“I couldn’t risk being thrown out on the street. I needed to take care of my family.”

“I couldn’t risk being thrown out on the street. I needed to take care of my family.”
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This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for nearly two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Tommy, late-30s, Southeast US

It was a Wednesday just like any other. I walked down the gray-carpeted floors of the office building, sneaking my head into offices and happily greeting the other employees. I liked most of them, but begrudgingly. I couldn’t help but feel inferior to them in my guard’s uniform. I had such high aspirations during high school, but I’d never quite made it to college. My parents couldn’t afford it, and higher education had never been expected of me — so I got by with odd jobs until I met my wife.

She was working as a checkout girl at the local grocery store. I spent months hiding furtively behind the baking aisle and sneaking looks at her. For a long time, I didn’t have the guts to ask her out. I spent way too much money buying nonperishables I didn’t need in order to see her.

Our first child came shortly after we got married, and the second on his heels. That’s when I got my security job for this large office building, in a place where the worst crime was leaving unwashed dishes in the sink.

I love my wife and kids and couldn’t escape the guilt I felt about not being able to provide for them. I spent the majority of my working life daydreaming about how to move up the corporate ladder, and kissing the asses of the privileged young punks who looked right past me. I resented them for their luck in life — for their cushy jobs and offices, and for their kids who had probably never heard the word “no.”

I’d been due for a promotion that I never got and for a raise that hadn’t materialized for two years. My wife had gotten her old job back, and we hired someone to watch our newborn. But the bills kept piling up, and between the two of us, we were still behind on rent by a few months. The landlord finally served us an eviction notice.

As I approached the empty office ahead, my heartbeat sped up and I felt irrationally afraid. It was almost five, and people would slowly start trickling out. I had decided that I would do it then.

I mentally chided myself for being so nervous — I was the only one around here in charge of security. There were no cameras that I knew about. After close to five years, people knew and trusted me. I was well-liked. Plus this needed to be done. I couldn’t risk being thrown out on the street. I needed to take care of my family.

At 5:45 exactly, after I’d completed my last round and made sure that everyone was gone, I used my key card to swipe into the office. I looked at the stacks of old office machinery that lined the back wall, and thought to myself that there was no way anyone would notice one crummy broken printer was missing. So I grabbed it, put it in a recyclable grocery bag, and went home.

I always got home before my wife, so I used that hour of solitude to create a new eBay account. I didn’t want her worrying, so I was not planning on saying anything. I uploaded a few photos of the printer along with its specs and put it on auction.

I checked my account nervously throughout the night, and by the morning of the next day I was $60 richer. We got groceries with that money, and my wife never asked me where it came from. At work, I tried to gauge if anyone was looking at me differently or suspiciously, but everyone seemed blissfully unaware of what I’d done. I promised myself to never do it again, thanking my lucky stars for not having gotten caught.

But the money went quickly, and before I knew it, I found myself in a tight spot again. This time, I took an old laptop and made an extra $300. My transgressions always coincided with my financial obligations .  I never got greedy; I never took more than I needed. But every time my son needed to see the dentist, or the rent was due, or the credit card company hassled me for payment, it occurred to me that I had a dangerous but sure-fire way to get everyone off of our backs.

When they finally caught on to me, they estimated that I’d stolen a few thousand dollars from the office. I never tried to deny it. Instead I asked — begged — for leniency. They all knew that I had a wife and kids who depended on me financially. But I ended up serving time and having to repay what I’d taken. I think I did more harm than good. I just hope that their stepdad treats my kids well, and that he gives them the love I couldn’t afford.