy a lot with twenty-five cents.  Judy certainly didn't need it; she had twice as many dolls as I had.
When it came time for me to go home, I decided I was going to take that quarter with me.  I waited until Judy walked out of the room, then I picked up the coin and slipped it into my pocket.  My stomach felt a little funny as I followed her down the stairs, but maybe it was because it was almost suppertime.
I went home.  I ate supper.  I took my bath.  I went to bed.  But I didn't fall asleep right away.  I kept thinking about the quarter I'd put in my piggybank.  And thinking about it brought me no pleasure.  It had seemed, when I took it, that I was going to be the happiest kid in the world.
Instead, I felt terrible.
All the next day in school I thought about that quarter.  I didn't feel like playing at recess.
"Are you sick?" my teacher asked me.
"Yes, ma'am," I answered.
The teacher felt my head, said I was fine, and told me to sit down.  It seemed the day would never end.
I went home without going to Judy's first.  I ate supper.  I took my bath.  But before I went to bed, a dam burst inside me.  I fished the quarter out of my piggybank and took it to my mother.  I held it out to her in my clammy little hand.
"I took this," I wailed.  "From Judy's dresser."
"Is that so?" my mother said, looking down at me.  I expected lightning to shoot from her eyes at any moment.
I sniffed, rubbing the tears from my cheeks.  "I'm sorry, Mom."
She nodded.  "You have to take it back."
What?  Take it back?  Judy would never be my friend again!
"Tomorrow morning," she said.  Tomorrow was Saturday.
I tossed and turned for hours, it seemed.  When I fell asleep, it was with a heavy heart.
I finally awoke.  I did not turn on the television to watch cartoons.  I played with my cold cereal for a while.  Mom did not let me forget what I was supposed to do.  How could I forget?
She walked with me as I held the quarter in my sweaty hand.  At the edge of Judy's yard, she bade me go to the door alone.
I walked the last few steps very, very slowly.  The sidewalk never seemed so long.  I timidly knocked on the door, afraid to push the doorbell.  Judy's mother answered with a smile.
"I'm sorry," I said, my voice all trembly.  "I took this from Judy."  I placed the quarter in her hand.
Before she could say a word, I turned and ran all the way home.
Mom never said another word about the quarter.  But I never forgot what I'd done, and I never, ever, wanted to steal another thing after that.  Not even a quarter.
1st grade muu-muu wearer with family