I don’t remember exactly how old I was, maybe second or third grade?, on the afternoon I decided that throwing away other people’s mail would be an interesting thing to do on my walk home from school. I remember that I was wearing shorts and had a backpack slung over my shoulders and that I was walking the mile from my school to my house by myself. I usually walked with my twin sister. Perhaps I was just bored.
About a block or so from my house, I started opening up the mailboxes that I passed and throwing out whatever mail was in there. Open, reach, fling into the wind, close and move on. The mailboxes on our street were in clusters of three, so I would empty a cluster and then walk a bit and empty the next. I kept doing it, even once my own house was in sight. It truly never occurred to me that anyone might see me.
But of course someone did.
I was in the gravel of our driveway when the old man who lived across the street came out of his house, red-faced and screaming. “I saw you! I saw you throwing the mail. What are you doing?”
I wanted to run but I was frozen. I know that this story doesn’t really illustrate this very well, but I was always a rule follower with a strong need to make grown ups like me. I wanted to run but I was also well-trained that this was a world in which adults yelled and you stood still until they were done.
At some point my mother came out of the house and I desperately lied and said “No, no I wasn’t throwing the mail” but surely she must have known the truth…what with all the mail blowing into the street. I don’t remember if I got punished.
I still have no idea what possessed me that day. What was the impulse to mischief? Where was the voice that said “Hey now, this is certainly a dumb idea?”. It makes me think about the times when I see one of my kids commit a random act of kiddie violence against the other (a shove or a pinch, just out of the blue) and when I question them “why?”, they are probably being honest when they say “Um, I don’t know.”
It is comforting to think of ourselves as rational (or at least rational-ish) people, governed by logic and self-control. This is, of course, not true for most of us. We have our quirks and supersitions and secret behaviors. We act in ways that our contrary to our own best interests and we do things that surely defy good sense. Perhaps the only thing that is different for grown-ups is that we know enough now to worry about getting caught.
I was about to post this and then I realized that maybe it sounds like I am up to no good.
I am, in fact, very much up to good today. I’ve been holed up in a hotel room working on school work all day.
Several of the apparently married people at the Midwestern association of something or other conference that is happening at this hotel, however, are not being quite as dutiful as I am. At least, not the drunken pair I just shared an elevator with.