When I was a teenager, I was mostly good. I did not smoke; I did not drink; I did not have sex. I received good grades. But there was one year -- the year before my sophomore year in high school -- when I was very, very bad. A year when I swiped things. Acquired things surreptitiously. Stole, to be exact. Shoplifted to be exacter.
I only shoplifted from one store: the Beauty Supply store in my hometown. I shoplifted there because it was so easy, like falling off a wall. The owner crammed too many aisles comprised of high shelves into a narrow shoebox-like space -- a shoplifter's paradise really.
The largest thing I ever stole was a $90.00 fake nail kit. When my mom found it in the bathroom drawer and asked me how in the world I'd acquired a $90 nail kit, I told her I bought it on sale.
Along with only shoplifting from one store, I only stole when I was with a friend, one friend in particular: Sophia Cordani. Sophia Cordani had been my best friend since third grade, when she transferred to our school from New Jersey. Her mother and father spoke Italian to one another at dinner. Her father had an Alpha Romeo in the garage, and whenever I spent the night with Sophia, we had sausage and peppers or spaghetti with cream and peas for dinner. After dinner, we listened to opera with her mother, before retiring to Sophia's bedroom with the pink chiffon "princess style" canopy bed.
By the time we were in fifth grade, Sophia could not walk down the street in our hometown without grown men stopping to stare at her as she passed by. My own father called her "that dirty Italian," as if she deserved infamy simply because she was beautiful beyond belief as a prepubescent girl.
Probably because of the lust she inspired in the entire male population, her parents decided to send her to an all-girls high school about 45 minutes away from our town, a particularly idiotic choice, which, rather than alleviating their fears regarding their daughter, caused them to metastasize. Sophia grew incredibly boy crazy, as any teenage girl starved of male companionship would. And she had her pick of male companionship believe me.
Because I went to the nearby public high school, Sophia and I rarely saw each other after our eighth grade graduation. The end of our friendship began the summer before our sophomore year. It was a summer of stealing nail files and polishes, expensive hairbrushes, a curling iron, the overpriced nail kit, false eyelashes, small tubes of hot oil. Each time I left the Beauty Supply store with my beach bag full of loot, I would say a Rosary to counteract the slew of new sins clouding my fledgling soul.
A few weeks before our sophomore year was slated to begin, we went shopping for clothes at the Mission Viejo Mall. Actually, Sophia wore a school uniform to her all-girls Catholic high school, so she was really there to steal, I suppose. She really wanted to go to Montgomery Ward, a store that no self-respecting teenager would frequent without being dragged there by a parent. I humored her, and soon we were roaming the beauty supply aisle, which was low, the shelves only coming up to our breasts. Sophia pulled a pair of cuticle cutters off its hook and handed it to me. "Here," she said, "put this in your bag."
"No way!" I said. "This store has security, Sophia."
"Chicken!" she said, dropping it in her own Mexican mesh bag. It wasn't enough that she stole things; she had to steal them in her see-through beach bag.
In that moment, I realized that Sophia had a bonafide problem. For her, stealing wasn't about getting free stuff; it was about the pleasure of getting away with breaking the law. While there may not seem to be one, there is a major difference between these two things in the mind of a teenage shoplifter.
That day was the official end of my friendship with Sophia, although not in any conscious sense. I think that more than anything, I felt sad that we had so little in common anymore. If my not wanting to steal a pair of cuticle cutters from Montgomery Ward made me a chicken in her eyes, then our friendship needed to end.
That much I knew.