I feel irrational guilt when dealing with authority figures. I blame sponge toffee.
Back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the general stores used to carry slabs of it. It was pure sugar whipped into foam and solidified to the brittle consistency of glass. You could chew it into a hard, sticky pellet, or you could suck it and let its sharp edges lacerate your tongue. To a child, it was pure, golden-brown heaven.
Unfortunately, that divine confection was responsible for the most traumatic discovery of my childhood: the fact that it is possible to do something bad even when you’re not trying.
Don’t get me wrong, I was no stranger to doing naughty things in the full knowledge that I’d be in trouble for them later. I was also a master of doing things that I was pretty sure would get me in trouble if I was caught, but they hadn’t been specifically itemized as “bad”, so they were a grey area.
But back to the sponge toffee. I can’t remember how old I was. I had been sent into the store to purchase something while my mother stayed in the car, probably tending to my baby sister.
I had “grown-up money” to buy “grown-up groceries”, and I was proud. I selected whatever it was that I was supposed to buy and marched up to the counter, cash in hand. And spotted the slabs of sponge toffee. Five cents. (Yeah, it really was that long ago. Shut up.)
I bought the groceries, and I bought a piece of sponge toffee.
And I caught holy hell.
I couldn’t understand. I’d bought it. I hadn’t stolen it. But apparently, using other people’s money to buy something for yourself was the same as stealing. Who knew? (So much for the concepts of mortgages and credit cards.)
I can’t remember for sure, but I doubt the consequences were particularly dire. I probably had to pay back the nickel out of my ten-cent allowance, and I probably didn’t get to eat the toffee, but the lesson remained, written in letters of flame upon my soul.
Even when you think you’re not guilty, you are.
Which probably explains my reflexive “Oh, shit, what have I done?” reaction whenever I see a police car.
And don’t even get me started about the Canada Revenue Agency tax forms that require you to sign where it says “I certify that the information given on this return and in any documents attached is correct, complete, and fully discloses all my income.” Just to really get my knickers in a twist, they add “It is a serious offence to make a false return”.
As if I wasn’t already suffused with anticipatory guilt.
What if I make a mistake without realizing it? Or what if somebody else makes a mistake on a T-slip or one of the other “any documents attached”? I’m guilty, guilty, guilty.
I don’t really enjoy sponge toffee anymore, either.
Anybody else with an overactive conscience? Or am I just seriously messed up? Or… is that not an “or” question?