I wrote the following before I went away and reading it back now I’m shocked. Fully gobsmacked. I feel like a stranger wrote it; whom is this imposter calling herself Pop Wortman?

Aside from the fact that even trivial thievery seems just abysmal to me now, there’s also the fact (well triumph really) that I HAVEN’T EATEN GUM since July. Fist pump, jump in the air, all that hip-hop, yada yada. So here we go with a piece of the past Pop.

Also, this twas when I was up in Auckland, not at the local C.C (Cambridge Countdown). (Please, no judgement).

I like to think of myself as an honest person. But, much as I hate (see, there’s that “hate”; obviously before my om-zen-namaste way of being took over) to admit it, last week there was an episode where I was rather stealthy with a $1 pack of Extra Bubblemint gum at the supermarket.

It was unintentional at first; it was clamped in my fist and by the time I noticed its presence I’d already pinned in my four digits to pay. So what did I do? Not another transaction as would be the genuine and honest way. No, I slyly slid it  under the coin purse of my wallet and with a few furtive glances around, exited the building.
Why though? I mean $1, sometimes even 89c on an Onecard special. It would hardly be breaking the bank to just swipe it through and would’ve taken an additional 23 seconds, if that (maybe a little longer as I ’twas in self serve – those machines can be a tad temperamental). I don’t know if it was the fact it was from a supermarket conglomerate, it was only a buck in price, or because I spent eons on other items, but the guilt didn’t rear its head and make me culpable.

It got me thinking.
When I was about six years old, I went on a bit of a stealing spree. If I wanted it, I took it. My takings were never a lot – I remember a piece of fluff on a doll at school that I took for my own, a red felt-pen found under a desk, a shiny stone I claimed as mine from lost property. Never, God forbid, from a shop, just little titbits that were in easy grasp.
Until the day I stepped it up a notch. Deb and I were at this florist and gift shop a few kilometres from home, and there was a box of little fabric hearts at the counter. Cheap little things, spouting little messages on a piece of ribbon like “I miss you” or “Get well soon”.

I wanted one.

Laying on the hints hard, such as waving it in Deb’s face and saying how pretty it was did not result in getting it bought for me so I took matters into my own hands.

The ruby red one, with googly eyes and an “I love you” streaming out of its velveteen mouth was my target. As Mum paid for her flowers, I clasped the heart in my determined grip as we vacated the premises and took off home.

The guilt overwhelmed me the moment we got in the car. It would have to among one of my earliest memories, but I remember the event like it happened this morning. I remember going inside our house, the stolen good nestled in my armpit with my arms firmly crossed. I remember Deb asking if I was feeling all right because I was extremely pale and quiet. I took off to my bedroom and flung the heart on my bed, but couldn’t handle looking at it so stuffed it down the back of my undies drawer.

The next few months I was on a constant state of high alert. The guilt was monumental. The heart haunted me, taking over my nightly dreams and invading my daily thoughts. I changed its location on a weekly basis, terrified Mum was going to come across it and figure out what I’d done. I begged her to take the alternative route to school as to avoid driving past the shop and scene of the crime, clamping my eyes tightly shut and facing the other way on the occasions we did pass it.

A year or so on I decided enough was enough and flung the heart out my bedroom window. In my seven-year-old mind, the offending material would be caught in a gust of wind and fly far away and out of my conscious, I felt free. It was gone.

But a few hours later my darling Dad came into my room. “Here Pop,” he said. “I think you must have dropped this.” I couldn’t deny it – he’d come across it  right outside my window. I recall smiling weakly and once again, shoving it in the confines of my undies drawer.

It seemed I would never rid myself of the heart. It would return to me no matter the lengths I took to cast it away. One night the thought got me in such a fluster and panic, I raced to the kitchen and retrieved the humongous “Big Scissors”, wrenched the heart out and cut it into tiny pieces. Metaphoric or what?

The next day I threw it out into a rubbish bin at the park down the street. The once rich looking fabric looked cheap and tacky as it littered like confetti into the dank depths. As I walked away, the sense of guilt was still there, but it was no longer all encompassing.

I never told anyone about the heart until a few years ago. I was in Wellington visiting my Nanna, and we drove past the florist gift shop. It was still there, exactly as it was in my mind. I pulled over and asked Nanna if we could have a look around.

Once inside, I went straight up to the counter. A middle-aged woman was on, and I asked how long she’d been working at the store – turns out she was the owner, and had had the shop for going on fifteen years.
I gulped, took a deep breath and said to her, “About 12 years ago, I stole from you.” She looked blank, so I told her my story of treachery, and whipped out $20.

“Please take it,” I said. “Consider the excess a late payment penalty.”
The woman laughed, refusing to take my money. “Please,” I begged. “Please just take it.” I felt that if I paid for the heart, albeit it more than a decade later, it would be on the way to righting my wrong.

I think the woman eventually got the gist of how important it was for me to give her the money, so she took it in the end, I walked out of there feeling a tiny bit better, like I had made a good step in becoming a better person. I’d done what I could to make up for my mistake.

How is it that what was essentially a cheap piece of fabric, retailing at about $2.50, could make me feel such dread and remorse for years and years, yet seven days ago I just waltzed away with gum with no hint of guilt? It makes me sad. I stole; I took something that wasn’t mine without paying for it. Regardless of the price, I’m a thief. I like to think I’m honest, a good person, but such an action would not be undertaken by a good and virtuous person.

This morning I went to the local Countdown and told them I got home the other day with a few packets of gum and realised I hadn’t paid for them. I handed over a crisp $5 note (symbolism and all that; I made sure it was in pristine condition and wasn’t a tarnished and ripped affair) and was on my way. Not the whole honest truth, but a partial admission of a mistake.

Thou shall not steal. No siree, no more, never again.

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