March 2, 2012

Flashback Friday--Arrested Development

Why are my recent Flashbacks so painful? I literally have a list of all the incidents I could blog about. When it comes time to write one, I look over the list and write about whatever stands out that day. The one I chose for today is one I've debated about actually telling, but not for any reason you might think. It's not that it is embarrassing (although it is), or paints me in a bad light, or further reveals my selective poor judgment. I hate to tell this story because when I am on my death bed, this will be one of the very few things where I truly regret my actions. Let me clarify that. I regret my inaction. I've made some questionable decisions in my life but the only times I look back on in regret are the times I didn't act, didn't react, didn't stand up at all. That is why this one is so painful.

But this wouldn't be my blog if I wasn't revealing some unflattering side of myself so here we go.

When Howdy was 2 weeks old, I left the house for our very first outing since his birth. I didn't want to go too far so I settled on my favorite craft supply store. Even then I was doing crafts and I wanted to get something new to work on. The carts at this particular store were very small and when I set Howdy's car seat across the basket, it pretty much covered the whole thing. In fact, as I wandered through the store picking out a few items here and there, I had to lift the carseat out of the way to get anything into the cart. Eventually I tired of this and threw a few items underneath--you know, that rack that is there for your big items that don't fit in the cart.

At the register, the cashier was pretty friendly and I was in a good mood about having survived my first outing with a baby so we chatted it up a bit. I remember laughing about something but not anything that was specifically said. After paying, I pushed the cart out of the way and parked it by the front door for a moment. I put my wallet away in my purse and dug out my keys. I'm a firm believer in having your keys in hand when you get to your car; fumbling around for them out in the parking lot is just any invitation for someone to jump you. And I am nothing if not paranoid prepared. So, purse put back together and keys in hand, I head out the door and stop at the sidewalk. I scan the parking lot trying to remember where I parked. Just as I spot my car and take a step forward, a man comes out of the store and addresses me. He asks me if I can come back inside. I figure I must have forgotten something but that's not it. "Are you aware that you have unpaid merchandise in your cart?" he asks. What? I move Howdy but there is nothing but bags in the cart. Then I realize that I forgot about the items I stuck under the basket. Cue hand smack to the forehead and "I'm such an idiot" type phrases. As I explain that I completely forgot they were there, he asks me if I could step back inside the store. I'm a bit embarrassed but it's not the first time I've flaked over something. Of course I'll come back in and pay for the items. Only when we go inside, he doesn't head for the register. He says a cryptic, "Follow me" and then heads for the back of the store.

This is when the warning bells go off in my head. Why would I need to follow him anywhere when I all want to do is pay for my items and leave? I want to ask questions, protest but there are customers who are watching the exchange with baited breath and I don't want to give them any kind of show so I quietly follow. The farther we go, the more my heart sinks into my stomach. It dawns on me that maybe he thought I was trying to steal the merchandise. Of course this is absolutely ridiculous. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm a tattle tale if someone is doing something wrong. Not to mention the fact that if I even think I might be doing something I shouldn't, I feel like I will wet my pants. I'm the worst candidate for a life of crime. I am honest, a goody two-shoes, a don't-rock-the-boat kind of girl. Which is why I silently follow the security guard through the store and up the back stairs.

At the top of the stairs, we run into a woman who, it turns out, is one of the owners. She gives me that up-and-down look that says I've been weighed and measured and found lacking. She obviously knows why I'm being dragged to the back room. Before I have a chance to say anything in my defense, she takes a look at my baby and says with a sneer, "You're teaching him kind of young, aren't you?" Then she turns on her heel and stomps off. As it sinks in that she thinks I'm teaching my 2 week old baby how to steal, the tears come. I'm given a seat by a desk and the security guard starts to ask me my information. I burst out in tears. "How could you possibly think I was trying to shoplift? Who would do that with a baby?" According to the guard, plenty of people do it. I spill out my story, trying to get him to understand that I am not some shifty criminal but just a woman who just had a baby and still hasn't recovered full function of her brain yet. He seems genuinely sorry but can't afford to give me the benefit of the doubt. I'm told I now have to pay a fine and I will be forever banned from the store. My heart sank even further. First, I'm a criminal. He is truly accusing me of shoplifting and nothing I say will change his mind. Second, I love this store. I buy all my craft supplies here because it is so cheap. Third, we don't have enough money to pay a fine.

I'm allowed to call my husband and so I do, pouring out my tear-filled story. We are stumped. What do we do? We briefly toss out the idea of calling our friend, who is a lawyer, for advice but neither of us knows his number, not to mention the fact that if we can't afford a fine, we definitely can't afford lawyer fees. We are at a complete loss as to what to do. I eventually remember that I do, in fact, have some money on me. (You'd think we would know by now never to carry cash. That's just asking for tragedy.) I was supposed to put the money in the bank so we could pay bills but it's still in my purse. Seeing no other option, we decide to pay the fine. It kills us both to have to do so because I wasn't shoplifting to begin with. It's like admitting that I did it, though, and that rankles.

The rub? I had to pay the $250 fine PLUS I had to pay for the stolen items. And then I didn't even get to keep them! I figured if I had to pay for them I might as well take them home, but no. By the time I cleared everything up and got out of there, I was crying, Howdy was crying, and I was on the verge of another ulcer.

After the fact, when we had the time to look at the situation objectively, we thought it might have been a good idea to refuse and have them call the police. We figured the officer might have believed me and helped straighten everything out. At this point, we'll never know. All I do know for sure is that I didn't stand up for myself other than some tear drenched begging. I was taught to not give in to anybody, to not let anyone walk all over me and yet, at the first sign of adversity, I do just that. My spine was absent that day. Whether or not I could have changed the outcome, I'll never know but I will always regret not trying.

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