Yesterday the parking gods shared their karma with me and created a spot right at the front door of CVS. I was just running in for a moment after dropping off my son at school. I promised myself that I would be sitting at my desk by 9:30, working. My lack of discipline with work was making me feel anxious, so I was attempting to be focused. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed first one backpack laden kid, with square, hip, black glasses leaving, and another kid several feet behind him. Both had on “the uniform “of dark well-worn t-shirts and slouchy jeans. I became a bit nostalgic.
The high school is right around the corner so at 9:10 in the morning, they were either skipping school or on final exam schedule. My older children had graduated from there four and seven years ago, respectively, so I remembered a few things about the life of a high school teenager. Typically I wouldn’t have given them a second thought. With my daughter graduating college recently, I found myself more emotional. A strong pang of missing my kids washed over me. It was hard to believe they were both out of college now and on their own.
Then I heard a voice, “Excuse me,” a pause, “Yes, you with the back pack.”
It wasn’t a loud voice, but it stopped the second slender kid in his tracks. I slowed to watch, but then told myself I needed to focus and proceed on my errand. Despite the woman’s voice not being overly loud, I could still hear her as I perused the aisles.
“Did you pay for the items you put in your backpack? The soda? The other thing?” she queried him.
As I came around my row I got a glimpse of his face. No expression. The woman motioned for him to follow her to another section. My stomach clenched, shit, first I wondered if they were singling him out because he was black (racial profiling had been discussed on NPR just that morning). Then I thought, that could easily be my kid doing something dumb. I pushed my thoughts aside and continued my search. I found myself in the same row as the first woman, the boy, and they were now joined by a second female.
She was much louder, maybe the manager I guessed.
“We could call the police you know!” she said with emphasis on POLICE.
I didn’t hear him respond, and wondered how his face looked now. I felt ill and wanted to cry.
The woman’s one sided conversation continued, “Do you know it’s against the law to take things without paying for them?”
I lost much of the rest of the diatribe as I tried to shake off my sentimentality. I missed my kids and part of me felt protective of this boy regardless if he was remorseful. I remembered my good friend calling me the night her daughter got caught shoplifting. Initially her daughter had been stony faced but finally broke down. I wondered if this tough teenager was hiding a scared small boy inside him. I wondered what his mother might feel like if she was here.
Another conversation, going on in Spanish, right next to me was distracting. The Spanish piqued my interest and as I listened, I realized they were also discussing the teenager. I tried to see what I could decipher. The man and the woman were definitely discussing the same altercation. The man was shocked that the police weren’t called. The woman explained that they had the choice to press charges or not. I concluded she was an employee as well. Why was the man so strident for prosecution? I was feeling apprehensive. Couldn’t he see it was just a young kid who had made a mistake?
Their conversation droned on, the loud voiced store manager continued as well. Focus I reminded myself, you are not his mother, this is not your problem. I found myself re-reading the labels on the products as I tried to decide which one to purchase. Finally, I identified what I had come to buy and proceeded to the self-checkout.
The friend in the glasses returned, finally noticing his buddy hadn’t followed him out of the store. For some reason this made the whole situation more human. I thought, they didn’t plan this, they are just two regular kids who came over for a snack. It made me appreciate the employees’ sensitivity.
By this time, the two female employees and the shoplifter were in the main part of the store, standing near the entrance. They did appear to be letting him go. For some reason this stuck out in my mind. I still wondered though, were they too lenient? Had they put enough of the fear of police and arrest into him? I was sadder and less indignant than the Spanish speakers. What if they had insisted on the police? What if that ruined his life? He looked younger than 18 but who knows what can happen?
I had an urge to follow the two boys out of the store and let them know that if I was their mother I would have been scared for them. I wanted them to know the seriousness of what they had done. I wondered what it would have been like if it was one of my kids.
Tonight I shared the story with my boyfriend. I asked him if he had ever shoplifted and he said, “Sure, didn’t you?” I paused, “Yeah, you are right, I did too, not that often, but once or twice, little things.” Guess some kids are lucky, they don’t get caught and they grow out of the thrill. I hoped, since this kid got a break, he would realize how fortunate he was and not do it again.