Monday, July 24, 2006


when a bike is stolen a fairy dies
Originally uploaded by knautia.

“There is one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Do you understand that? When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father.When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. Do you see?”

--from THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini

I was maybe six or seven, and I was playing at my cousin’s house. For the first time, I noticed that she had more than I did. She had three sisters who filled the house with their shouts and squabbles and games and I was an only child. The only sounds that erupted in my house were made by my parents: laughing, scheming their lives as adults do, quite frequently quarreling. There was no one to huddle with me in another room and talk about what it all meant. I often felt lonely.

My cousin had a huge room with capacious windows that looked out on an oval-shaped pool, and sprawling green lawns; there was a real live horse in the barn. My room was the size of a large closet attached to my parents room. My father laughed when I told him I wanted a horse. “If you’re not married when you’re twenty-three, I’ll buy you one,” he promised on more than one occasion. I vowed to wait to the wizened old age of forty if that was what it took, but never even made it to the twenty-three-year-old deadline. Which was okay. I didn’t want a horse by then anyway--a fact my crafty father was surely betting on.

But most significantly of all, my cousin had many more dolls and doll accessories than I did. My eye was particularly attracted by a pair of red checked underpants for her baby doll. When my cousin left the room, I jammed them in my pocket. They seemed to represent everything I thought I didn’t have.

But even before I got home, the thrill of possession was spoiled for me. In the weeks that followed, I was beseiged by guilt and fear of punishment that were worthy of a character from Dostoyevsky. Now when my mother asked me if I wanted to visit my cousin, I feigned illness. What if she knew? What if she’d told her family? I burned with shame.

My doll never wore the red checked underpants. They weren’t the thing I wanted anyway. How had I ever been tricked into thinking they were? I hid them in a cigar box and buried them in the woods near my house. I can still remember digging the hole with my hands. Clawing, it was.

Years later, my cousin and I laughed about the incident, about the months I’d spent refusing to walk past the police station for fear I’d be arrested. If she ever noticed the underpants were missing, she’d long forgotten it, teaching me one thing for certain: however much theft hurts the victim, it hurts the thief more. If you don’t believe me, think of those soul-dead minions who steal Peace, who steal the Air we breathe, who would steal the Future itself in exchange for something as deceptive and illusory as the red doll undies.

In the end, the thing that tormented me most was the way my theft dishonored the life I did have. Coveting the pool outside my cousin’s window seemed like the basest ingratitude for the amazing tree outside my own. Longing for the sounds of my cousin’s house, I didn’t hear the sacred noise inside mine: the laughing and whispering and shouting that signalled my parents’ passionate engagement with each other, with me, and with their world.

Now even the arguments seem like something worth honoring. For fifty-two years, my parents wrestled some powerful personal demons together and they never gave up. That the struggle created some clatter and boom no longer surprises or disturbs me; in fact, I admire it. And in the end, I can say conclusiviely that the laughter won; the love won. What greater legacy is there than that?

For a truly delightful take on Theft and a link to many more visit the divine Laini.

Meanwhile, Qarrtsiluni is publishing a series of shorts. The challenge is to encapsulate and intensify in pieces of 100 words or less. Several of my favorite bloggers more than meet it. The waitress in me particularly relished "Petey's" by Leslee of Third House.

For those who can't get enough of the short short, I discovered 400 Words via Sarah Salway. There's a veritable feast to be found there--not to mention lots of ideas for blog posts, if anyone feels the tank runnning low.


Anonymous said...

Love your take on "thief." Quarrels...hmmm...glad to hear your parents love won out. I had a sibling, but the quarreling in my childhood home made me feel utterly alone...I'd usually hole up in my room to escape it. Thanks for the links. I used to read Leslee's (prior) blog years ago...nice to re-find her. And 400 Words looks delish.

Laini Taylor said...

Great post, Patry! Reading about your theft, and how the little doll undies were really just a meagre part of all the things you didn't have, it made me think of my own feelings of shopping and coveting when I was a starving artist -- I'd go in a store like Z Gallery and love everything, but only be able to afford something puny like a candle or something, and then when I'd get my puny candle home to my puny apartment and unwrap it, the magic that it had had in its previous environment would be all gone -- gone the gorgeous table and table runner, gone the chandeliers and art and cutlery and velvet footstools, etc etc. And it would be just a candle! Also, I recently read Kite Runner -- WOW -- and when I posted the promt of thief! I didn't think of that book, but I'm surprised I didn't. It was so powerful. AND: thanks for the link! Glad you liked my scribble. It was a fun one!

paris parfait said...

Love your story! Beautifully-written. Ah, the childhood torment of doing something wrong and being afraid to be found out. Is there anything worse??!! I also liked The Kite Runner. Will check out those links - thank you!

Patry Francis said...

marilyn: I suppose quarreling makes everyone feel alone and scared--whether they are only children or have a dozen siblings. It was only in writing this post that I realized my parents weren't so much battling each other, as they were battling an inner demon. Quite a revelation!

laini: Oh yes, I've had that puny candle experience! The illusion created by clever marketing, I guess. Thanks again for a terrific prompt.

paris: Oh, no, nothing worse! It is like entering a dark fairy tale. Thanks for reading!

Kay Cooke said...

This is wonderful.
I love the way you subtly turned the account around to your situation as a child from negative to positve without any moral or sentiment at the end of it all.
Apart from the personsl - which we can all realte to - you have also truly got me thinking about what thieving does to us all in its the wider, political implications.

robin andrea said...

Fantastic post, Patry. You capture something so essential and inherent to childhood-- that longing for what you know you will not ever really have. We recognize it immediately when we see it, that object of our intense desire. What we don't know at the moment is that it will teach a great lesson, in a way that someone who has everything can never know. I once loved a plaid, pleated skirt when I was young. I saw it in a department store. I can still picture it. I learned so much about material desire from that simple piece of cloth. I didn't steal it, but I wanted to so badly, that it stole me for a while in my life.

Kay Cooke said...

Thanks SO much for the links too patry - it's just the sort of thing I'm looking for - yay!

Rebekah said...

I have childhood memories of doing something I shouldn't have. Amazing how you can recall every single sensory detail of that kind of experience. Wonderful story.

Thanks for the links/challenges!


Patry Francis said...

angi: sorry you never got a doll like Heather Sutton's, but it looks like you ended up with a wonderful dinosaur! Thanks for visiting.

chiefbiscuit: Writing this brought so much up for me--including thoughts like yours. Glad you enjoyed the links.

rebekah: you've hit on something that really intrigues me--how the emotional intensity of certain experiences casts every detail in sharp relief.

Patry Francis said...

Robin: I can almost see that plaid pleated skirt. The fact that you can recall every detail of the thing you never owned, but undoubtedly forget the clothes that hung in your closet, calls into question the meaning of possession. Thanks for your thought provoking comment.

Fred Garber said...

Patry....someone dear to me likes to walk in to Salvation Army stores, try on the used shoes and when they find the perfect pair they quietly put their old shoes on the rack and walk away.....

and a few questions for you...Could you find the spot where you buried the cigar box and then would you dig it up?

Patry Francis said...

fred: Great story--and an equally great question. Yes, I think I could find the spot--if memory isn't deceiving me. And yes, if I could and the box was miraculously still there, I would dig it up. It would give me great satisfaction to return the doll undies to my cousin after all these years.

Zhoen said...


Anonymous said...

"In the end, the thing that tormented me most was the way my theft dishonored the life I did have."

I think this is one of the best sentences I have read here.

Well done! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I love your way with words. Your story brought back memories of my own childhood guilts. Sometimes it is tough to be young.

Patry Francis said...

zhoen: Thank you for your presence here.

Sara: That's my favorite sentence, too--because that's the point of revelation for me. It's the thing I didn't know when I began to write this piece.

Coll: Oh yes. We experience the world so intensely when we are small. Both the good and the true, and the frightening.

Sky said...

...who would steal the Future itself in exchange for something as deceptive and illusory as


this post tells us that you have always been led by truth, and if you didn't notice it quickly you later suffered for the neglect. what a fabulous young child you seemed to have been!

leslee said...

Patry, what a great story. I've had at least one similar experience of doing some minor dishonorable thing that nobody noticed but made me burn with shame after. There was some philosopher on tv recently who was an atheist and said he thought not believing in God made him more moral, because he had to make his choices based on what was the right thing to do as opposed to what would get him into heaven. You have to live with yourself - and you're right, you rob yourself of what's good in these situations.

Thanks also for the link! Glad you liked the piece.

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