I accidentally stole from the elderly

My first Christmas card wasn’t meant for me. It arrived in a white envelope on Dec. 13, 2001, with a Santa stamp and a wreath on the return label. It was addressed to a woman named Mayme.

Edwin of Missouri needed to update his records. I’d lived in my place — the first on my own — for three months. No Mayme in sight. I put the letter on my desk and planned to send it back to him the next day.

And then I forgot about it. Completely. Didn’t send it back to Edwin, didn’t track down Mayme. That letter sat there on my desk until the snow melted.

Maybe I should have sent it then, in the spring, but I didn’t. In fact I hauled that card around for years, from Kansas to Michigan to Ohio, five moves in all. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Once in awhile I’d find it and wonder about Mayme and Edwin and think about what a bad person I was for not sending that card back.

It got worse when I finally opened it.

Yeah, there was money in there.

“Dear Mayme,” it reads. “This $10.00 is all I can send, just now.”

I don’t think I slept that night. Years had passed and Edwin’s gift — all he could send at the time — had clearly fallen into the wrong hands. I was worse than forgetful. I was a thief. I put the money back into the card, and I put the card back into the envelope, and then I put it back in my files.

And still, I did nothing.

I was digging through some photos the other day and once again came across the card. I showed it to my boyfriend. “Have you ever looked them up online?” he said.

Of course I had, I said.

Wait, no.

I hadn’t. I’d been too afraid to find them, too worried about how I’d explain why I still had a Christmas card and its $10 from 2001.

Turns out there’s no one left to explain anything to.

Edwin died in April 2002, four months after he sent that card. Mayme was 85 when she died in hospice just three miles from where that card was sent. That was in February.

So now I’ve got a card, and $10, and no idea what to do with either of them. I guess I’ll haul it all around for another 10 years.

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