The first and only time I stole something I was four years old. My mother and I were at a Watson’s Gardening store. As she paid for her new shears and seeds for a garden we were to begin growing, I slipped a pack of gum into my small hot hand, protecting it in the pocket of my overalls.
It appeared that I would be getting away with the perfect crime until my mother observed my absurd – and forbidden – behavior. Frantically trapped in front of glass sliding doors that refused to open, I was caught. Humiliated, I was not only scolded publicly, I was made to sheepishly return the gum to the clerk, cheeks blazing from embarrassment. This was also the first time I learned to be ashamed of my failures.
Growing up in a typical, upper-middle class household, privileges were appreciated despite their frequency. Attending an all-girl school at the pinnacle age of awkward eleven, we young ladies were told of our bright futures (often delivered with just the slightest dose of resentment) by teachers.
At home, imaginative conversations surrounding varied interests, my future, and college were all encouraged and celebrated. The world was in the palm of my hand.
Fed these optimistic bourgeois promises, I figured that it was just a matter of time until I would be able to purchase my parents a vacation home, own a couple of dogs and travel the world all while being radiantly happy. And I wasn’t alone.
In college, my peers and I recounted events in the lives of our future selves. For me, there would be fashion shows, glamour and an intellectual, culturally stimulating life in New York City. For the others, there would be families, medical school and Wall Street.
Despite having reality in moving to a small apartment in Bushwick (before it was cool), I found a job and earned a small, but survivable income. I had a savings account. Six months later the economy crashed. The groomed optimist in my head reassured that all would be fine; certainly I wouldn’t be directly affected.
I followed all the required rules and now it was time for the pay off. Where was this montage of my life I so dutifully constructed, dream by dream, brick by brick, laid with the help of my teachers, family and friends?
Now, five years later, shopping the grocery store sales, plotting budgets and living frugally, I have to shine the unforgiving light onto myself.
Is it my curated, would-be bourgeois self-entitlement my fatal flaw? Where would I be if I flung these diagnosed expectations to the wind?
Was I, and many of my peers, led down a mirrored path to a non-existent promise land? Distracted, denied and often distraught by menial distractions, where do we lay our allegiance? At the feet of a man who flips a switch on rusty machinery? Are we the bolts and links or are we the finished product of an outdated factory?
I pose these questions as I quench for freedom, for passion and most of all for a future that is both sufficient and achievable. Accepting that I may be the biggest part of my own failures, of my own unsuccessful pursuits is a hard pill to swallow, but perhaps the most necessary out of this prescribed cocktail so many of us have swallowed since childhood.
Perhaps it’s time we stop blindly following these drawn paths, shatter the closed glass doors and consider issues that are larger than we are.
If you were to ask me today if I am still embarrassed by my feeble attempt at theft, I would say no. I acted on emotion, I went after something I wanted and (though possibly not the best route), I followed through. I did not hesitate in the anticipation of repercussions or what my Facebook status would say. I listened inward.
Liz Doupnik is the Fashion Editor for StyleCaster. Here, she brings style to the people through inclusive and accessible fashion features, photo shoots, and a lighthearted approach to style. She has written for publications such as Dossier Journal, Grandlife, and Styleite and formally acted as a Market Editor for Worth Global Style Network. She has also styled editorials for V Magazine, Marie Claire, and Ponytail magazine, amongst others.
See Liz Doupnik’s Closet interview here.