My daughter's penchant for theft formed as a mirror to mine—a genetic marker, like identically crooked noses or dimpled chins. As a child, I took everything that spoke to me: the cat's stuffed mice, the neighbor's tulips, single hairs from my brother's head. Though I'd refused my mother's breast as an infant, years later I pushed my sister's cheek aside to get her milk—I never had an interest in things given freely. Scoldings only whet me, and the loot got bigger as I aged: bikes, cars, boys. You could even say I stole my daughter from her father. I simply slipped a hand in his pocket when he wasn't looking and shook out the promise of a daughter into a little cup. A secret seed.
In the womb, she bled me dry, and I knew I'd passed on my filching gene. No pile of food was big enough, no pitcher of water tall enough, no night of sleep satisfying. In a blood loop, her hunger danced with mine: the more I gave her, the more she wanted from me. I grew skinny and sallow, only my belly swelling from my hips like a blister. For months my heart startled and clenched, feeling the tug of her thirst. Sometimes I could hear a soft sucking sound in the middle of the night, then a self-satisfied cooing loud enough to match the locusts outside.
I'm not ashamed to tell you I sucked right back. Fasting worked at first, but eventually temptation took over. So I bit a hole in the loop: after each meal, I would sit very still for an hour, then run around the neighborhood all night, burning through the food before she could. Other times, I would just reach down my throat and pull it all back up. For the rest of the pregnancy, she became my little backup battery. Her energy surged through me. Charged, I saw magenta behind my eyes.
She weighed less than three pounds when she was born—late, mind you. They dragged her out breech and had to pry her little mouth like a leech from between my legs. Both fists full of placenta. After that, her hands were always full of something that wasn't hers: rubies from my ears, purse straps in church, dolls from the playground. Can you believe I found myself telling her to give them back? She'd stolen from me the joy of taking.
I decided to reinvest myself in this passion, starting at home. One day I went looking for quarters in her room and I found her baby teeth in a pill case—four little pearls plucked from my jewelry box. I tucked them into my palm, and when I turned to leave, she appeared in the doorway holding my mother's never-bequeathed engagement ring. There we stood, stuck in a shame loop: lady see, lady do—the two of us blushing in tandem like siren lights.