In the spring of my senior year of high school someone broke into my home. When I got back from a friend’s house that night the small glass panel in the front door was broken, and there was powder on the door handle from where it was dusted for fingerprints. As I walked in the door, my mother told me what happened. Was anything stolen, I asked? Nothing important, she said. Some jewelry, a little cash. Oh, and they took your great grandmother’s antique silverware from the dining room cabinet. But that’s not what I’m concerned about right now, she continued. The real problem, she said, as I walked further into the house, is what the cops found in your bedroom when they searched the house. On the kitchen table sat a huge purple bong, and a couple of pipes. Oh fuck, I thought.
I remember how disgusted she looked with me. I was probably wearing something stupid, like a Guatemalan dress and a flannel shirt (I’m not Guatemalan). She didn’t even have it in her to yell at me (very much). She mostly looked sad, and then she went upstairs to her bedroom and left me standing alone in the kitchen. I didn’t know what else to do, and the bong looked utterly ridiculous sitting on the kitchen table next to the salt and pepper shakers. So I scooped it up along with the pipes and carried them back into my room, perplexed that I somehow got to keep them.
The cops, or my mom, (who knows?), took the weed that was sitting out on top of my bookshelf. But the rolling papers were still there. The ashtray full of cigarette butts was untouched. The leftover cases of beer from the last party were still stacked inside my closet. And the weed inside my dresser drawer was right where I had left it. All in all, I had lost around fifty bucks worth of pot that had been laying out, but somehow that was it. I sat down on my bed feeling both relieved and ashamed, a nexus of emotions I never seem to quite entirely move beyond.
I had my own phone in high school, a cordless one, complete with a phone number of my own. Having your own line as a teenager in the years before cell phones was the ultimate prize, and most nights I stayed up late talking to friends. (Here’s where I will admit that I still love talking on the phone and will gladly stay up half the night with anyone I can con into chatting with me). (So embarrassing).
But that night I didn’t feel like talking on the phone. I turned out the lights and climbed into bed. As I got beneath the covers, I snaked my arm under the pillow as I settled into a familiar position for sleep. To my surprise, there was something under my pillow, a small hard object that I couldn’t identify in the dark by touch. I sat up and flicked on the bedside lamp. I held up the glistening object to the light, turning it slowly, but couldn’t quite wrap my head around what I was looking at for a moment. And then the realization of what it was, as the dawning horror began to creep in -- it was the serving spoon from my great grandmother’s silverware, left beneath my pillow by whomever had broken into my house.
A few days later there was a knock at the front door. I was sitting in the living room recliner, watching Jeopardy!, with my cat curled up on my lap. My mom was upstairs in her bedroom, so I pushed the cat aside and got up to answer the door. It was a police officer. My first thought was that someone was dead, and it again took me a few moments to understand that he was there to talk to me about the situation with the drugs in my room. I hadn’t gotten away with it after all.
He asked me to sit down. I heard my mother upstairs and realized that she wasn’t coming down. It dawned on me, with increasing agitation, that she was in on this. The cop began to lecture me about how I was ruining my life, and I would never amount to anything, and I was going to be a lowlife degenerate forever if I kept smoking weed and doing whatever else he assumed I was doing, but I wasn’t listening. I couldn’t believe my mom had set me up. When he asked me if I was going to change my ways I scoffed. Little did this asshole know, I had been secretly applying to colleges on my own and I had gotten into some very, very good ones, mostly on the merit of the admissions essay I wrote about reading James Joyce with my dyslexic older brother. I would be heading off in the fall to a top liberal arts college with full financial aid. He told me that they weren’t going to arrest me for possession, but they were recommending Crisis Intervention for me, a program for fucked up kids (read: fucked up white kids). After a few more minutes of stern lecturing, he finally paused and looked at me, I assume, to gauge my level of terror. With a sneer I looked him in the eye and defiantly said -- fuck you. You think you can scare me?
He looked at me with eyes bulging, furious. He was no longer lecturing, he was yelling, but I wasn’t listening anymore. Let him yell, I thought. And then a few minutes later, he left. My mother never came back downstairs that night. We hardly spoke a word again.
Later, I called my friends and said, fuck, they’re making me do crisis intervention. Fuck fuck fuck.
For weeks after, every time there was a knock on the door, or a phone rang, I braced myself to be hauled off to wherever they take you for crisis intervention. But it never happened. Eventually I graduated, and spring turned to summer. And at the end of summer I bought myself a one-way plane ticket with my babysitting money, and flew off to college with the same familiar mix of relief and shame, knowing that I had somehow gotten away with something that I hadn’t actually gotten away with at all.
I never knew what happened, or why I didn’t have to go.
Now, picture the man who stole a set of antique silverware but left behind a single silver serving spoon under my pillow. Sometimes someone plants an object and it stays there, lodged in the deep pockets of your memory. I know this one was important, though its symbolism is just out of reach. A serving spoon – perhaps a distant messenger saying go ahead and help yourself, everyone. Take what you need and leave the rest -- planted by a stranger in my bed. Funny how it finds its way back to me again.
Ps. I’ll make more dumb jokes next week. Until then, here’s a mood.
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