The Little Criminal

“Who’s turn is it to take the garbage to the dumpster?” My mother asked as we scrambled to get our stuff ready for school.

“It’s May’s turn!” My twin sister Angel was quick to divert responsibility.

The dumpster was en route to our elementary school ten minutes walk away from the apartment we were renting at the time.  Each morning, my mother would put the garbage from the day before right outside of our apartment door on a stair case so  we can take the garbage to the dumpster on our way to school.

At the age of seven, my twin sister Angel and I were responsible for many chores in the house.  In order to instill fairness, we took one week turns with most chores.  For example, one week Angel would be responsible for doing the dishes after dinner and I would be responsible for cooking rice and mopping the floor.  The next week, our roles would reverse with Angel mopping the floor and I would do the dishes.

The garbage duty was different as we had not yet established a weekly rotation.  It was a relatively new task for us and we were still trying to figure out how to add this into our chores on the weekly rotation list.

The day at school seemed fine.  I generally liked school, it was a place to hide from the stresses of home life.  At home we were constantly beaten and at school, I have only had a beating on the palm of my hand once for forgetting to bring the communication book back to school.  The communication book was a way for the teacher to report to my mother how I was doing in school and for my mother to sign off on all the homework I was supposed to do.  I doubt the teacher wrote anything of significance because there were about 60 other children in a grade one class assigned to one single teacher.  My mother never checked our homework.  She was probably too depressed.  All I did was bring the book to her and she signed without noticing the assignments I was supposed to complete.

It was only a half day at school.  Grade one students only had to go to school a half day on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  When I approached the door of our apartment, the door of the apartment swung open with my mother standing behind the door.  My mother never greeted us at the door.  She was normally too busy watching TV soap operas and crying her eyes out.  There was something in her hand — the garbage bag from the morning.

Oh no! I forgot the garbage! I thought to myself.  I was frightened and scared.  Depending on how mad my mother was, this could have resulted in stiff penalties.  Before I even had a chance to speak, she threw the garbage bag towards me and it landed on my feet after bouncing off my chest.  “The police were here,” she said flatly without any emotion, “someone called the police saying that we were dumping garbage in public areas.  The police asked me who was responsible for this crime and I told them it was May Chu.  I gave the police officers your Identification number for their criminal records.  They may choose to come and arrest you at any time.”

Wow –– was all I could think of.  I am not sure what would be worse, a beating or a criminal charge against me…I had not yet been spared from a beating, the possibility did cross my mind as I went out to throw the garbage into the dumpster.  For months after this incident, I seriously thought my life was ruined.  Each day I lived with the fear that the police would come and take me away from my family.  I thought to myself, how could my mother do this to me? She didn’t care enough to protect me or cover for me! I really resented her for that.

Three decades later, the police still hadn’t come for me and I have been able to get a Taiwanese ID and passport without any problems.  I guess the criminal record was for juveniles only.  Now that I think back, I now know that adults have a lot to think about.  If my mother would have taken the blame for me, then she might have had a criminal record on her, making it hard to find jobs as a single mother.  The legal system didn’t work the same way for adults as it does for children.  I just wish she could be more kind about this situation.  Maybe she could have explained that since I had forgotten the garbage and the police came over, she needed to give them my name and citizenship ID number to protect herself and the family.  Given that I was only seven, it would be unlikely for me to be fined or taken to jail for such a petty crime.

It is so easy to be in an ego reaction.  My mother was and so was I. Her ego reaction to me forgetting to throw away the garbage made it impossible for her to love me and handle the situation in a loving way.  My ego prevented me from seeing any other sides of the situation.  At the age of seven, I really believed in everything I was told. In fact, some close family and friends may argue that this is still the case today…