Time for my New Year’s resolution.
I’m twenty-five and I’ve been making resolutions since I was eight. So that’s… what… sixteen years? No, seventeen. Seventeen years and I’ve kept every one of them. Except for the one about not lying anymore.
This year I’m going for the big one. The one about stealing. No more stealing.
What makes this a big deal? Well, I got kicked out of kindergarten at the age of five for stealing. I would not stop taking other kids’ stuff. Toys, hats, coats, lunches. It didn’t matter. At the end of the day my cubby would be stuffed with purloined possessions.
It was all about the excitement.
When I tried this in first grade, I got pounded a time or two. That’s when I learned to be sneaky. It was OK to steal. It just wasn’t OK to leave the loot where somebody else could find it.
Despite my tricky new stratagems, I also got kicked out of first grade. I was home schooled after that, until the sixth grade. I went back to school for the sixth grade and got kicked out of it. There were additional poundings first. After that it was home schooling until high school.
During the home schooling, I was institutionalized twice. My parents had me committed because I kept stealing from them, too. They got tired of moving stuff out of my closet and back into their bedroom or the kitchen or the bathroom. Or the tool shed. Or the recycle bins.
High school was a bumpy road, but I scored some righteous sh.. stuff there. I also put in major hours at juvy.
Then it was time for college.
How did I get into college, you ask? UVM’s Second Chance program. This was probably my hundredth chance, or my thousandth, but who’s counting? In the dorm I stole mostly drugs and money, and made sure to use both as quickly as possible, so as not to get caught with the evidence. I matriculated in my freshman year directly into state prison.
Mine is a repetitious history.
In prison I experimented with controlling my desires to steal, because if caught, I would be stabbed to death. I took a few foolish chances because I didn’t think I could live without the excitement, but I graduated back to the free world while still alive. I did learn as I was leaving the Big House that if I ever came back, I would get dead before I could pilfer my first cigarette out of another inmate’s pack.
I was no longer eligible for the UVM program, so I got a job flipping burgers. I lived at home, once I convinced my parents that, since I would inherit everything from them anyway, I would no longer be stealing anything in the house. They were elderly, so time was stealing their lives, in a way. There was no excitement for me in stealing anything from them as well.
Another reason they welcomed me back was that they liked the burger meat, buns, and frozen french fries I brought home after work.
Then I met a girl, a mental-health intern assigned to my parole officer’s department. Her name was Shaunika. As part of her degree work, she acted as a sort of junior shrink in counseling sessions. For me, these consisted of conversations such as the following.
“Why do you steal?” Shaunika would say.
“Basic rule of counseling: never ask why,” I would say. “You’ll never get the truth. Your patient or client doesn’t know why himself.”
“Of course he doesn’t. The question serves other purposes.”
“To get me talking? To get me thinking? To assess the depth of my illusions? To evaluate my proximity to reality?”
“Hold your water, Sailor,” Shaunika would say. “Let me do the asking. You just answer. Please keep the bull twangas to a minimum.”
“I steal because it’s exciting. A tension builds, I resist it, it builds some more, I give in and steal, I feel a rush, and the tension dissipates for a while.”
“Have you tried medication?”
“Off and on. I haven’t found anything that helps yet. Sometimes I just pretended to be taking whatever was prescribed at the time, if I wasn’t in the mood to stop stealing.”
We dated. Against her better judgment, I’m sure. She knew better than anybody that my mind was resisting change.
She didn’t invite me home to meet her folks, although at parties I did get acquainted with some of her friends. She knew I was damaged goods, but we just fit together well in a lot of ways. It was an easy relationship. No drama, except when she’d find something missing. I always gave it back.
The excitement I felt around her was a lot stronger than the excitement I felt stealing burgers and fries for my mom and dad.
She got me connected with a psychiatrist who helped me join a test group of kleptomaniacs being treated with Naltrexone. It reduced the compulsive force of my obsessive behavior. Alcoholics and drug addicts use it.
With the help of the shrink I got back into school. Community college. Shaunika and I moved in together. From time to time I catch her searching the place for anything that doesn’t belong to either of us, but my love and desire for her, together with my shrink and my support group of klepto friends, and the pills, have kept me clean so far.
Resolving to stop stealing, by itself, would be useless. The resolution is more my salute to the coming year and my support and all that I believe the new year can hold for me.