When you were six you stole money from your father’s wallet and nobody has talked of it since. His brown wallet, the only one you’ve ever known, with frayed edges with no hanging strings (he picks them off), the panels intact and smooth from friction with his back pocket. You would slide and crumple bills from the wallet when he came home from work in the evenings when the sun tumbled down, usually during his shower when he got ready for baseball practices with your brothers.
At that age your father left for work in the mornings at six am, some days you would crinkle your eyes and walk into the kitchen when the moon was still high and he laced his work boots. When he came home at sunset, you would slide his boots on and heel-toe them around the chipped linoleum floor. They were clown shoes to you, clown shoes caked in motor oil, one of the few remnants of your father that could be considered a toy.
Except the wallet. You would crouch in the kitchen, glancing to the living room even though you knew you could detect the thunder of his footsteps in your sleep. You would take bills and hide them behind the headboard in the frilly bed for your dolls. You indulged in daydreams of things you could buy with the money—stuffed animals, Root Beer snow cones, something colorful. You still had the gushing pink bedroom to match the doll bed.
You were being babysat at your favorite house when he found out. It was your favorite because the dining room table was dark and shining, the leather couch wasn’t ripped. The only mess you ever found were strewn magazines and stubs of cigarettes in ashtrays. That house held things of value; the Pac Man machine, the 72-inch television, a glass coffee table. There were no stains or scratches on the table, there were no strewn plastic cups lining the mantle in the living room. It didn’t smell lived in. You were sick of smelling lived in.
Your mother called and you knew why. “Did you take money from your Dad’s wallet?” Your brother was having surgery that day. Your father didn’t have enough cash for the copay. They knew you must have been the one shrinking the wallet.
When you were confronted, he was quiet. You untucked the bills from the miniature doll’s bedspread. The presence of your father in your little room made you uneasy. Guilty. He was heavy on the corner of your twin sized bed. His faded jeans, stained blue shirts and oily shoes were foreign in your fairytale haven. You hung your head, a head of sprouting red curls, and said you learned your lesson. “No, you will never learn.” It could have been you wouldn’t learn, at least for a while, but the painting in the mind says No, he said you’ll never learn.
Ten years later your head was hung again, your father shriveled in a harsh fluorescent room.
You had played rock paper scissors with a friend to decide who could use the dressing room first, and you tried on dresses and costume jewelry and felt apathetic, yet you shoved those things into your purse anyway.
Your father was not rugged and ashamed like he was in the pink childhood haven. Your hair was flattened, you could not hide behind the sprouting red curls or doll houses. You had worked in deliberate motion. No, you will never learn.
And your father was displaced, silent, eyes glazing over upon the off-white tiles on the floor and maybe in that moment he saw your innocent childhood burglary shifting gear in places that could create a monster–a monster over the need for leather couches not to be ripped, a monster over clothes you didn’t even need, a monster for wanting better things than he could give.
He wore a white shirt, a black belt, clean blue jeans. He was going somewhere to cheer on his son, and your thievery distracted him from doing the things he had to do to be a good father. Maybe he worried he did not discipline you properly. Maybe he worried that he worked so hard all day for a life that no one could ever be satisfied with.
He still has the wallet. He is individually disciplined. He refuses to buy a new one. Not until it rips apart, until you rip apart, will he question his methods.