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All These Little Things

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He's breathing in and out
and in and out
and in and in and in,
trying to bottle up the air in his lungs and
cling to some belated sense of ownership.
Oxygen has always bothered him,
because oxygen is like people:
it's something you eventually have to let go.
People change and shift and are infuriatingly volatile, unlike stuff.
There is a science to stuff,
a science he has been honing since first grade
when he nicked Marion’s Barbie doll.
He didn't want it,
but he took it anyway.
That's why he steals,
not because he wants to hurt anybody or gain anything,
but because he just wants to breathe.
He wants, no, he needs, to take,
to relieve the itching and
the twitching in the back of his brain
that is always, always there,
driving him past the edge of distraction.
People don't understand him:
they think he's malicious and cold-hearted,
but there's no way they can know the only time
his world has an orbit or a proper axis
is when he's standing in the midst of his horde,
surveying the rows upon rows of wallets
pulled from the pockets of jeans and jackets,
makeup and mirrors from the purses of the unsuspecting,
piles of candy and
knickknacks and
dozens of pilfered watches,
the tick-tick-tick of their hyper heartbeats filling him up like comfort food.
He needs this.
Can't they see that he needs it?
His mother is so disappointed in him,
but he loves her so much,
and he sleeps with the bracelet she thinks she lost long ago,
but really he took it off her dresser when he was seven,
and he still has the lipstick of the girl he dated briefly in the 11th grade
before she found out about his addiction,
and his dead father's pocket knife,
and his grandmother's shawl that smells like mothballs and lilac perfume.
He has all these little things that are supposed to help fill the void,
but just keep tearing him wider open,
like a knife against taut skin,
and everyone despises him,
and he's sorry,
he's so, so sorry,
but he needs this.

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