I learned about borrowing when I was seven.
I played GI Joes with my friend Michael almost every day. He was my only friend outside of grade-school, and lived up the block in a orange brick house that had swallowed its porch up into its living room so that its front was flush with the porch steps of all the other houses on our side of the street.
It was tacitly understood that I was not to venture farther down the street than Michael’s house, and I always suspected it was because its jutting ugly orangeness obstructed the view of the steps porches on the other side of it. I resented the house, and never set foot inside.
Michael didn’t have many GI Joes of his own, choosing instead to diversify his toy collection to include a smattering of Ninja Turtles and Transformers. However, of his few Joes, he had an original Eel Viper. My oldest GI Joe was Dr. Mindbender, who wasn’t very old or very impressive, and Michael made sure to never let me play as Eel as our plastic men and woman battled across my concrete porch and living room rug.
One day, in a rare fit of benevolence, Michael left the Eel in my care when he went home for dinner. Carefully, I placed it on the top of my GI Joe bag – really an old faux-leather purse of my mother’s. He would be the first subject of my attention come the next play time.
Fate cruelly contrived for me to come down with strep throat that very night, rendering me couch-bound and under a strict hydration routine – no shape for playing GI Joes. For the entirety of sickness I whined and writhed on the couch, casting longing glances in the direction of the bag.
Two days later, just as I was on the road to recovery (but, still couch bound), a knock came at the door. At the point where I was actually mobile but still assiduously denying the fact in order to garner more days off from school, I hollered for my mother to get the door. She opened the inner door to our vestibule, peeked outside the front door, unlocked it, and engaged in brief conversation. Momentarily, she returned, our guest in tow.
Michael. Michael had come by to look for his Eel. Did I have it?, my mother asked.
It was the closest I have ever come to stealing anything. “Maybe,” I sputtered, trying to delay the inevitable. He couldn’t take it back yet; I hadn’t even played with it. Jinx had yet to kick the Eel’s ass. It wasn’t fair.
Michael stared at me dumbly, which he did a lot. My mother was nonplussed. I could have just said I didn’t have it. Or lost it. Or broke it in that way that GI Joes always broke, where they came apart at the waist and you needed an eye-glasses screwdriver and a tiny rubber band to fix them, and no one ever had the tiny rubber bands.
“I guess it’s in the GI Joe bag,” I sighed, deflated by my inherent morality.
My mother fetched the GI Joe bag from the fireplace (functional, I was told, but doubling as toy-storage) and then wandered away, leaving me couch bound and alone in the living room with Michael. Without much ado, he gripped the bag by its bottom corners and upended it, sending my entire 1988 GI Joe collection skittering across the ground with a sickening plastic crunch.
It was on the damn top, I thought.
Obviously god was punishing me for coveting his single, badly chipped Eel by forcing me to watch this massacre, this GI Joe holocaust, as Michael careless swept his hands through the pile of toys until, having swept away every last one into a wide blast radius away from his meaty paws, he came upon his poor marooned Eel.
“Get better,” he may have said, though not with much emotion. Rising without regard the dozens of dollars of precious plastic strewn around him, he let himself out.
To this day I always need to borrow things for about three-times as long as people are willing to part with them, but at least now I disclaim it up front.