Getting Into Trouble

[Photo: Me, R.J., cousin Stella, Lola, and my best friend S. at Frankenmuth, MI, circa 1980s]

My best friend S. and I opened a letter that wasn’t ours. It had been accidentally delivered to my house. The letter, in a plain white envelope, was addressed to my neighbor, a girl I grew up with who was a year older than me. We shared the same house number–number five–but we lived on adjacent streets. Still, our houses bordered closely, and I could see her house from our backyard, separated by a tall wooden gate.

The letter came from a boy who I thought to be beautiful. Olive skin, long skinny limbs, tousled brown hair, and a Greek name. I wanted to open the letter to see what he had to say to my neighbor. Was it a love letter?

“Should we just open it up?” S. and I debated. As children, still developing our sense of right and wrong, this strange dilemma occupied our time. It was summertime, and we had nothing better to do. (Or, we relished doing something naughty that we could tell our friends about later and show off our rebelliousness).

After debating this for what seemed like forever, I remember starting to rip the envelope open. S. said something like “Well, we can’t turn back now!” We opened it and read the letter. I barely remember the contents, something about changing schools or moving away. Not really a love letter, but something serious enough to warrant a personal, written correspondence. I was jealous of the attention my neighbor received from this beautiful boy.

My little brother witnessed our transgression and vowed to tell our parents when they got home. Spouting off empty promises and threats to keep him silent, we bribed him to no avail. And sure enough, as soon as my mother came home from work, the little shit spilled the beans.

My mother was very disappointed in us. Whenever she got mad, she would give you this look that let you know that you were trouble: Her eyes would widen, nostrils flared, lips pursed. And then her mouth would open ever so slightly to curse you in Tagalog for about five minutes. S. didn’t understand Tagalog so my mom addressed us in (mostly) English.

“You know, opening up another person’s mail is a crime! You could go to jail!”

I was sure my mom was exaggerating to make us feel bad. There was no way that kids’ stupidity would get us thrown in jail.

Thirty plus years later, I’m still curious. I recounted this story to my brother and he didn’t remember any of it. I did a Google search for “what if I intentionally open someone else’s mail that was accidentally sent to my house?” Verdict: I hope there’s a statute of limitations, and maybe I should withhold my name here just in case.*

*(This piece was originally submitted to a literary magazine, and the jury is still out about whether it’s going to be published or not).

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