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Being the Neighborhood Hoodlum: Bad Girl!

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I grew up at the end of a long driveway surrounded by steep lanes and cul-de-sacs. Kids lived in every house, and we played together endlessly—spy games in the overgrown ivy, capture the flag on the Dennys’ lawn.


The middle Denny sister and I were the same age. We were something like friends, more like rivals. Her Halloween costumes always outdid mine, and I envied her long blond hair, so Barbie-like. Mine was thick and brown, unlike any dolls’.


One rainy February day when I was in the fourth grade, my friend Danielle and I were playing in the mud of my mother’s garden, cutting the soil with a knife as though slicing brownies. Dirty and bored, we walked up to the Dennys’. We circled their house, from the backyard rope swing to the front-yard tree house, until we were sure they weren’t home.


I took their spare key from its hiding place and we went in. Inside, we became devilish versions of ourselves; we tried to kill their goldfish and snooped through the daughter’s room, looking for notes or diary entries we could use against her. We stole one thing: a sponge penguin that changed color when exposed to hot water. The door wouldn’t close on our way out, so we left it open.


We ran down the hill, laughing in the rain. I felt the way I did when I dug earthworms out of the ground and killed them: mean but satisfied. I hid the sponge penguin in my closet and called myself a thief.


Two days later, the Dennys returned from their trip to find the door ajar and their bathroom flooded from the rain. I lied and said I didn’t know anything about it.


Two weeks later, I ran the penguin under the hot water of our bathroom’s tap, trying to get it to change from pink to blue. My mom walked in and saw the penguin, and in an instant, she knew.


I went down fighting. I lied and said I had found the penguin at school, but it was no use. She forced a confession and made me write an apology letter to the Dennys. I read it to them in our living room, and it felt nothing like a game.


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