Monday, June 10, 2013

The Eleventh Commandment--A memoir written December 2008

The 11th Commandment

The Coercion

“C’mon,” I coaxed. “Nobody else is home. This might be our only chance, and I promise, no one else will know...just you and me.” My brother Todd and I were home alone while my parents were out celebrating the holidays with friends. Christmas was quickly approaching and I was trying to convince my younger sibling that peeking at hidden presents was not a capital offense. Several of my classmates at school had been bragging about the fact that they had already peeked and knew every gift they would receive in the upcoming weeks. Chris Treat was getting a bike, Monica Iubelt, a hoard of new clothes, and Kyle Foye, new weights. What was the big deal? Everybody peeks, right? These were just a few of the feeble arguments I used to persuade Todd to go along with my mischievous plan, and fortunately, they worked!
“Okay,” he reluctantly agreed, “but you have to swear you won’t say anything – even after Christmas is over.” The hint at my inability to keep a secret did not go unnoticed, but I was thrilled that he was willing to comply.
“Promise,” I assured him, and watched as Todd’s disposition changed from that of a hesitant third grader, to one of cool, calculated naughtiness.
“Let’s go.”

The Discovery

As we made our way down the dark hallway, my legs began to tremble, my heart began to pound, and my stomach jumped into my throat. I couldn’t believe what we were about to do! Snooping in our parents’ bedroom was like breaking the 11th commandment in our home. And although it was never stated, Thou shall not sneak, peek, or shriek! was my mother’s unspoken motto for this time of year, and we were about to defy her creed, completely–on all counts.
“Where’s the light?” I asked, using an unnecessary whisper.
“How would I know?” Todd replied. Mom and Dad’s closet had been off limits since the beginning of time, so none of us five Cluff children were familiar with its configurations. All we knew was that it housed numerous pairs of shoes, a myriad of outfits from the last three decades, and most importantly, our Christmas presents.
“Found it!” I exclaimed as I flicked on the light.
The initial shock of entering the prohibited territory was overwhelming at first, but surprisingly, it didn’t last long. We quickly went about our business, separating clothes, moving boxes, and lifting up the quilts that had been strategically placed in the corners of the forbidden cavern--all the while ignoring the thick, mothball-laden air that weighed heavily on our lungs and burned our eyes. Then it happened. A simultaneous, “Huuuuuh!” filled the air as Todd and I spotted the shiny, white box at exactly the same time. At first we were speechless, but when we imagined ourselves playing Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Asteroids, our excitement could not be contained. Yes! Our parents had bought us Atari–the newest, coolest, first-of-its-kind game system of the eighties! It was the gift of all gifts.
“We got Atari! We got Atari!” the two of us shrieked in disbelief as we tripped over one another, spilling out of the closet and landing in a pile on the floor. In a split second we were back on our feet, exhibiting a grand display of high fives, fist pumps, and screams of amazement. There were no more whispers, just sheer elation as we hugged one another and jumped around the room like a couple of crazed monkeys in a cage.
When our collaborative fit of hysteria finally ended, we regained our composure and carefully returned the blankets, clothes, and boxes to their undisturbed state so that Mom and Dad would never know we had been in their bedroom. Then, just as it had minutes prior, the closet door scraped along our parents’ blue shag carpet, and with the click of the door latch our adventure ended. Mission accomplished.
With feverish haste, my accomplice and I made our way back to the kitchen, vowing to never tell another soul what had just happened. Christmas was only weeks away. Even I could keep my mouth shut for that length of time. We were home free.

The Revelation

As the smells of Christmas morning filled the air, our family proceeded with our traditional procedures. We all met at the end of the hall and once everyone had fulfilled the requisite teeth-brushing, hair-combing, picture-readying ritual, we walked to the living room together. No one was allowed to snoop around in the front room without waiting for the rest of the family. My parents never wrapped our big presents, so I expected that the Atari would be sitting out where it could be seen by all. My only job now was to act genuinely surprised as I rounded the corner. I couldn’t blow our cover now. Todd was depending on me.
“Wow! Cool,” I heard our older brother, Scott, exclaim upon entering the room. Thinking that he had discovered the gifts of all gifts, I ran over to see what he was looking at. To this day I cannot recall what he was so thrilled about, but I distinctly remember being disappointed that it wasn’t the Atari. In fact, the gift that Todd and I had seen in the closet was nowhere in sight. Could it have been for someone else? Or worse. Did my parents find out that we had peeked and taken it back? In a panic, I ran to the TV, hoping that the new game system was plugged in and ready to play. It wasn’t there either. With my heart pounding, I ran back into the living room, nearly knocking over the plate of half-eaten sugar cookies and empty glass of milk that Santa had left behind. Where could it be? I thought. Then it occurred to me to look in the one spot I had not yet considered–behind the tree.
Practically falling into the dried evergreen branches, I continued to snoop, the prick of pine needles poking through my flannel nightgown serving only as a moderate deterrent. Ignoring my discomfort, I pulled back a few tree limbs and caught a glimpse of a beautifully wrapped box. Without a doubt, it was the box we had discovered in our parents’ closet just weeks before. Jackpot!

The Hawk

“Todd!” I called, using a breathy whisper. “It’s right here. Look. The Atari is right here, under the tree. They hid it,” I proudly explained while pointing emphatically. As we continued to whisper and work ourselves into a much quieter version of our earlier peeking frenzy, I turned to jump from behind the tree and...froze. From across the living room I could see (and feel) my mother’s ice cold stare. With her hawk-like precision and her keen sense of motherly intuition, she had been suspiciously monitoring my every move throughout the morning. She had watched as I had painstakingly searched for the “missing” gift; she had watched me look by the TV, she had watched me snoop under the tree and presumptuously “re-discover” the gift of all gifts; and, she had watched as I eagerly summoned Todd and confidently pointed behind the tree, assuring him that the Atari system we had seen in the closet was indeed ours for the taking.
Then it happened. After looking away and trying to avoid my mother’s piercing glare, the petrified silence was finally broken. “I think somebody has been peeking!” she boldly exclaimed.
And with that, I knew we were officially busted.
“Way to go, Chris,” my brother muttered.
“Sorry,” I mumbled back, admitting that I had--not surprisingly--blown our cover, yet again.

Lesson Learned

Throughout the day, Todd and I watched as our older siblings enjoyed playing Pac-man, Asteroids, and Space Invaders. We were grounded from the Atari as punishment for our sneaking, peeking, and shrieking adventure and made to promise that we would never snoop in our parents’ closet again. Keeping that promise was not a problem for me. After all, I had already learned that a good surprise beats sneaking and peeking any day of the year, especially on Christmas.

Now, if I could just learn to keep a secret...

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