Some Things I Stole When I Was a Teenager

By Brooke Glass-O'Shea

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1. My mother’s vodka. She bought a big jug of it because her parents were coming to visit, and they always had vodka and tonics before dinner. But they stay ed at a hotel and ate at restaurants, and so the big jug just sat there, perched on a wooden rafter in our drafty little cottage, unopened. My mom only drank socially, and then just a glass of wine or something. 

The month before my 14th birthday, I took the jug down. My best friend said she was pretty sure that vodka and Coke was a thing, and so we bought a couple cans of Coke and mixed up our drinks in the kitchen, filling the water glasses with half Coke, half vodka. It tasted like paint thinner mixed with earwax. We figured it would be gross anyway, so we just choked it down. Soon, I felt funny. And then I felt happy. I had not realized how unhappy I’d felt for the past 13 years.

2. A light fixture from the hardware store. My mother kicked me out at age 15 because I’d started sleeping with a dumb hippie guy twice my age, and so I went to live with my father and stepmother. My father did not like young people, and did not particularly like me, but he felt compelled to prove to the world that he was a better parent than my mother. He did this by taking me with him when he went to the hardware store.

My dad would rarely speak as we drove through the drizzly streets in his old blue Toyota Corolla, or as he strode around the store, engaging eagerly with the cables and wrenches and pipe fittings. I wandered, listless. Stealing that light fixture was the only fun I ever had on any of these outings. I tucked it into my backpack, fast as a thought, and glowed all the way home with the secret knowledge that my life was more exciting than it was supposed to be.

I wanted the light fixture to turn my gumball machine into a lamp when it ran out of gumballs. The old hippie guy had sent me the gumball machine, because of my fetish for them—the old-fashioned kind with the sort of art deco design on the pretty blue base. He was a nice guy, really. My dad told me when I moved in that the old hippie guy had raped me, but I thought that was just stupid.

3. A chocolate Easter bunny from Macy’s. There were a bunch of them piled on a display table, and I picked one up as I was walking out with my friend, to impress her. She was impressed. I felt awesome. Much later, she almost became a man but then changed her mind after about six months of the hormones. That’s rough, I thought—believing for so long that you shouldn’t be a woman and then discovering that you shouldn’t be a man either.

4. A chemistry textbook for my friend Tim. He’d started taking some serious college science classes right after high school, like during the summer quarter, but then his parents kicked him out of the house for being difficult. He was living in his VW bus, usually parked right outside his parents’ place so he could shower and do his laundry there when his brother was home. He could not afford to buy the textbook for his chemisty class, but he offered to give me his nice motorcycle jacket if I’d steal it for him. I had a reputation by then.

This theft got weird, because our friend Jonathan joined us when we met up on the university campus and we all took a couple hits of LSD. I thought I’d be out of the bookstore by the time the drugs took effect, but I found, to my great consternation, that the store was lousy with uniformed security guards—probably there to keep weirdos from stealing the chemistry textbooks.

I crouched low in the aisle, pretending to read the laser-printed labels beneath the piles of assigned reading. The chemistry book I could do, but then how to get it out of the store? The only exits were through the tight checkout counter lines, where I would surely draw attention to myself if I didn’t buy anything. There was approximately $3.82 in my pocket, but this part of the store—the heavily guarded part—only sold textbooks, so I couldn’t just buy some pens or something. I pondered this dilemma for so long that I started to get very, very high. I’d forgotten about the LSD.

Panicking as the air around me grew bright and thick, I moved in a daze with the textbook toward the front of the store and almost past an old wire display rack of folded maps. Maps were $3, plus tax—enough to get me into a checkout line and out of the store looking normal-ish. My friends, worried and high, were loitering across the street. Tim gave me $3 and let me keep the map—a nice, big map of the US. Later, I collaged a bunch of pictures onto it and went over all the state borders with lines of glow-in-the-dark paint, so that when I put it up on the wall and turned off the light at night, all 50 states hovered next to my bed, reassuring me that the world was big, very big.

5. A small can of glow-in-the-dark paint. That is some wondrous paint technology right there.

6. Two cans of frozen cranberry juice. I loved Tim, but he always said that he cared too much about me as a friend, so I eventually started sleeping with Jonathan, which wasn’t so bad. I did get a urinary tract infection, though, and then another one right after. The next time Jonathan and I were at Safeway, I said I’d heard that cranberry juice was good for preventing urinary tract infections. We went over to the frozen juice aisle.

Cranberry juice, it turned out, was expensive. “I can steal it,” I said, and when he got uncomfortable, added, “or you can pay for it if you’d rather. I don’t have enough money.” He said I could go ahead and steal it.

7. The P-Funk All-Stars, Live at the Beverly Theater in Hollywood, on cassette. This ended my stealing career, because I got caught. The Tower Records security guy tapped me on the shoulder and I knew it was all over. He took me up some stairs into the little security office in the back, where he could see almost every part of the store through a one-way mirror. He was stern with me. I was 17. He would have to call my parents.

My father answered the phone. I watched the security guy as he related my misdeed to my father, told him to come and pick me up. I watched the security guy’s face shift from authority to incredulity. “No, I don’t want to take her to jail. Just come and pick her up.”

To frustration, the pitch of his voice rising. “Look, I’m not taking her to jail. She’s not 18, so you’re legally responsible for her. I’m going to keep her here until you come get her.”

We waited together, and he wasn’t stern anymore. I asked him about what it was like to work security at a record store, what kind of stuff he’d seen. My dad eventually came, and we drove home in silence, which wasn’t unusual. After dinner, he and my stepmother gave me a little lecture, cold and tight-lipped.

I did get to keep the P-Funk tape, which would provide me with many years of funky listening pleasure. But I hated myself. My parents—all three of them—thought I was monstrous, possibly evil, and I wasn’t even that good at stealing. I left the apartment without a word and walked through the summertime streets to where Tim was, reading a book in his VW bus outside of his parents’ house. Tim said that I was okay, not evil at all. He let me climb into the back of his bus and sleep there with him, just sleeping, fully clothed and apart but together, like children.

Brooke Glass-O’Shea