My best friend in pre-school was named Regina. She had long blonde hair and bangs and wore really fluffy-frilly-girly outfits with big sleeves. My mom sent me to my first day of school with a Flintstones tote bag the size of my entire three-year-old body. Also, my hair was short and dark and curly and definitely not suited for bangs. I have absolutely no idea what Regina and I played with or talked about or why we became friends. The only real memory I have of her involves lots of tears at the end of one of the seven million installments of The Land Before Time. This was at her birthday party. I don’t know how old Regina was turning and I don’t know how many people were there. All I know is there was a ribbon wand and I wanted it. There were games that had to be won in order to receive prizes. I guess I didn’t win the right game, because there was not a ribbon wand in my treat bag on the dining room table at the end of the party. Everyone was playing outside and waiting for their moms and dads to come pick them up. I saw my mom’s car pull up and when she walked towards me, I ran inside saying, “Gotta go get my treat bag!”
There was no one in the house. I was the first kid leaving. I seized the opportunity to snatch a ribbon wand out of the birthday girl’s treat bag. I shoved it into my bag, ribbon side down, and ran outside to hug my mom. I got my wand and I never got caught.
A few days later, while grocery shopping at Food Lion, I stuck my hand into the plastic drawer of York
Peppermint Patties* in the candy aisle. My mom didn’t notice that I had them until she was buckling me into the backseat.
“Gabriela! We did not pay for those,” she said. “Did you steal that candy?”
I was like um, no, I wanted it so I picked it up and brought it out here like everyone else does. I just didn’t need a bag. I was not understanding the whole money thing. She explained it sort-of calmly and I sort-of understood. Then she made four-year-old me walk back into the store and give the two little candies back to the cashier. I totally would have gotten away with it, but my mom did the right thing, as evidenced by the rest of this story.
I was mortified and mad about the whole Peppermint Patty situation, but not just because I really love York Peppermint Patties. Until that day, I didn’t know that stealing was a really bad thing that could get you into a lot of trouble.
All I could think about was that damn ribbon wand.
When we got home, my mom unloaded groceries and put my brother down for a nap. I was much quieter than usual, and kind of followed her around for a while. She told me to go play in my room while she lay down for a little on the couch.
I didn’t want to go to my room.
The ribbon wand was in there.
I walked upstairs and tried playing with anything else, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the wand. I opened the closet and slowly pulled it out, afraid to touch it. It was like a piece of jewelry that had some major Lord of the Rings power on me.
I had it in my hands, creepily sitting on the steps watching my mom sleep, while I thought of what I should do with it. I considered burning it in a fire, but didn’t really know how to make the fire part happen. I also thought I could bury it in the yard, but my plastic Winnie the Pooh shovel would make that very challenging. So I decided to fess up.
I woke up my mom and started sobbing hysterically and telling her that I took this ribbon wand from Regina’s treat bag because I wanted it but I just won the wrong game and I didn’t know that stealing was bad or even really a thing until that life-changing trip to the grocery store.
She was a little frazzled and tried to calm me down. When she was fully woken-up, she said she was glad I understood that stealing was bad, but that Regina’s birthday was months ago, and she and I are still friends so it was probably fine. Her mom probably had a lot of ribbon wands for the party.
I eventually calmed down and turned back into a (relatively) normal four-year-old. But I always thought twice before taking something that I wanted, no matter where it was coming from. And I never got good at lying. To this day, my dad can tell when I’m completely flubbing a story. And I’m not good at keeping secrets that are mine. I’m an open book, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m sure there’s another cliché that applies, but that’s all I can think of right now.
And if Regina – whose last name, I’m embarrassed to say, I do not know – does read this, I hope you’re doing well. And I owe you a ribbon wand.
*My mom is fully convinced that I stole an apple, not candy. But like, what four-year-old steals an apple? I prefer my memory, and would hope that my former self would have better sense than to steal a Granny Smith over some chocolate.