One friend recalled that at age four she’d nicked a few items from her new friend’s dollhouse. When she brought home the miniature loot, her mother promptly asked about it. It all got a bit hazy (of course it did, she was a four-year-old felon) but she still recalls the almost visceral horror of having to return the lot to Mandy’s letterbox. This meant (a) Mandy would realise the items were missing, (b) Mandy would know she was a thief, (c) Mandy would never want to play with her again.
Another friend told of buying two raffle tickets at a fair when she was 12. One was for her sister, the other for herself, though she hadn’t distributed the tickets before the draw. Turned out one of the tickets – but whose? – was the winner and the prize a nice new cricket set. The friend had never played cricket in her life, never intended to, but greedily claimed the bounty. Forty years later she still feels guilty and has left the untouched cricket set to said sister in her will. The sister is now 64.
My guilt story was worse than these but was done out of love. I dumped a bowl of cigarette butts over the fence behind the shed in a remote corner of our neighbour’s backyard. I was 24 at the time, working on my thesis (oppression in Spanish drama) and believed I couldn’t produce an idea until I’d dragged on a Camel. I knew my parents worried about me smoking so rather than kill them with the sight of my ciggie butts at the bottom of the garbage bin or risk melting the bin to a plastic pulp, I went the heave-ho.
I was, how to say, extremadamente estresada, because this was just before computers came along and I was handwriting 100,000 words in pencil and cutting and pasting using scissors and sticky tape. Oh, and did I mention that I cut the cigarettes in half so I wouldn’t be tempted to smoke the lot?
Sisters, the following day was THE worst of my young life. The neighbour spotted the ashy spoils while hosing the shed. (Why would you hose a shed?) She rang in a panic. Did I know anything about it?! (I didn’t – sorry! – I fled to uni.) She rang the police. The police interrogated my mother. All the while, I was bunkered down in the library, channelling Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment as the noose draws tighter and tighter around him.
Raskolnikov axes two old ladies to death, I chop up cigarettes, but there was nothing, I swear, nothing, that separated us that day.
I felt guilty as hell.
It’s hard to describe the relief of having your guilt exposed and knowing the world won’t end, and people will still love you even if they think you’re a nutcase. When I finally slunk home, my mother asked, with a smile in her voice, “Is there something you want to tell me, darl?”
They say the truth will set you free but they’re wrong. The truth will catapult you to the dizziest heights. You should try it.
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