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  • I stole a keychain once.

    The summer before fourth grade, I was swimming at the local YMCA with a friend my parents somehow failed to peg as a bad influence. A product of her environment, Dawn was all about testing the limits. Standing in the empty locker room, our hair making pools of water at our feet, shivering and smelling of chlorine, Dawn confronted me with her latest scheme. “Just take something from one of the unlocked lockers,” she said. I stood clutching my towel around my not yet boobs and weighed my options. Under the harsh judgment of the fluorescent lights, I reached inside, my hands shaking as I nervously rummaged through the purse. Near the top was a set of keys with a variety of cheap keychains clanking together. I separated one of the keychains from its companions and clenched it in my fist, the ring biting into my palm.

    I waited impatiently as Dawn took her turn, certain that the owner would soon return to find us pawing through her things. In times of rule breaking, I have a strong and consistently wrong sense of intuition that I will be caught, a knack for getting it wrong that has stuck with me in life. Once Dawn had claimed her prize we ran with guilty purpose through the rows of lockers, putting distance between ourselves and the crime. We changed quickly and I shoved the stolen item inside my gym bag. That night I was awash with guilt. At a loss for how to make up for what I had done, I scribbled marker and crayon on the lonely keychain and threw it in the trashcan outside. I didn’t want to keep my souvenir, and I didn’t want my parents or the FBI to trace it back to me.

    Years later, the keychain came up again. Overcome with guilt over another misstep in judgment, this one involving a trek to a soda machine in a forbidden area of town, I curled up in bed and, between sobs, revealed all my darkest acts to my mother. I told her about the keychain, my journey to the nearest can of Sprite, how Dawn would skip summer school so we could watch cartoons, and many other petty crimes that I was sure would condemn me. I purged myself of all the seemingly horrible things I had done, leaving no tarnished stone unturned. Expecting the anger and disappointment I thought I deserved, I was shocked when my mom hugged me and laughed at what she called the, “confessions of a teenage drama queen.”

    Sometimes I think about the owner of the keychain, if she ever noticed it was gone, if she could fathom the emotional toll her tchotchke left on me. The keychain that loomed over my childhood, inspiring self-doubt and a guilty conscience, unlocked for me an acute understanding of the power objects have over us, and the importance of accepting our missteps as steps in the right direction. Despite all of our hell raising, Dawn and I both turned out all right. She is able to exact her punishment on the world through phlebotomy, and I am able to reflect on a keychain that is sitting in a landfill, its face covered in marker.
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