two hundred dollar lesson

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When I was six years old, my family and I lived on a lake. That summer, the elderly couple next door had their granddaughter stay with them for a while. She was around my age, so we played together on the beach and watched TV at my house since her grandparents didn’t like kids running around child-ing up their place. One day while I was showing her various trinkets around my room, I opened a jewelry box that I was keeping two one-hundred dollar bills in.

“Wow,” she breathed. “Where did you get that?”

“My aunt sent it to me,” I told her brightly. Very proud of myself that my aunt had sent me money for my birthday, I enjoyed her envy for a few minutes, then closed the box and put it away.

The next day, I opened the box and the money was gone.

I knew she’d done it. No one else had been in or out of our house, and not even my parents knew I was keeping the money in that box (and they had a lot more than two hundred dollars, why would they steal it?). When the girl and I met up the next day in my yard, I told her the money was gone and she gasped.

“You don’t think I stole it, do you?” Wide eyes, trembling bottom lip, the whole fifty-three yards.

She didn’t have a natural gift for acting.

When she failed to inform me that she’d stolen my birthday money, I went inside and told my mom the situation. My mom sighed, disappointed. “Well, you shouldn’t have showed her. What’d you learn from this?”

…There’s danger in leaving a question open-ended like that.

A whole day went by and the little rat fink refused to confess. I quickly realized that if I let her get righteously angry at being accused, she’d stop playing with me and I’d never see the money again. I assured her I didn’t think it was her and we continued playing and I continued being secretly indignant. Snuggled in bed that night, I thought up a plan of attack to set into motion when we met up the next day.

As soon as she walked over to our yard, I suggested we walk down to the beach and – no, I didn’t drown her. Jesus, people.

We played in the sand for a while, and then I began my brilliant plan.

I started sobbing.

“That money was for my college education!” I bawled. “We don’t have enough, and my aunt is sending us money little by little!”

My friend stared, stunned, and said, “Can’t she send more?” The tone of her voice read loud and clear as “Fending Off Guilt for the Asshole Thing I Did.”

I told her some complex story about how my aunt was in the hospital and about to die and her last wish was for me to go to college and then I sobbed to the point of inconsolableness and my friend hugged me and cried with me and then she went home.

The little rat fink.

The following day, her parents came to pick her up and she left.

I stewed in my room for a while, furious that my plan had failed, and then the Winds of Distraction came by and I shrugged it off. I gathered up some Lincoln Logs and built some houses and a few hours later, my mom called me downstairs.

I hurried out of my room, thinking through a list of undiscovered things I’d done that I hadn’t been yelled at for yet and tried to gauge which one’s severity matched her casual tone of voice. As I walked into the kitchen, my mother gestured to the phone on the wall.

“I just got off the phone with Rat Fink’s mother.” (I don’t remember her name.)

I blinked.

“She said they were driving on the highway when Rat Fink broke down sobbing in the backseat and told them she’d stolen your money from your jewelry box when she’d asked you to get her a glass of juice from the kitchen. She said you told her it was your college money, and she felt so guilty she couldn’t keep it to herself anymore.”

I let that sink in, amazed.

My mother smiled at me, deeply amused. “You’re so bad.”

I smiled back, accepting it as the compliment it was.

A few days later, the money arrived along with a letter of apology from the the girl. I wrote a letter back saying we could still be friends, but we never did actually talk again. I think that’s a bit of a shame, really. Maybe she’s grown up into someone super cool; she did admit to her crime, after all.

Anyway! That summer, I learned the benefit of thinking from other people’s perspectives. …In a completely dishonest and manipulative way.

Hooray!

I should never write children’s books.

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