I've told this story so many times (warnings for thievery and emotional abuse)

If you've never had a bottlecap collection, you might not notice how omnipresent the things are. Or you might. I wouldn't know, since I've always had a bottlecap collection, or more accurately I've always collected them, and they belonged to my brother. My collections were pens, pencils, and superballs. Unfortunately, I didn't know that at the time.

Words are important (no shit), and especially so when you are six, and may have trouble relating concepts to each other if the words don't match. I didn't "collect" superballs, I just, you know, had a drawer full of them and found them on floors sometimes and spent extra quarters on them at those little vending machines at the Smith's. My brother was the only one with a "collection."

So one day, being six, I decided I wanted a collection too, and I had no idea what, and I decided on calculators because that was the first object I saw when I had that thought, and I cannot scream loudly enough that I was six years old then.

So I collected calculators, and there were maybe seven in the house, and I put them in a pile on my bedroom floor, and then I went and did whatever else it was I did back then, which was probably reading a book several grade levels above me.

Words are important (no shit), and especially so when you are six (SIX, I WAS SIX, HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO A SIX-YEAR-OLD?), and may have trouble relating concepts to each other if the words don't match, like for instance, if one were to say "I can't find my calculator" instead of "do you know where my calculator is". In fact, if you are six, you may hear this and be waiting for them to ask, but think it inappropriate to butt in and tell them before they do so.

Apparently, six-year-old me had some very wrong assumptions about what was and was not appropriate, since the adults in my life seemed to find it perfectly acceptable to go from "can't find" to "who stole," without ever passing "where is". And then I was afraid.

If I suddenly found myself back in time to that moment, I wouldn't be worried at all: just put them back where they came from, and drop the missing one down the crack between his desk and the wall, peeking out just enough to be found later. This comes from years of experience that started that day.

I am not a time-traveler, so I didn't do that. I shoved them in a corner and put a blanket on top, and hoped the problem would go away. It didn't go away. For a few days nobody seemed to care much, but before a week had passed, the drama in the house was that my brother had sneaked into my room, seen the very badly hidden pile of calculators, and proudly announced that he had discovered the thief, a term with which I was then branded.

I said I was sorry, that I hadn't meant to, because I was sorry, and I hadn't meant to, and I was very wrong if I thought that was the end of the story, because here I am over a decade later angsting about it. Because something else went missing.

I had nothing to do with it. Really. I promise. It wasn't me. I don't know where it is.

Instead of dinner that night, I got to put my room back the way it had been before it was trashed by my family looking for whatever the hell it was they'd lost. A few days later they found it somewhere else. I didn't get an apology.

Rinse. Repeat. Once every few weeks the same damn thing would happen again, over and over and over, and it was always not me, and I never got an apology, and they were just as suspicious the next time around.

And after a few months, I gave in. My family had done a good job of hiding the fact that we were poor, but they couldn't hide that we got Pop-Tarts only once every three or four months. I knew if I left them alone, my gluttonous evil stepdad would eat half of them, and I didn't want that, so I took them quietly upstairs and put them in a place that nobody ever checked during room raids, and I ate all of the Pop-Tarts, and they were very good, and I got shouted at and called a thief and had my room searched and they didn't find anything, and the only difference was that I had gotten more Pop-Tarts.

The only difference was that I had gotten more Pop-Tarts, and if your options are to get screamed at and insulted or to get screamed at and insulted but with sugary pastries, which is the obvious choice?

So it happened again. I learnt trade skills for thievery: subtlety, not taking everything at once, having lies prepared, plausible deniability, where to hide things so they wouldn't be found, putting everything back the way it was, leaving no trace.

This game of cat and mouse ebbed and flowed, and sometimes neither party would engage for weeks or months at a time, but inevitably one of us would start it up again, and I would go back to stealing, because the consequences of it were exactly the same as the alternative (and it hurts a tiny bit less if it's true, you know?).

I stopped the month before I turned ten. I figured it would be ninety years before I got another digit, so I had better keep the new one clean. That's not too strange a reason when you're nine-and-three-quarters.

That resolution kept me going, even past the first few accusations, even past the first few slip-ups, and eventually the game had been inactive for longer than ever before, and I was... kind of proud.

Fast forward and I'm fifteen and for unrelated reasons am in counseling, and at the end of that fiasco, which is an entirely different story, I read the counselor's report and find out that my dear mother hadn't realized I'd quit stealing until a couple months prior, and I thought, for the price of those six years, she might as well just have had another kid.

So I started stealing yet again, because fuck it (and by that point I knew the word fuck), she would only think I had lost two months of progress. I didn't even want the things I stole, I just did it to spite her.

The game took on the new dimension of me trying to stop and always getting pulled back in, so when I found myself trying to pay rent without a job, well, what skills did I have? A lot, actually, but freelance photography and graphic design are harder to swing than selling crap on Ebay, so I started selling crap on Ebay that I had found in the abandoned chemistry building at my school.

I'm still playing this goddamn game two thirds of my life later, and I'm going to try to stop again, and I'm going to hope it works this time, even though it clearly never has before. The Arts team needs a graphic designer, and god (which?) do I want this to be over.

How could you do that to a six-year-old?

I just wanna be a decent person already.