© 2020 Dominique Millette
I never want to come back, Mom yells as she slams the front door.
I panic at the thought of her leaving us behind. I’m eleven and I don’t quite know how to react to what my mother told us in a whiskey-fueled moment of despair.
Your dad is gay.
Dad only falls in love with other men. However, he will not be leaving the family. Marriage is forever. The Church says so. I overheard Dad tell a friend that he wanted to be a priest, but he got sent away from seminary because of his scrupulosity. I looked up the unfamiliar word. Scrupulosity is an obsession with morals and religion. The priests teaching Dad at the seminary told him to get married and have a family instead, and he did, taking his scrupulosity with him.
On most weekdays, Mom goes upstairs as soon as we’ve had our dinner, at five o’clock, and closes her bedroom door. If she hears my sister and I speak too loudly, especially when we squeal with laughter, she opens the door and bellows at us to be quiet. My brothers, meanwhile, lurk in the basement.
Once after a party, once the guests had all left and she’d had several more glasses of wine, Mom admitted that she hadn’t wanted children, but Dad did. He stole her heart so she gave him a family. That’s what you do when you fall in love. Her last unwanted child, my younger brother, screamed every day for the first five years of his life. One day, he loosened all the screws in the television stand. When she went to look, the stand fell on her elbow. Now she has a metal plate with ten screws in the middle of her arm and it hurts all the time.
Dad works late on weekdays or goes to choir practice or club meetings. On Saturdays, we go for family outings in the fake-wood-paneled car with my younger brother, who screams when we forget to give him his pills, and my older brother, who sighs frequently with his arms crossed.
On Sundays, Dad take us to church where the priest tells us that Jesus died for our sins and we must be grateful. I take communion but never go to confession, although I should. Bad thoughts are a sin. I wish too many other children were dead, or at least had broken arms that couldn’t hit me anymore, or broken legs that could no longer send me tripping and sprawling on the cracked asphalt at school.
My classmates despise how I raise my hand to answer all the questions. The teacher is the only person there who thinks I am worth her attention. The others yell names at me when my glasses slide down my nose and my arms, thighs and belly wobble in gym class: Four-eyes. Fatso. I will never be cool as long as my mother insists on dragging me to polyester-filled outlet stores in Scarborough, because why should anyone pay ridiculous prices for clothes, she says: it’s as bad as highway robbery.
I panic at the thought of my mother leaving us with Dad and his endless sermons, so I hatch a scheme to go live with my aunt in Oshawa. She’s a nun who lives in a house with other nuns. She doesn’t wear a habit and seems normal. She smiles a lot. I fantasize that she will shelter me after I beg for help.
However, I need money to pay for the intercity bus. I don’t have any. I need a plan.
Fairview Mall is two short bus rides away after a long walk down Valleywoods Road. The bus goes past a golf course where my older brother and I used to go hunting for milk and garter snakes. I head to Simpson-Sears. Everything is cream and beige. I look at the necklaces dangling from their stands. They look like they are worth a lot of money. I’ve seen television shows where thieves sell their stolen goods to people called fences. I don’t know anyone who fences anything in our tree-lined neighbourhood, an oasis of calm right next to where two busy highways converge. Maybe I can find someone in the dusty alleys around Queen Street East, where there are several pawnshops with metal bars in the windows.
I try on several necklaces. When I am sure no one is looking, I slip one into my pocket. No fire and brimstone rain down on me. My confidence rises. I do it again.
A sudden hand on my shoulder startles me. I jump as I hear a man’s voice. Young lady, come with me.
I turn my head. The man is wearing a black uniform. Fear and mortification squeeze my chest and belly. I break out in a sweat. We go into a windowless room with beige walls. A woman is there with a clipboard. I must tell her everything, she says. I confess, describing my plan to take a bus to Oshawa and live with my aunt. The woman raises an eyebrow and scribbles in a lined notepad.
I wait for the police to come and take me to prison in handcuffs, just like on television. Instead, my mother appears. I am so relieved I barely notice her shame as she leaves me outside the beige windowless room and goes in, mumbling to the people in the room, who mumble things back, before she hustles me into the car.
Once we get home, she snaps at me that the police will come search the house because they think I might be working for a ring of thieves who use children to steal for them. The people at the store said I looked experienced.
A perverse pride sweeps over me, battling the queasy shame that makes me feel naked and helpless. Part of me feels self-assured and competent, more than I do with the straight As I get at school, or the occasional cigarette I sneak outside. Visions fill my head of classmates nudging each other in awe as I swagger down the halls, whispering to each other it’s best not to tangle with me, the lightest-fingered thief in town.
My visions are cut short as my mother orders me to go out and play. I won’t see the police and their large fingers pawing at my underthings, my books, the contents of my wardrobe and the entries in my diary, where I brood about my pimples and my insignificance in diatribes of many syllables. I won’t know if they find something they think is suspicious and believe I stole it. If they do, I will have no way of proving otherwise. I have mastered the art of always picturing the worst possible outcome.
Red-faced, I stumble outside to the ravine where I wander every day I can after school, when it isn’t raining or too cold. I know every tree and root, every bend of the stream, every rock to land on to cross the cascading water. I lose track of time as I imagine myself a glamorous thief, a queen, an explorer, an actress with a thousand friends.
Alone in the woods, I am perfect and beautiful. Only the eyes of real people can break me into smaller, misshapen pieces. Once, a group of teenagers sniggered at me and called me “butterball”. I lost my balance on the tree trunk I was using to cross the stream and felt small again.
It’s getting colder, the fall leaves my sister and I gathered into mounds to jump into now shriveled and brittle, waiting for the snow. A small fog lingers after every breath. I start to shiver. The sky is darkening and I can’t see my steps as well. I hurry up the sides of the ravine to the asphalt lanes of the townhouse complex, the middle world between my better self and the changeling I become around others. It’s time to go home, I think.
I poke my head in the door. There’s a suitcase sitting half-zipped in the hall. Mom’s eyes are red and shiny. She’s holding a crumpled tissue in her right hand. The police are gone, she says in a hollow monotone. Go do your homework.
She looks away. I say nothing, hang my head and scurry to my room.
The bed is covered in the pink blanket with crocheted roses and the matching cylindrical pillow that she made for me when I was seven. Crochet was her physical therapy for the shattered elbow. I sit and remember how proud she was when she finished the matching set. She said those roses were hard to make and took a long time.
The blanket has a hole in it now. It’s still the prettiest thing in the room. I wrap myself up in it and lie down until sleep comes to steal away all my smaller, misshapen pieces, and make my mother and I perfect and beautiful.
"Dear Dominique Millette,
Thank you for submitting your Creative Non-fiction to Room magazine. While we are unable to accept Stolen Things for publication, your submission was one of very few that gets passed on by our readers to an issue editor. We really liked it, but were ultimately unable to use it in one of our upcoming issues. Please be sure to send us more of your writing. You can find out what themes might be under consideration by visiting our website, http://roommagazine.com.
Members of Room’s collective read over 4000 submissions of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction each year, of which less than 2% are accepted for publication. As you can imagine, we have to make some very tough choices. Each issue of Room is edited by a different collective member, and each issue editor is responsible for choosing manuscripts that most closely match what the editor/editorial team is looking for at that specific time.
We look forward to reading more of your work.
The Growing Room Collective