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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1078898-The-Dilemma
Rated: E · Essay · Experience · #1078898
Inspired by a middle school reading lesson
The Dilemma


Pat sidled up to me, her eyes darting everywhere as she murmured the words out of the side of her mouth. “Let me see your purse.”

We were in the Canary and the Elephant, a boutique at the mall, and at that moment, I was busy checking out some pretty costume jewelry. Even way back then, I loved earrings with a passion.

“For what?” I asked, although instinct had me clutching my huge leather drawstring bag, the one my friend Natalie called, “the deer slayer” even closer to my body. “Why do you need my purse?”

You see, my cousin had recently taken up pilfering from stores as a weekend pastime. As big as my purse was, I shuddered at the thought of on what she might have set her sights.

“Why you gotta ask so many questions? Just let me see the purse for a minute.”

Pat was my favorite relative, the oldest child of my father’s brother. We were first cousins, and we had always been tight. I would do anything for her, and I knew that she would do the same for me.
But still….

“I don’t think so,” I finally managed to mumble.

My stomach flipped with guilt and confusion. I felt badly about not cooperating, but my gut reaction was to refuse her.

“Be that way then,” Pat huffed before she stormed off, leaving me standing there by myself.

As I stared after her, my bag still hung from my shoulder, pinched possessively under my arm with my hand clutching onto it for good measure. Pat and I never argued, never fought, but she was walking away from me this time in anger.

We had come to the mall in a group. Most of the kids were Pat’s friends. They visited the mall every weekend to shop and to hang out. Normally, shopping wasn’t one of my favorite things to do, and my parents didn’t condone using the mall as a gathering spot. In fact, I hadn’t told them that day that Pat and I were going to the mall with a bunch of friends; I left them with the impression that it was just Pat and I. If they had known otherwise, I would not have been allowed me to go.

“There is trouble in numbers,” my mother would always say. “It’s better to go to take of business by yourself.”
In their personal lives, my parents lived by that sentiment. They were very private people. They weren’t joiners, nor did they engage in a lot of intimate socializing beyond the immediate family.

I made the decision to travel to the mall Pat and her friends that weekend because I was bored at home. And I had some birthday money that was burning a hole in my pocket. I wanted to spend some on earrings, and I was beginning to feel like a square, always doing things on my own.

But, even as the older brother of one of Pat’s friends was driving us to the mall, I began having second thoughts about my decision to go with them. On several previous weekends, Pat had come over to the house snickering and bragging about her exploits, sometimes proudly displaying for me her “hot” goods, and crowing about all the things she and her friends had ‘picked up’.

Sitting in the back seat of that car, I deduced what their objective was for visiting the mall that day, but by that time, I had passed the point of no return. I was with them, and there was no turning back. All the way to the mall, I prayed that I was wrong in my assumption, or that at the very least, I didn’t get caught up in anything that would get me busted for being with them.

Out of loyalty, I was momentarily tempted to run out of the boutique behind Pat and to go ahead and let her have the purse. I really didn’t want her to let her down, and I didn’t want her mad at me. I also didn’t want her to tell her friends what I had done, and for them to think I was some kind of nerd or would-be saint. All I had to do was take my wallet out, let Pat take the purse, and then go my own way.

But to do that would have been giving in to what I was aware was a possibility they might be doing, and in my heart, I didn’t want to be a part of that. Truthfully speaking, it wasn’t out of any noble, lofty opinion that I thought stealing was so wrong. It was wrong, but more than that, I didn’t want to risk getting caught at it and have to deal with my parents, namely my father.

My father instilled in all of his kids that he would always help us if we got into trouble, unless it was for stealing. He said allowed that there might be times when we had to fight. As long as we didn’t start the fight, as long as it was a matter of defending ourselves, then he would be in our corner. He said there would be times when we would have to speak up for ourselves and that doing so might bring trouble to us. He told us that that he understood that we were kids, and that kids sometimes misbehave and have to pay the consequences.

“But,” he said, “You do not have to steal.”

He laid it out for us.

“Your mother and I go to work every day so that you can have the things that you need and some of the things that you want. If we don’t buy it for you, if you don’t buy it yourself, then you don’t need it.”

He let us know his position on the matter in no uncertain terms, {i)“If you’re out there stealing, and you get caught, you are on your own. God help you, if I’m the one to catch you at it.”

In the end, I wound up letting Pat go.

Remaining in the boutique, I picked out several pairs of inexpensive earrings, paid for them, and left with my things in a proper bag along with the receipt. By myself, I did some more looking around in some other stores.

We had all agreed to meet up in the hallway outside J.L. Hudson. At the designated time, I had meandered my way through the mall and around to that spot. Even though I was a few minutes late getting there, I saw that nobody else had arrived. I waited and waited, but even after fifteen minutes went by, nobody else showed up. I walked around some, thinking perhaps I had misheard the directions. This was in the days before cell phones, so there really wasn’t any way to get in touch with anyone aside from walking around looking for them.

I went to over the area outside J.C. Penney, over by Bremmer’s Ice Cream, thinking that might be where they said to meet. Nobody was there. I went to a couple of other places that seemed to be likely meeting spots, but even in walking to them, I didn’t run into Pat or anyone else from our group. I peeked in store windows and watched for familiar faces among the crowd. I went back to the hall outside Hudson’s and waited some more. But not one of the group I came with showed up.

Gradually, a sinking feeling formed in my stomach, like I had swallowed a stone and it was slowly making its way to the bottom. Maybe, I thought, Pat told her friends about my not giving her the purse, they had all gotten angry with me for not going along with what they were doing, and they left me. It was almost an hour past the meeting time and getting closer to my curfew. Nobody had arrived at the spot, and that was the only thing that was making sense to me.

I could not believe it. My favorite cousin with whom I had grown up, who was also my best friend in the world, had gone off with her friends and abandoned me because I wouldn’t let her have my purse to steal. I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. I had done the right thing in not letting her have my bag, but I was crushed over being left behind like that.

But I had to get home. I went to a pay phone, called my father, and asked him to come pick me up.

When his car pulled up, Daddy's first question was the one I expected. “Where’s Pat?” Pat was his brother's child, and; therefore, also essentially his.

I didn’t tell him that I thought she’d left me because then he would want to know why. Despite how betrayed I felt, I wasn’t ratting her out. Leaving me behind hadn’t been right on her and her friend’s part, but I was no squealer. I just told him that I wasn’t feeling well, and that I decided to come home early. I told him that Pat was getting a ride from some friend there were at the mall, too. It seemed like he bought it; he didn’t ask me anything else

Disappointed and hurt, I went straight upstairs to my room where I stayed. I didn’t even take the earrings out and try them on like I usually did when I got new ones. I just stretched out across my bed, feeling like a nobody, like the boring square I was.

I didn’t realize that I had fallen asleep until someone knocked on my door and woke me. It was Daddy. When I answered, he came in and sat down on the side of my bed, looking kind of sad, or maybe tired; I couldn’t really tell. My first thought was that he found out about me going to the mall with a group. I hoped he hadn’t figured out that I hadn’t quite told him the truth about why I had phoned him to come and get me.

“Tell me why you called me for real,” he said.

My stomach twisted into one tight knot.

When I didn’t say anything, he asked again, “Why did you have me come get you?”

Still I didn’t answer. The hurt, humiliation, and the fear wouldn’t let me.

But he already knew.

“Your Uncle Ed just called me. He told me Pat and her friends got picked up by mall security for shoplifting this afternoon. Uncle Ed and Pat’s friends’ parents are down at the mall police station, picking them up. Uncle Ed wanted to know where you were. I told him you were with your Daddy.”

And then he smiled his wonderful gap-toothed smile at me.

It was all okay. I had been with my Daddy, and it turned out that my Daddy had been with me the entire time.

Decades later, my parents' wise words, their teachings, and my father's warm, proud smile on that dismal day are imprinted upon my conscience. I have raised my own three sons with the same understanding about there being trouble in numbers and urging them to follow their hearts when faced with moral dilemmas.

They are now all grown men, independent, and on their own.

So far, so good.
© Copyright 2006 thea marie (dmariemason at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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