I’m just like any other kind of criminal. I started small. In kindergarten. My life of crime can be traced back to a natural-foods loving mother. It was lunch after lunch of unrefined peanut butter on thick slabs of crumbly, home-baked organic seven-grain bread—not sweetened by even a single drop of honey—that drove me to steal. After story-time, when Mrs. Meadows put everyone down for a nap and ducked out to the teacher’s lounge for a cup of coffee, I would crawl from my mat and start my crime spree. I snuck into the room where every student was assigned a cubby, a sugar-crazed, pint-size terror in a hand-smocked peasant dress. I opened every lunch box stamped with the face of a cartoon character I could identify but did not know: TV, like refined sugar, was forbidden in our house.
Julia Miller’s mother always put two Twinkies in her Smurfs lunchbox. Julia had a lazy eye and had to wear a patch like a pirate; her mother thought that if she had a Twinkie to share, she might make more friends. I helped myself to Julia’s second Twinkie every day during naptime, and Julia, who might not have ever even known there were supposed to be two Twinkies nestled side-by-side next to her thermos, never reported to Mrs. Deaton that someone had taken it. I grew bolder, my blood singing with the rush of illicit sugar. I stole Ding-Dongs and Ho-Hos, Tastykake Jelly Krimpets, Star Crunch, Nutty Buddies and Cheez Balls. I wolfed down Doritos and washed them down with foil packets of Capri-Sun, until my classmates started complaining that things were missing from their lunch, and like any smart criminal, I went underground and lived on the straight and narrow for a while, so as not to get caught. I need not tell you how much worse those crumbly sprouted-wheat sandwiches were, after knowing the glory of Goober & Grape on Wonderbread, soft and sweet as a cloud might taste in heaven. Because to my six year-old tastebuds, that is surely what they must eat there.
I learned to be strategic: nothing big, not every day, not even every week. Just something small, and only sometimes. I became Julia Miller’s best friend, guaranteeing me a Twinkie every day for the rest of kindergarten, and first grade, too. In second grade, my mother finally agreed to a sleepover at the Millers’. After giving Mrs. Miller a detailed list of things I couldn’t have—sugar, dairy, television—I thought I was busted, and how unfair it was, because I actually liked Julia, and not just for the Twinkies. Looking like a pirate made Julia as weird a kid as I was, with my foot-long list of forbidden things. Luckily for me, it had been Mrs. Miller’s idea to use Twinkies as the bait for a friend just like me. She had Mr. Miller set up a tent in the living room and fed us pizza and Oreos for supper. We ate Lucky Charms mixed with Cookie Crisp for breakfast and watched cartoons until lunchtime.
Throughout middle school and high school, I kept my thefts small—just an occasional cookie, a midnight pantry raid during a sleepover, maybe a Pepsi that could have rolled out of someone’s backpack but didn’t—nothing too daring. But then in college, when I was buying my own groceries and living with roommates, it started all over again—but weirdly, in reverse. I never bought any of the things that were the staples of my childhood: tofu, nutritional yeast flakes, wheat germ, brown rice syrup, or the organic, unsweetened peanut butter with the weird layer of oil on the top of the jar. My groceries were full of preservatives, refined sugars, and Red #5. Pop-Tarts, Capt’n Crunch, Oscar Mayer bologna, Kraft American cheese slices. But my roommates were slobs. They never cleaned the bathroom, never remembered it was their turn to take out the trash, or haul the recycling bin that they made such a big deal about to the curb on Tuesdays. Their dishes grew crusty and moldy in the sink until I gave in and washed them. They never once suspected me when their groceries went missing, because all they ever saw me eat was Lunchables and Cocoa Puffs.
Nowadays, I do data entry in an office where people drink the last cup of coffee before 10 a.m. and don’t even bother to put a new one on to brew, where supervisors send passive-aggressive e-mails about spreadsheets that need updating before checking to see if they’ve already been updated. When I saw Shawna put the coffee pot back on the burner with less than a quarter inch left in it, I was going to give her the benefit of the doubt, because 8:45 on Monday morning isn’t easy for anybody. But after three instant messages demanding updates I’d already finished and she hadn’t even checked for, I’d had it. I sent her the updates—politely, of course—and went to the break room. While the new pot was percolating, I opened the fridge and pulled the bag from the bottom crisper, where I saw Shawna put it right before she took the last cup of coffee without brewing a new pot. At noon, I go down to the picnic table that no one besides me ever uses. There are a lot of rules in an office, just as many as in a home or a kindergarten class, and whoever has to follow them never gets a say in what they are. Shawna prefers salmon to tuna salad; she uses a lot of chopped celery and a little bit of caper, which was weird, the first time I took her lunch. She always packs baby carrots and hummus with her sandwich. I’ll have to brush my teeth, lest my garlicky breath give me away for what I am: a hungry peasant, an unrepentant lunch thief. I regret none of it. Her lunch was delicious.
About the author:
Allie Marini Batts is an MFA candidate at Antioch University of Los Angeles, meaning she can explain deconstructionism, but cannot perform simple math. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She contributes to the publication of AULA’s Lunch Ticket literary magazine, Spry Literary Journal, The Weekenders Magazine, Mojave River Review, and The Bookshelf Bombshells. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks, “You Might Curse Before You Bless” (ELJ Publications, 2013) and “Unmade & Other Poems,” (Beautysleep Press, 2013.) https://www.facebook.com/AllieMariniBatts