Valued Kleptomaniac

Rachel Kaly '17. Valued Kleptomaniac won the Horgan Prize for an exceptional short story. 

September 11, 2001

            My elementary school was called the Little Red Schoolhouse, despite being none of those things. Large, beige, and Art Deco, maybe. It was an expensive private school, and I was only able to attend because Mom taught middle school French. I was solidly middle class, and solidly did not belong.

            I was sharpening my pencil in woodworking class—though I’m not sure why, because pencils were not allowed in the woodworking shop. We were making birdhouses and I hate birds so I refused to make one. I was not going to aid the birds in their housing crisis. Birds should absolutely be homeless. The sharpener was placed directly beneath a large window that faced downtown.

            I saw a plane fly into a building and I assumed it was for a movie. They were always shooting movies downtown. I didn’t say anything and then ten minutes later the principal came in and whispered something to Peggy, the androgynous woodworking teacher, who nodded solemnly and told us to put down our saws and go to the auditorium because we were in danger. I was the last one out of the classroom and I took a saw with me for safekeeping.

            In the auditorium the principal explained what had happened and said that our parents were on their way to pick us up.

            I had to stay an extra two hours because Mom had to wait for every student to leave. I sawed a chair in half in her classroom because I was bored.

            The subways were closed, so Mom and I had to walk home three miles. We couldn’t see more than two steps in front of us because of all the smoke and the dust and I had never walked that much in my life, so I made Mom stop three times for ice cream.

            Mom says school was closed for two and a half weeks after the attack but I don’t remember.

            I tried to saw our sofa in half, so Mom hid the saw under her bed. Peggy never found out that I stole it from her woodshop and now it’s in my closet, collecting dust.

            February 14, 2002

            As president of the school’s postal service, I had full access to all the mail, including what passed through our classroom. I opened all the letters on Valentine’s Day searching for my name. I threw out every valentine addressed to a girl that wasn’t me (all of them). I forged ten valentines to myself and put them in the class mailbox.

            Later that day, my teacher called me outside of the classroom and revoked my privileges as president of the post office.

 January 6, 2003

            Dad threw a flowerpot at me because I got a B in math. Mom wasn’t home. My punishment was that I could only listen to Mozart (“No more music pornography” – he was talking about Simple Plan), and every night before I went to bed I had to memorize 10 sequences of phone numbers, reciting them forwards and backwards. He thought this would help me improve my math skills, but it didn’t.

 November 12, 2004

            In fourth grade I was the biggest kid in my class and everyone knew it. Dad’s Israeli-Moroccan heritage also meant that I was the hairiest kid in my class. Mom wouldn’t let me wax or shave, so I put Scotch tape on my upper lip and tried to rip the hair off. It didn’t work, so I tried coloring the pathetic brown peach fuzz with flesh-toned crayons so the mustache would blend in with my complexion. The wax got in my mouth and I threw up. Chunklets clung sweetly to my lip hair.

 November 16, 2004

            Mom found out about the flowerpot incident and was furious. When she went to her attorney that day, she filed for divorce. I said this had been a long time coming. Dad threw a flowerpot at her when he heard the news. Dad has a good arm—he played baseball recreationally when he was in the Israeli army. My sister, who was six at the time, threw a flowerpot out the window because she thought we were playing a game. It hit a stray dog on the street. It died.

            I went to bed early that night.

 December 10, 2004

            Mariah was my best friend in fourth grade. All of the boys loved her. At the school dance the DJ played “Run It” by Chris Brown and Mariah got all of the “peen.” “Peen” is what we called penises, because if we continued beyond the first syllable we would giggle and tingle. That night Mariah told me Alex was a better kisser than Frank, who was still a better kisser than Chris, but Ray used too much tongue. I said nothing. My sexual frustrations reverberated and echoed in my chest cavity (that’s where my therapist, whom I started seeing in 2004 and still see to this day, says a lot of my anxiety gets released) but did not leak outside of me. My feelings were insulated by the fat rolls that creased my stomach and dimpled my thighs.

            After the school dance I went home and made out with my pillow. Sometimes I made my stuffed animals have sex and I watched the scene from “Aladdin” where Jasmine seduces Jafar. I had first watched that scene when I was nine years old, and that was the first time I was aroused. I wonder what Walt Disney would think if he knew his films helped a girl who went through puberty at age nine discover her sexuality. A Jewish girl.

            The first time I masturbated was also the same day I found out Disney was a raging anti-Semite.

 April 4, 2005

            I was sick of feeling poor at a rich school. Everyone I knew had a Sidekick cellphone, but Mom refused to buy me one. I threatened to run away; I did not want to remain the token “poor” kid anymore. Mom still refused and I knew I only had one option left: I could steal one.

            I stole my teacher’s (Mike’s) cellphone during recess. I ran into the bathroom to play with the coveted device, adrenaline pumping through my cholesterol-filled veins. I immediately wanted to text someone, because that’s what one does when one has a Sidekick, but the only person whose number I knew by heart was Mom’s. I knew this would get me in trouble, so I texted Mike’s most contacted number—his girlfriend, whom he once brought to class for show and tell.

            “hey babe :) :* ;)”

            “I thought we agreed we weren’t talking anymore.”

            “hey babe :) :* ;)”

            The phone rang and vibrated twice and fell in the toilet bowl and I screamed. Mike ran in, only to see a fat girl with one arm in the toilet reaching for his phone. He screamed. Principal ran in and confiscated the phone.

            Two days later Mike was fired for possession of child pornography on his phone. I became a valued kleptomaniac.

            I have since been ejected from two Urban Outfitter’s for stealing and I have a dresser full of other peoples’ possessions.