On Journals, Part I: The Great Book Theft

I have never been able to keep a journal. Over the years, I have opened the blank pages of books bound in leather, decorated in faux gold leaf, or patterned in the kind of iridescent paisley marketed at teenage girls with disposable allowances. Each time, I began scribbling on their pages, intent that I would chronicle the momentous occasions of my suburban life.

I made some valiant efforts. From the ages of six to eight, I kept sporadic accounts of my darkest secrets. Perhaps the most scandalous entry detailed the Great Theft of 1996. To this day, it remains my deepest betrayal of my twin sister, Laura. My mother, a voracious reader herself, presented us with a proposition over summer break: For each book we read, she would award us with a sticker. We were all too happy to rise to this challenge, devouring nearly the entire catalog of the Great Illustrated Classics before diving into the American Girl series.

My mother often told us that I came out of the womb holding Laura’s ankle. “So we’re like Jacob and Esau?” I said after finishing a children’s Bible that summer.

“Yes, you two have always been so close!” she nodded. It was then that I realized that my mother probably had not read the Bible. And so it was with the book challenge: What my mother had intended as a fun way to foster our love of reading I saw as a battle filled with blood, tears, and above all, the desire to acquire the most stickers.

With only a day left to go, my sister and I were in a dead heat. She was deep into Meet Addy: An American Girl when I hatched my devious plan. After she set her book down for dinner, I grabbed it, ran up to my room, and stashed it in a drawer. Upon returning to the den, she couldn’t find the book anywhere, try as she might. Her eyes began to well up with tears. What if she never found out how the book ended? Would Addy be able to attain her freedom from slavery? While I had become consumed by the thought of winning sparkly sunflower stickers, I realized that my sister was concerned only with delighting in her books. Such an epiphany ought to have softened the heart of even the most hardened seven-year-old.

But my heart could not be moved with stickers on the line.

While she cried, I scrambled to finish my own book, Kirsten Learns a Lesson. I had nearly finished when my mother, desperate to assuage my sister’s despair, assembled the entire family together. She announced an award of twenty dollars to whomever located her lost volume. After scouring the den, my family members dispersed into the different chambers of the house.

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This was my chance. I sneaked back up to my room, located the volume, and slithered downstairs. “I found it!” I yelled when I got to the family room, holding the book up triumphantly. “It was behind the couch all the time.”

My father and sisters gathered to congratulate me. “Thank you so much, sweetie!” my mother said, handing me $20. “I don’t know how I missed it when I looked there before.” Before the night was over, she gave me my crowning jewel: a rabbit sticker encased in a glorious fuzzy surface.

And that is how I stole my sister’s birthright.

Fearful of my secret coming to light, I burned the journal two years later. Indeed, Laura remained unaware of my betrayal until I confessed to her in our early twenties. She was disappointed, but at least she found out how the book ended.

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