Dear Rosen Drug,
Thirty-two years ago, I shoplifted from your store. I was thirteen at the time and it was my first and only shoplifting experience. Despite my parent’s fantastic job of raising me, I still made some bad choices, and this was one of them. Everyone was doing it, and I was given a quick lesson by some people who had done it before. I am not writing to you to make excuses, though, I am writing to you because my actions to this day still haunt me.
I will admit they did not bother me for quite a while. Your store is “out of town” for me, and I had been there only on a once in a lifetime trip with my friends, running wild, because we had lied to our parents and said we would be at a relative’s house, and then taken the Greyhound bus to a location over three hours away. I never saw your store again after that day, not until twenty-two years later when my now husband and I took a trip to the lake for the first time. When we passed your store I recognized it, I remembered the bad thing I had done, felt guilty, confessed it to my future husband who said, “We’ve all done things we regret.”
Every time we pass it though, I still feel badly. Guilty. Remorseful.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not one moment in your life can define you as a person. Does that moment when I made a bad decision as a youth speak to the character of who or what I am today? It has been so long ago now, that I don’t remember the details. I am not, for example, exactly sure what I stole that day. I know it was makeup and I think it might have included a lip gloss. I know my friends told me that if you had a puffy winter jacket with an elastic waistband, you could just shove stuff in your coat and no one would be the wiser, and it turned out to be right that day. Even though I don’t remember the details, I do still know, in every bone of my body, that it was wrong.
And I thought to myself, what if I were nominated for the Supreme Court tomorrow and one of my old so-called friends decided to come forward and tell the world that I shoplifted at Rosen Drug when I was thirteen? I could probably get the other friend to lie for me if I had to, we could dig our loyalties back out and dust them off, and then it would be my word against hers for the other one. I could list all the ways I am a good person, how my life has gone on to be successful and meaningful, how I could never have committed this thing I am being accused of and how my old friend was obviously doing it for personal gain. I could get tons of people to attest to the fact that I am a decent human being, but that wouldn’t erase the fact that I did, in fact, make a bad decision, behave badly.
There are people who would excuse my behavior. They would say I was just a kid, that I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, that a bad decision at a young age doesn’t change the fact that I am a good person today. I was doing what everyone was doing, back in the days before everyone had security cameras. Kids will be kids and all that…right?
There will be people who will say you had it coming. You left three teenaged girls unattended in your store, knowing what the risks were. You didn’t have security tags on any of your inventory or at the door. No cameras. It was a WIDE OPEN opportunity. In fact, you were so careless, it was like you were practically asking for it. I wouldn’t say that, but there are people who would. Probably people who care about me and are trying to fight for me, for the person I am today. They don’t mean to hurt you, they’re just trying to protect me.
I thought a lot about character, and what it means to have it. Not just to have it, because everyone has it by default, but to have a GOOD character. A respectable character. I looked up the word “character”, just to make sure I had it right. It means, “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”. So then good character would mean to have good mental and moral qualities, but according to who?
I came to the conclusion that I do not believe that the worst moment in your life should define you, but only if you are accountable for it and you have made attempts to make amends. I determined that were I to continue on, pretending that I was innocent when I was not, like it had never happened when it had, it would speak higher volumes about my character than if I were to admit that a long, long time ago, I made a bad mistake.
Good character does not come from being flawless, but from being able to recognize, learn, grow, take accountability for and correct your mistakes.
I would like to apologize to your store for this mistake, for my actions, for my delay in taking accountability for it. I realize the right people may no longer be there, and no one will remember the details of what happened. Still, I am sorry, and enclosed you will find the money to repay you for the items I took without paying. If I could, I would go back and change things, so that neither I or my friends took anything from your store that day. I would be a better person, instead of looking the other way and participating. I would act with “good character”, because that is who I have grown to be. In the absence of being able to do that, I hope you’ll accept my apology.