I sat along the frame of the waterbed, the hard edge somehow so much less painful than the conversation at hand. If only my 8-year-old self could have fallen back through the plastic, into the water, and never be seen again.
Mom was angry. Terrified. Her emotions seemed such a jumble, and as the only son to a single mother I always wanted to please, I had tried to read her in this moment. I tried but felt entirely lost. The force of her words, her tears, told me I had done something unbelievably wrong. I got that to some degree when the cops showed up to question me. But the brunt of it was her unraveling before my eyes. “How could you?”
Edward had explained it as if rules to a board game. Of course we were going to break into the neighbors’ apartment. Of course we were going to find toys and candy and treasure and whatnot. He knew the family would be gone Sunday morning, and that would be the perfect time to act. He was four years older, and I ate up pretty much every lie or half-truth he told me. Our younger accomplice, also named Edward, agreed but with reservation. I asked Edward the Greater if he was absolutely sure we wouldn’t get caught. “They’ll be gone for hours,” he said.
That Sunday came, and we found ourselves climbing up the exterior balcony to the second-floor apartment. Edward the Greater helped Edward the Lesser through an unlocked window, and in the short space of time we waited for him to unlock the sliding door, I felt regret gnawing at my stomach. Before I could turn back, the smallest of us stood on the other side of the glass, grinning. He unlocked it, and we ran in.
Edward’s “plan” was simple: Hit the kitchen and look for any sugary foods, knocking things over on our way. Once thoroughly jacked on sweets, we’d jump around the apartment like a pack of wild monkeys, breaking lamps and other fragile things. Then we’d head to the kids’ rooms, looking for any stuff worth taking.
And we pretty much stuck to the plan. Edward stressed that we couldn’t stay for more than five to 10 minutes. We didn’t really think about the noise we were making. It was the perfect collision of cunning and stupidity. It was also exhilarating, doing something so wrong so brazenly.
We ended up taking only a few things, but the apartment looked like a war zone. Running out the back, we headed to our secret hideout in the woods to come down from the high.
When the cops arrived at the complex, we were nowhere to be found. But once they left, a curious neighbor went to the parents of Edward the Lesser, and our partner in crime opened the floodgates of confession, pointing his little fingers straight at the two of us.
The police returned, and they were not amused. I remember them treating us as adults. Edward the Lesser was off the hook, because of his age and quick confession. But the other Edward had been in police custody before, and they detained him. He would go to JDC, the juvenile detention center. They told my mom they considered sending me as well, but that since this was my first official crime, they’d return me to her. There was one condition: an in-person apology.
I was as afraid to face the family as I had been to face the cops when they’d first arrived at our door. What would the neighbors do to me? How would they treat me? Deflated, I sat there on the waterbed, trying to work up courage I just didn’t have.
After Mom’s emotional lecture, we walked to the apartment and knocked on the door. A dark-haired woman came out and knelt down to meet my face, hers still puffy from crying. Coming home from church, they were in shock at the destruction. She told me that of all the things, it hurt most to see their family portrait fallen to the floor, frame and glass in pieces. I eked out an embarrassed apology, staring holes in my shoes. She gently took my face in her hands, lifted my head, and said eye to eye, “I forgive you.”
That fall, the whole family showed up at my front door with a wrapped package. “Happy birthday!” the woman said, handing it to me. Inside were several toys, comic books, and some candy. It almost felt like a joke, I was so caught off guard. But I could see the sincerity in her eyes. Was I actually being celebrated by these people?
Within months my mom remarried, and we moved two hours away. I never saw that family again. But I’ve never forgotten the woman’s response. Her forgiveness felt like a splinter lodged in my mind—a foreign object my body wanted to expel. When I came to faith in Christ a decade later, I saw it for what it was: a buried seed, waiting for the right conditions to grow.
Illustrations by Jeff Östberg