When he was younger, his mother would always tell him, in that way that all mothers chide their sons, “Don’t pick your scabs because picked scabs become permanent scars.” For some reason, that adage always stuck with him despite the fact that his mother was constantly instructing him with many other of her own phrases. He is 19 now, and the significance of his mother’s words could not possibly be clearer.
Jim’s rambunctious behavior first got him into trouble when he was 8 years old. As a boy, he had an early affinity for football. So much so, in fact, that he spent a lot of time in the backyard playing catch. Unfortunately, for an only child with a father who worked long hours, it was hard to find a playing partner. His mother preferred the indoors, and she always seemed to have “just gotten her nails done” whenever her son asked to play. To the neighbors, and anyone else who could see Jim’s backyard fence, nothing seemed out of the ordinary about the game of catch that took place there. The ball would go up in the air, visible for a second or two, and then back down towards the other side of the yard from which the same pattern would repeat. What the neighbors didn’t know was that the spirals they could see flying back and forth were being thrown and caught by the same person. Jim discovered when he was young that if he threw the ball high enough, he could run most of the way across the yard to catch his own high-arced pass. From the outside, everything looked normal, but if the backyard fence were removed, people would see a young boy playing catch with himself.
As one might imagine, it was hard for Jim to keep up this type of game for very long. He soon found his arm growing stronger, and it became too easy to throw passes to himself that weren’t very far away. He tried throwing the ball further, but this only led to attempted diving catches that ended in bruised knees and cut elbows, which came with scabs that he would consistently pick partially out of disdain towards his mother and partially out of boredom. Then one day, an idea struck him. Well, really it was the football that struck him after an attempt for a long diving catch ended poorly, but nonetheless, this bruise instigated a thought. If no one was willing to play receiver for Jim, then why didn’t he just make a receiver for himself? One day, while painters were working on the kitchen, Jim snuck off with a can of their paint, which he quickly took and hid in the backyard. The next day, the painters left, oblivious to their missing paint, and Jim’s work began. The receiver that he painted on to the back fence hardly resembled a human form, but he didn’t care. It was good enough for all intents and purposes, and the addition of a neatly drawn target within the receiver’s chest brought about a satisfactory smile to Jim’s face. His magnum opus was complete and ready to have a football thrown at it.
It took five or six thuds before Jim’s mom began to be curious about what was going on in the backyard, but it wasn’t until thud eleven when she heard a splintering crack that she pulled her head out of her Reader’s Digest to go investigate. Jim knew he was in trouble the moment he heard his middle name. The remains of his newly created companion that he held in his hands left little for investigation, and his mother’s shouts quickly became accusatory rather than questioning. He found it comical that her face was turning a bright red that matched her freshly painted fingernails, but all humor was lost as he found himself bent over his father’s knee with equally bright red marks being applied via a belt.
Now, Jim is too old to receive spankings, but he wishes he wasn’t. However, he knows that the punishment always fits the crime, so there is not much he can do about his two-year stay in prison.
Destructive behavior may seem innocent enough for someone at a young age, but if it’s not appropriately addressed it will grow to be more harmful than a broken fence. Jim’s parents never addressed the fact that the paint he used was stolen, and so his rambunctious attitude quickly turned rebellious. By age 12, he was consistently stealing from convenient stores. He stole cash from his mother’s purse starting at age 14, and he stole his first car at age 17. But Jim didn’t steal because he was in need. No, he stole for two reasons: the rush and the sense of control. When he stole, whether it was a stick of gum or a car, he felt an adrenaline rush that was so strong the only thing he wanted was to feel it again. Of course, there was his mother’s voice in the back of his head telling him that what he was doing was wrong, but he hated that voice. He didn’t understand why he should listen to the advice of others when he was doing just fine listening to himself.
In the many thefts Jim had done in his life, he had never gotten caught, and he only had one close call, so naturally he didn’t see anything too wrong with what he was doing. The punishment always fits the crime, but Jim wasn’t being punished, so was he even really committing a crime? The one close call happened when he stole his first car, or attempted to steal his first car rather. Having never stolen something as big as a car before, Jim didn’t really know what he was doing, but one day he drove past a used car lot that had a shiny red Mustang parked in the very front, and he wanted it. He had only had his license for a year, but the past two months of that year had been spent without access to a car because he was failing two classes and had gotten kicked off the football team.
The fact that Jim didn’t have his own car made the red Mustang not only a want, but a need. So, on a late Wednesday night, Jim snuck over to the car dealership and attempted to pick the driver side lock using a coat hanger, knowing that there was a spare set of keys in the glove box for test drives. It was at this point that his inexperience got the best of him, and 45 seconds in to his attempt at lock picking the car alarm went off. The sound of the car quickly triggered lights and sirens at the dealership, and Jim quickly found himself conducting the cacophonous symphony of Bill’s Used Car Lot. Here, Jim panicked. Realizing it was only a matter of time before the police arrived, Jim decided that he was in too deep and didn’t want to give up. Abandoning the coat hanger, Jim used his elbow and smashed in the driver side window. The sharp pain in his elbow caused him to immediately regret this decision, at least until he realized he could get in the car, Once in the driver’s seat, his pain quickly vanished.
Jim started the car, drove off the lot, looked back over his shoulder, smiled at the lack of police sirens, then BAM!
There was a sound that resembled that of a football crashing through a wooden fence, only this was much louder. A light pole, deceptively placed on the side of the road in a line with every other light pole on the street, had obstructed the path of Jim’s new Mustang, and the front bumper was totally crushed in. For the second time that night, Jim panicked. However, this time he chose flight instead of fight, and he ran. He ran all the way home to the safety and comfort of his room where he snuck in through the window as if nothing had gone awry.
Jim woke up the next morning with significant pain in his left arm, which was bruised from the night before. After washing off in the shower, the elbow looked much better, although there was certainly a sizeable cut (the scab of which Jim already knew he was going to pick). He put on a long sleeve shirt to eliminate any questions from mom, and as he walked downstairs, he was greeted by the news channel reporting on a stolen car that had been crashed less than half a mile from the lot it had been taken from.
“What happened there?” Jim asked, pointing at the TV.
“I don’t know. I don’t really watch the news. There is never anything good on there anymore,” his mother replied, “Come and make yourself breakfast if you want it.”
Over the next couple of weeks, Jim thought a lot about that night as he picked the scab that was serving as a reminder for what he had done. His thoughts were anything but regretful. In fact, he decided that he wanted to do something like that again, but this time he was going to do it right.
It was a few months before Jim decided he was ready to try again. His elbow now held a recognizable scar that reminded him of the mistakes he was keen to not make again, and having done his research this time, he was feeling much more confident. He had visited multiple car dealerships, but it wasn’t until he saw the new black Mustang at Bob Jones Chevrolet that he picked the one he intended to steal from. He approached the dealership one afternoon as a prospective customer and asked one of the dealers for a test drive. The dealer agreed, and Jim watched as he walked into the main office where a place on the wall held different sets of keys used for test drives. It would be difficult for him to gain access to the office, but if he were able to get in there, he would be home free.
He watched the dealer take a set of keys marked #22, and made a clear mental note of what the keys looked like and their position on the wall. Once behind the wheel, he knew he had to have it. It was strong. It was fast. It was sexy. It needed to be his. With a car like this, he could go wherever he wanted whenever he wanted. All his problems from school, football, and home could be placed permanently in the rearview mirror. The test drive sealed the deal. Jim was going to be back behind that wheel in a few short hours.
AT 2:30AM, Jim made his way back to the car dealership and picked the lock, with much better skill than the previous time, to get in to the offices. He deftly made his way into the main office where the keys were and grabbed the ones marked #22. He walked quickly to the black Mustang that he had test driven earlier the previous day, unlocked it, and sat down behind the wheel. Placing the key in the ignition, the engine roared to life. He couldn’t believe that this had actually worked. There were no car alarms, sirens, or sounds of approaching police. He had a new car. Jim maneuvered the stick shift to the slot marked D and began to pull away from the lot. Once on the open highway, he began to drive faster than he had ever driven before, and then he went faster. There were no cars on the highway, and the freedom he felt was euphoric.
After joyriding for an hour, Jim drove towards his home. He decided to park the car a few blocks away and then walked home so as to not arouse suspicion. He had received a fake license plate from a friend of a friend of an acquaintance, so he felt confident that the car would be safe until morning. He hardly slept that night and was up early to drive again. He was pleased to see that the car was where he had left it, but the real pleasure came when he heard the roar from the engine starting up. In the days and weeks to come, Jim grew to become very familiar with that roar. He spent hours upon hours driving around, mostly aimlessly, simply enjoying the freedom he felt. His worries disappeared with the wind whipping past him. However, this freedom was not to be long-lived.
At the local police station, someone was watching a video from a local car dealership of a person stealing car keys. The video had been replayed countless times, but this time something stuck out that hadn’t been noticed before. As the person in the video reached for the keys, the camera caught a close up view of the left forearm, which had a noticeable scar on it. In a case that had provided no real clues, this distinguishable mark could prove to be very helpful. A notice was sent out to all officers to be on the look out for a black mustang that was being driven by someone with a scar on their left forearm.
Jim tried his best not to drive too much over the speed limit, but in a car that boasted the power of a mustang, he had a hard time holding back. He knew speeding was risky because if he got pulled over, he’d be in trouble. However, he had already defied the law by stealing the car in the first place, so it only made sense for him to continue to do so with his actions inside his stolen machine. At first, 70mph in a 60mph zone served to add to his already very high adrenaline rush, but 70mph only worked for a couple of nights before he had to go 75mph to get the same rush. The next day it was 80mph, and within a week he was constantly topping 100mph. Today, Jim realizes this was a mistake, but in the 30 seconds before he got pulled over, he had never felt more alive. Turns out, the only other mistake Jim made besides speeding was wearing a short sleeve shirt. The cop walked up to the car, and as Jim’s arm rested on the rolled down window, there was no mistaking that the person driving the car was the same one in the video.
A year has passed now. Jim no longer picks his scabs. He learned that lesson the hard way, and he wishes he had been able to better listen to and understand his mother. Their relationship has not changed much since his incarceration, although he writes her a letter every week. With a year remaining in his sentence, 6 months depending on good behavior, Jim spends everyday staring up at the ceiling in his cell. His scabs, which had seemed so innocent at first, are now serving to keep the door locked to his cell and to his soul.