Mr. Napolili was a licorice-haired, stout, Italian man from Chicago. A dead-ringer for Lou Costello of the comedy team Abbott and Costello, he was passionate about great food, fast cars and beautiful women. Or was it beautiful cars and fast women? At any rate, his chauvinistic arrogance and off-color humor always kept all the other girls titillated, but he never flirted with me. Although I am very loveable, ĎMr. Napí did not love me. Somehow, I had insulted him.
I may have offended his sensitive culinary senses by constantly sneaking in aromatic delicacies from a friendís restaurant and consuming them during our Girlís Auto Shop class. I joined his class solely to meet boys, so I did not take the class itself, or him, very seriously. It turned out there were no boys whatsoever in Girlís Auto Shop, but by the time I figured that out, I could not drop the class. That is why I ate during class; I was severely depressed. Cars bored me to tears.
Of course, the Abbott and Costello comic strips I snuck onto his desk every morning could have turned him against me. Maybe he took offense when I did not giggle at his jokes like all the other girls or act impressed with his macho expertise in the nuances of automotive mechanics. In my heart, though, I know there was a deeper reason he did not like me.
He knew I stole his precious grade-book.
It was almost certainly a federal offense, but I am telling you the truth when I say the whole affair was an accident. I had an accomplice, but I have chosen to withhold her name in order to protect the almost innocent. She knew the whole, sordid story but I accept complete responsibility for the crime. I admit everything. I confess willingly.
I can confess now because it was almost 30 years ago and Mr. Napolili is either exceptionally old or just about dead. I live in another state, my name has changed and I color my hair, now. I think I am safe. Surely, he cannot hurt me too badly.
He was Italian, though. And he was from Chicago.
When does the Mafia statute of limitations run out for high school grade-book theft? Does it matter to anyone that God has given me large number of male children to rear and in some ways, that is punishment enough? Is it poetic justice that one of them stole my twelve-dollar pair of tweezers last week and none of them will confess, no matter what monstrous parenting torture I threaten? My eyebrows are horribly overgrown. I am doomed.
That must be how Mr. Napolili felt. Doomed.
One morning, as I was placing a particularly suitable Abbott and Costello comic strip on his desk, I impulsively grabbed Mr. Napoliliís grade-book and hid it under an inch of sand in the glass-beading machine about three feet away. The glass-beading machine was used by all of the automotive classes to blast and clean oily auto-parts, so I was sure it would be found by the end of the day, or the next day at the latest.
The school year was almost over and all of Mr. Napoliliís grades were written in that book. Carefully recorded in the unassuming, black journal were essential senior history and political science grades. In those days, grades were not entered into computers. It was a very serious offense to have stolen that grade-book; I was paralyzed with fear that if I were exposed as the culprit I would be disqualified for the honor roll for the rest of my life. Moreover, I had my after-the-fact accomplice to consider. In completely selfless love for her, I kept my mouth shut, hoping that Mr. Napolili would discover it soon.
It was not discovered at all.
The year ended. I have no idea how Mr. Napolili reconstructed the yearís worth of grades for his classes. Full of guilt and fear, I was completely absorbed in the drama of criminal life and could barely function. Warily, in class I did not allow myself to look at either the glass-beading machine or Mr. Napolili. Because I never let him catch my eye, that is how I think he knew I took the grade-book.
Occasionally I still feel the weight of my crime, as I should. Having never confessed to anyone that I was the thief all these years, I have carried my secret shame alone. Some would say Mr. Napolili deserved this chastisement and more for being pretentious, that it was good vigilante justice, but now that I am a teacher, I look at the whole experience through kinder eyes. It was a ghastly thing to do, but it was even more ghastly to not confess, to not make it right.
Throughout the last thirty years, whenever I have smelled the odors of an automotive shop I have felt my stomach tighten. Those greasy smells trigger the memory of the sickening aroma of my high school transgression. They remind me that I never did anything about my crime and that I still owe its penalty. It is a powerful lesson about sin.
Sin never goes away of itís own accord. Because it effectively and permanently separates us from our holy and pure Creator God, it can only be paid for by blood that is holy and pure. We can never pay the full price for our own sin, by ourselves, because we are not faultless.
God Himself came as The Christ. The Lord Jesus provided His pure blood to cleanse us from sin. Through His sinless life, penalty-paying death and by the proof of His victorious resurrection, He provided what we all must have Ė the perfect Man/God sacrifice. His blood-gift was, and is, gloriously sufficient.
I did not know Jesus when I stole Mr. Napoliliís grade-book. Sin was a bizarre concept to me at that time; it was something I only thought about in the church services I seldom attended. Thirty rocky years of dealing with my other sins have taught me that it is not fun, though. In the middle of a devastatingly painful marriage, I began to see my need for forgiveness. I began to crave reconciliation with my heavenly Father God. When I accepted Jesusí sacrifice, asked Him to forgive me and submitted to His Lordship, I finally found peace with Him. I like being forgiven.
I think it is time I asked Mr. Napolili to forgive me for stealing that grade-book.