When I was in college, I committed a crime and almost got away with it. And nobody, up until now, ever found out. But since it’s a new (ish) year with new beginnings, I figure it’s time to come clean.
During my sophomore and junior years at BYU, I had the privilege of spending a few semesters working as a Writing Fellow (which is BYU-speak for “undergraduate writing tutor”). It was a great gig for a writing nerd. My coworkers were fun; my students only whined minimally; the training events were Harry Potter-themed; and there were always cookies in the office, provided every day by a different Fellow who had been assigned to bring them. They even gave out prizes for the best cookies at the end of each semester. The Writing Fellows at BYU take their cookies seriously.
Our office was a tiny room in the basement of the testing center. Aside from the cookie jar, which was always nearly empty, the office was usually cluttered. Part of the reason for this was that the bookshelves on the walls were crammed full with books about pedagogy, years of old Writing Fellows’ portfolios, and outdated style guides. It was hard for a Fellow to find a resource they might need. So, when it came time to sign up for a turn cleaning the office, I and a coworker volunteered to organize the bookshelves.
We didn’t expect it to take too long, mostly because we were sorting the books by subject, not alphabetically. It was a quiet night in the middle of February, and I was thinking about the homework I still had to do when I cleared a couple of books from the shelf and noticed a wadded ball of fabric behind them.
I pulled it out and discovered that it was a pair of Honor Code T-shirts, which seemed timely given that that particular week was Honor Week on campus. I didn’t know much about Honor Week beyond the fact that I kept seeing people walking around wearing these honor T-shirts. I kind of thought the honor T-shirts looked really cool. I had also been wondering where you could get said cool-looking T-shirts.
So when I looked at the shirts and discovered that one was a small—my size—and one was a medium—my coworker’s size—it seemed like a good idea to take them home. After all, they had been stuffed behind some dusty books that hadn’t been touched in a while. That didn’t seem like a place you would put something you wanted to keep.
After some discussion, we agreed that they probably weren’t wanted by their owners, and that it was our job to clear out and organize the bookshelves.
So we took them home.
The next morning, I was sitting in the student center cramming for a test when an email appeared in my inbox with the subject “My shirts?”
Full of a sudden foreboding, I opened the email. It was from another Writing Fellow to the entire Writing Fellows’ email list:
“Hey everyone, I left some Honor Week shirts in the office that I need to return to the FHSS secretary. I came in today and they’re gone. Does anybody know what happened to them? Please let me know, because I need them back.”
I grabbed my phone just as it buzzed with a text from the Fellow who had the other shirt. Now we had to decide what to do. Neither of us wanted to confess that we had thought they were free. That, combined with the irony of stealing Honor Code T-shirts, made admitting our folly too embarrassing to even be an option.
So instead, we snuck into the Writing Fellows office that night, after we were reasonably sure it would be empty. I folded the incriminating articles of clothing and put them on the table in the middle of the room. My coworker typed an apology note that we felt was simultaneously apologetic and in keeping with the spirit of Writing Fellows:
“Dear Writing Fellow,
“It was Peeves. Either that, or it was a couple of confused Writing Fellows who thought the shirts had been abandoned and took them home. We’re really sorry! Unless it actually was Peeves, and then he’s not sorry about it and neither are we.
“−Wormtail and Padfoot”
We printed the note, put it on top of the shirts, and left the office, assuming that this was the end of it. After all, we had returned the shirts to the office. They would soon be found and returned to their owner. This would be the end of it for us.
Or so we thought.
When the weekly Writing Fellows’ email went out the following Monday, it was titled “This week’s HOWLER.”
I opened it right away, thinking the title meant that some Fellows were in trouble, and felt my stomach drop when I scanned the final announcement:
“If you are a confused Writing Fellow, TALK TO OUR BOSS.”
I wasn’t the only one who was pretty sure “confused Writing Fellow” was a reference to the Peeves apology note we had left. The other Fellow who had stolen a shirt also thought we were in trouble after reading the email.
Maybe the shirts’ owner was indignant that they had been returned that way. Maybe she didn’t like Harry Potter or Peeves. Maybe our boss wanted to know who had been stealing Honor Code T-shirts. Or maybe the note was just a lot meaner than we had intended it to be!
The guilt and anxiety were too much. So, realizing that we would not be escaping embarrassment and/or punishment, we caved.
We sent our boss an email, confessing our crime, apologizing profusely, and asking when he wanted us to come meet with him. It was only my second semester as a Writing Fellow, and I wondered if it would be my last.
When our boss wrote back five minutes later, however, it was apparent that he had not known anything about the shirts OR the apology note. The Writing Fellows’ secretary, who was responsible for sending out the weekly emails, had made the HOWLER sound cryptic for reasons of his own.
“All I meant,” our boss said, “was that since it’s the middle of the semester, any Fellows with questions should come talk to me. Thanks for the laugh. You guys made my day.”
We felt pretty sheepish after that. But luckily, the Fellow whose shirts we stole never did find out it was us.
At least, I don’t think she did.
Hopefully she doesn’t read this blog post!