My twelve-year-old neighbor periodically steals cigarettes from my porch and lies very convincingly about it. Last night, when I had a couple of friends over, he made off with an entire pack. Other neighbors have seen him sneaking around our place when we’re not home and have threatened to call the cops, but this kid won’t be deterred. He’s already been on probation and has a plethora of behavioral and emotional problems. I’m trying to be sympathetic, I really am, but the kid creeps me out. Really, it’s not the stealing so much as the lying. He’s such a convincing liar, it makes big scary words float around in my head, words like “sociopath” and “empathy deficit disorder.”
I don’t know, maybe I haven’t been around enough kids, especially troubled ones. Maybe they’re all little con artists. But this kid, the faux-hurt way his eyes got big and he told us in a younger-than-his-age voice that he’d “never do something like that to you and Matt. You’re my friends,” when I’d absolutely caught him pocketing a pack of my cigarettes (which he later copped to and returned at his mother’s command)…chills I’m telling you. I can’t help but wonder WTF this kid is going to be caught up in when he’s 13, 14, 15. We’ll be moved out by the time he gets into the serious teens, but the guy is clearly criminally precocious. I feel like I’m holding my breath for a break in. I feel like the little old lady who holes up in her house with binoculars and the police on speed dial (because 911 isn’t fast enough? Get it?). And I don’t like it–that feeling of being watched by him, of him trying out his manipulation skills on me, of having the sense that he’ll do whatever he damn well pleases in our yard, whether that’s stealing our cigarettes or setting it on fire, of being bested by a 12 year old.
The parents are trying. They know about it all. They punish, they yell, they apologize to us, but there’s nothing they can really truly do about a kid who has no boundaries, short of sending him away, and cigarette snatching certainly isn’t grounds for something like that. And it’s very possible I’m overreacting, that if I were a parent of a 12 year old, I’d be mildly annoyed and possibly amused by the whole thing. This is, after all, my first tween neighbor since I was a tween myself (ugh: “tween”). But even though he’s just trespassing and filching cigs, his behavior feels incredibly invasive and a harbinger of future dangers. He’s just one scrawny kid, you say, but this kid, I say, this kid has friends. Weed-dealing, fight-starting, rock-throwing friends. The fiction writer in me keeps flashing to stories that end in arson. People say babysitting as an adult is good birth control–try living next to a budding juvenile delinquent.