When I was fifteen years old I stole a hot pink tank top with a built-in bra from the Express store in the Burlington Mall. My friends had gone from dabbling in shoplifting out of boredom to going to the mall every day after school to ransack it like it was their older sister’s closet and they had rich parents.
Their hauls were always ridiculous. Shirts were easy to steal, but they got the hard stuff, too. Leather jackets from The Gap, boots from Bakers, entire new sets of underwear from Victoria Secret. It wasn’t uncommon to find out that Lin and Allison had spent their entire Saturday hiding thousands of dollars worth of merchandise under their baggy outfits, later hiding it all in their closets so that their parents didn’t know what was going on.
That’s what always stumped me. How did their parents not know what was going on? I was kept on a pretty tight leash, but to this day I can’t imagine how watching their daughter walk out of the house in a $300 cocktail dress didn’t tip off any of my friend’s parents. Did they think they bought them those clothes? They couldn’t be so clueless as to assume they were paying for all of those things with their babysitting money, right?
I would like to say that I took so long to join my friends in this stupid behavior because it’s obviously wrong to steal. That’s not it, though. I was afraid I was going to go to hell. I was afraid of what God would do to me if I went to the mall and stole from a store. Stealing is wrong because God hates it. I was raised mad Catholic, I thought you knew.
Eventually I caved. You already know I stole the tank top. I shared that with you already. I’m explaining why I did it now.
I stole the tank top because every single day my friends would show up to school in new outfits and talk about all the other new ones they had at home. I wasn’t jealous of the material possessions, I always worked and saved my money for the things I wanted. It was more, “Well, if it’s that fuckin’ easy, I might as well try it and get some dope gear, too.”
The tank top was my item of choice from the moment I decided to shoplift something. They cost $15.50 and they were my favorite things to wear with everything. I owned them in black, sparkly blue and heather gray and I really felt like the hot pink was going to tie together my collection of built-in bra tank tops. It was a whole style choice; I wanted to expand my color palatte.
I went with my best friend, who was the least experienced shoplifter of my girls, but definitely someone I could trust to guide me. Neither of us was old enough to drive, so after her father dropped us off at the mall she explained how everything worked.
“When you go in there, look really interested in everything and like you’re about to buy a ton of stuff. Start with whatever it is you want to keep and then just go around the store and throw more stuff on top of your arm. When you go to the dressing rooms to try things on, they’ll like, freak out when they’re trying to count everything and miss the stuff that’s at the bottom.”
“How are they going to miss the stuff that’s on the bottom? How much stuff am I supposed to carry in there with me?”
“A lot. The most they say you can bring in is ten items, but they really just give up at ten. You can usually bring in as many as you want here. Also, grab a jacket or something expensive so they’re all worried about that. They won’t care about a tank top if you have a jacket they had to unlock from the wall.”
“Then I just take off my clothes and put on everything I want under it?”
“Yeah. Just make sure that you don’t put on so much that you’re walking all weird or something.”
“What about the security things at the door? How do you know those aren’t going to go off?”
“As long as whatever you have doesn’t have one of those big plastic tags, that thing won’t even go off. It’s retarded.”
After making my friend repeat the plan several times to make sure that I knew exactly what to do, I walked into Express and hit the tank top rack. I found my hot pink shirt in a size medium, about a dozen chunky cable knit sweaters to hide it under, and two parkas with faux-fur trim. My friend was right. The twenty-something high school drop out working the dressing rooms didn’t count my items. She didn’t even count the first ten. She saw me coming, sighed, and used her master key to let me into a room in the far back.
I arranged the parkas and sweaters around me on the hooks in the dressing room to form some sort of a winter-wear cocoon. It was totally a winter-wear cocoon and I was a caterpillar that would soon emerge as a really scandalous butterfly. Scandalous in my world, anyway. I’ve always been mad dramatic about doing things I feel even slightly bad about and this was no exception. The entire time I was in that dressing room, I was imagining myself in state prison.
I got out of there with the goods, obviously. I’m sitting here today writing from my bed on my laptop and not in a cell on lined paper with a dull pencil because I never got caught. I don’t even know if my mom knows this story yet. (Hi, Mom. I stole a tank top in the year 2000. I’m sorry you had to learn about it like this. See you Tuesday.)
I remember feeling too embarrassed to tell my priest I stole during confession. Two years later, I was confirmed into the Catholic Church as a full-blown sinner. That also concerned me greatly because if I was withholding information from a priest during confession, then God knew about both the sin and the information withholding, and that’s a double sin. That meant he probably wasn’t really letting me into the Church when everyone in my family thought he was and they would all find out I lied when I never showed up to Heaven.
That tank top went with me to college. I wore it into the ground like I bought it with my very last money before I came to America. It didn’t really match any of my clothes the way I thought it would and as most of my baby fat melted away, a smaller size would have been much better. I kept that shirt until one of the straps popped out of exhaustion because I sacrificed my relationship with Christ to own it.