Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
“We’re looking for three men and a baby.”
I heard the announcement across a security guard’s radio as I browsed through books in the mall. I rarely went to the mall since I couldn’t afford anything there, but Nate’s two younger brothers were visiting from Florida and my friend Sara from school was hanging out with me, so we all decided to go.
“Did you hear that?” I asked Sara. It was a little weird; why would an announcement be going out for a movie? It slowly dawned on me that Scott was with the guys and what if…? I didn’t even want to think about it.
“Let’s go find everyone,” I said, pulling Sara away from the art books.
I didn’t want to even believe the thoughts racing through my head. But it was if puzzle pieces began to fall in place. Nate had come home with a lot of new stuff for Scott in the past few weeks. He said he was keeping a layaway for Scott’s first Christmas, and even though I was suspicious, I didn’t question him. My gut told me he was doing something wrong, but I refused to listen. I didn’t want things to get messed up. It was easier to ignore it.
We caught up with Nate as he pushed Scott’s stroller, his eyes darting in all directions. You don’t look suspicious at all, I thought.
“Where are your brothers?”
“I told them to go ahead of me and get to the car. They’re looking for us, three guys with a baby.”
My heart caught. I wanted to know why, but I didn’t ask. Especially not in front of Sara.
I leaned in to pick up Scott out of the stroller, but Nate stopped me. “Don’t! They’ll see what’s behind him. I don’t think anyone suspects me right now.”
I glared at him and silently we headed out to the car as fast as we could without drawing attention to ourselves. As I picked up Scott, my question was answered: they had been shoplifting.
“These are going to be worth so much money,” Nate said, rocking back and forth, pulling out comic books. He placed each one carefully into the trunk, taking his time, unconcerned about anyone coming to catch him now.
“Comic books? You used our son to steal comic books?”
“Baby, these are going to pay for his college one day!”
I looked over at my friend and shook my head, a silent apology.
“Hey, what’d you get me?” she asked.
“He was going to get you some perfume,” Nate said, jerking his thumb toward one of his brothers. “But they started looking for us.”
“Dang!” She jumped in the car and reached out for Scott to put him in the car seat.
I climbed in the front and waited for Nate to fold away the stroller and get in. I wanted to get out of there, and yet he seemed to be in no hurry.
When we got home, I didn’t say anything. I was afraid to fight, and I didn’t want anyone to see us not getting along. I didn’t want his brothers to go home and tell everyone our marriage was in trouble. Our first anniversary had just passed and I was proud of that. I bragged about Nate at school all the time, so I refused to give my friend anything to talk about. I wanted everyone to think we were happily married, a success story. For the most part, I thought we were.
Days later, Nate came home with more gifts for Scott but he announced he had been laid off from his landscaping job. I didn’t question where the toys came from. I was more concerned with what we’d do for money. Our groceries were already getting low, our bills were behind, and we were running the risk of being evicted from our own family’s house.
“We’ll be OK, baby. I have a plan. You just have to trust me.”
He and his brothers went out each night, and I knew exactly what this plan involved. I felt like my hands were tied. If I told on him, I’d be alone with Scott, unable to support him myself. If I didn’t tell, Nate would continue until someone wound up shooting him. And when I let him know what he was doing bothered me, a fight always broke out. I couldn’t win no matter how I weighed my options.
Despite his nightly outings, our food ran even lower. We didn’t get food stamps, and there wasn’t anyone we could turn to for help at this point. Not without coming clean about our situation, which Nate refused to do. So when he came to me with a new idea about how to get some food, I reluctantly went along.
“All you have to do is walk with us with Scott,” he said. “That way no one gets suspicious.”
I wished Nate would do whatever he needed to do without me, and I especially didn’t want to involve Scott. I also didn’t want to go hungry.
The plan centered around one of the local grocery stores. Nate, his two younger brothers, and even Scott and I, had a part to play to make this idea a success. It was a store we never shopped in, but Nate had checked out the way it worked. There was an entrance and an exit, and neither could be accessed from the opposite side of the door. We would go in, fill the grocery cart with food, and then just walk out.
The way Nate told it made it sound so easy, so simple. I would walk with him while we shopped, and his brothers would wait outside. Once we circled back around to the entrance, as if we forgot something in the produce section, I would go out the exit door so that Scott and I were out of the middle of everything. Then one of the brothers would go through the first door and stand between it and the second door, ready to open that second door. At the same time, the other brother would walk in front of the first door to make it open. Nate would then push the cart straight out the entrance doors and to our car.
I went out and stood on the sidewalk, looking back to see if they were ready. The first brother was in place, but the second was scared. One of the store managers, who seemed suspicious of us, walked out the same door I had just come through, and he stood on the other side of the entrance door. He tried to appear as if he was just out for some fresh air, but it seemed so obvious he was on to us. Or maybe my guilt was making something out of nothing.
Scott let out a laugh and I realized he could see his daddy. He was drawing the manager’s attention, though, so for one brief moment, I was sure this would work somehow. Obviously Nate would still have to get past the manager, but I didn’t doubt he could do so. The guy could easily be waved aside for as brave as he appeared.
The longer it took, the angrier I became with the manager. “Go away,” I muttered under my breath. He was standing there, looking at me as if I had done something wrong, and even though I was literally in the middle of doing something wrong, it still made me mad.
He turned away and called one of the teen-aged boys out gathering carts from the parking lot. As he walked out toward him, Nate made a dash through the first door and then was stuck. His youngest brother, in charge of opening the outer door, froze.
“Go!” I whispered. He shook his head.
I ran over and stomped on the automatic doormat myself, opening the door, giving Nate safe passage completely out of the store, and definitely making myself an accessory to the crime. Up until that moment, I could justify that no crime had yet been committed.
Nate ran with the full cart out to the car, and the rest of us followed as quickly as we could. The air was bitingly cold, and I bent my head toward Scott’s, both to protect our faces from the weather and possible witnesses.
I strapped Scott into his car seat and helped unload the food into the trunk of the car. As we were almost finished, that teen-aged cart-pushing employee walked up to us. He looked like he’d drawn the short straw.
“Uh, excuse me. The manager would like to see you,” he said, bowing his head.
“For what?” Nate asked, stalling.
The teen glanced at the groceries still being thrown into the car, then back at Nate, and said, “I don’t know.”
“You tell that asshole he’s a real coward to send you instead of coming himself,” Nate said. “Tell him I’ll be there in a minute.”
The boy ran off, back to the cowardly manager who still stood on the sidewalk with his arms crossed.
Nate yelled for Tim to start the car, and as he shoved the cart aside, the manager started out toward us. “Drive!”
“Oh my God, oh my God,” I cried, squeezing into the middle as Nate jumped into the passenger seat.
“Drive, now! Get it out of first gear,” he shouted.
It took forever to get out of that parking lot. I just knew the manager was going to catch up with us with the way Tim was driving. When we finally got out and onto the highway, I kept looking behind us, expecting the police would be there, ready to pull us over and arrest us, and I’d lose Scott forever.
“I’m scared,” I said, looking back at my innocent baby. I couldn’t believe I just involved him in this. I couldn’t believe I was involved.
“Don’t be scared, baby. I got you covered. And they ain’t gonna do nothing to you if we do get caught. You just have to trust me.”
I wanted to trust him. I wanted to believe he was doing what was best for us. Yet I couldn’t help but think there had to be a different way. In fact, I knew there was, and I was angry with myself for standing by and letting all of this happen.
If we made it through this, I vowed to sit him down and tell him this had to change or else. Or else what, I didn’t know. But I’d come up with that soon enough. For now, we had a baby to think of. How could we be good parents like this? How could I even go along with it, helping? This wasn’t me, and I immediately started bargaining with God. “Get me out of this and I won’t ever do anything like this again.”
I don’t know that we got away with it so much as we just didn’t get caught yet. But once we got home, the cops didn’t come to the door to arrest us, and we ate a good dinner. I threw up afterwards, unable to enjoy food I had just helped steal.
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!