It started out like any other evening. Our family gathered around the dining table to enjoy the meal my mother had prepared. After getting settled into our seats, we began discussing that day’s activities. We laughed and carried on as we normally do.
Then, my step-father reached over and picked up a piece of paper that was placed next to him. Until that moment I hadn’t noticed the paper sitting there. He unfolded it and began to read it aloud, for us all to hear. It was a notice from the main office of the town home development in which we lived.
In the center of our community, was a very nice two story club house. On the bottom floor was the office, pool tables and lounge seating. The second floor was off limits to unaccompanied minors, which included me as I was only eleven years old at the time.
The clubhouse was always kept in pristine condition. That is, until a few hoodlums went in and destroyed it. What they had done was summarized in the notice my step-father was reading. The clubhouse had been broken into and 80% of the inside had been vandalized. My parents were astounded and visibly upset over what had happened. My mother thinking out loud, asked “who would do such a thing?” I didn’t respond. I couldn’t.
It was me.
A couple of nights before, a friend of mine had stuck a small wadded up paper into the lock on the back door of the clubhouse. As planned, the paper blocked the lock from engaging, but to the naked eye the door appeared secured once closed. Right as the sun went down, four of us met up outside the clubhouse.
One by one, we quietly crept through the back door. All of the town homes were facing the clubhouse, so it was a risky undertaking. Because of that, we designated one of the guys to be on the lookout for people walking by.
As he stood behind the window keeping watch, we began our mission. Starting downstairs, we overturned the couches, chairs and tossed the cushions across the room. After a few minutes, that got boring so we headed upstairs.
Jackpot! Being ‘unaccompanied minors’, we had never been up there before. We started off by tipping the seats and tables. Then, someone ran into the bathroom and came back with rolls of toilet paper. We each took a roll and began to throw it over the edge. By the time we finished, the interior of the clubhouse looked like a winter wonderland of toilet paper.
A moment of guilt rushed over me as I peered over the edge of the top floor. What had we done? As I stood there stunned at my involvement in such a crime, my friend shouted, ‘Hey guys! Look!” In his hand were two large wine bottles. He offered me one. Not to drink, but to pour out onto everything. I turned him down, so another one in our group grabbed it from him. They proceeded to pour the wine over the ledge, landing onto the white couches below, drenching them and staining them red.
We looked around. Our mission was complete, and I felt horrible. I was absolutely sickened by what I had done. Doing something like that was not me. It was completely out of character. What had driven me to get involved in something like that?
As we stepped out the back door, the other three kids were laughing and bragging about what we had done. I wasn’t. There was nothing to laugh at. I turned away from them silently, and slowly walked home.
I went to bed that night hoping that it would be erased from my memory the next morning. Two days later, the notice was read at the dining table. Trying to control my breathing and my facial expressions, I sat in ultimate fear of my parents finding out that it was me. I waited, pacing back and forth in my mind, for them to get to the bottom of the letter. Would my name be listed? “Please no. Don’t let it be there,” I kept thinking.
The last thing on earth I wanted to do was to disappoint my mother. Jail didn’t scare me, community service didn’t bother me, but disappointing my mother was unforgivable in my eyes. My step-father reached the bottom of the notice and folded it back up. He hadn’t read my name aloud, but was it there? Was he waiting to pull me to the side later? Was it a trick to get me to confess?
No. No trick. Nothing was ever mentioned again. It didn’t need to be. In my mind, I paid for what I had done for years. Even writing this, 23 years later, I still feel the same guilt as I did back then. I could blame it on peer pressure, but it wasn’t. It was just me, being rebellious and acting out.
From that day, I developed a great respect for others and their property.
Lesson: Treat others as you would like to be treated, and treat everything as if it is your own.