Guilt can be a good compass, one that keeps you on track to having something close to an upstanding, moral life. If you've done a shitty thing to someone—be it subtle or outrageous, big or small—you should carry some guilt around about it. If not, you're a sociopath. And that's not a good thing. With that in mind, we asked friends and co-workers things they've done in the past that they still feel guilty over. The people that said they didn't have any are the ones we now avoid.
LITERALLY THE SHITTIEST THING EVER
In eighth grade, everyone was trying to be the class clown. There was a construction site outside our middle school, so one day after class, I walked over to the site and set a port-a-potty on fire with a Zippo that I stole from my older brother. The town smelled like shit for hours, and it made the news, but I was never questioned about the incident. To this day, my parents still have no clue that I was the one who set it on fire.
GRAND THEFT AUTO
When I was 19 years old, I had a crappy job at a gas station and an even crappier boss—he was handsy and just kind of a dick overall. After I decided I couldn't take it anymore, I skimmed almost a grand from the safe and framed him for it. I found a different job, and he didn't get into serious trouble (just an audit).
I was a Boy Scout who went to summer camp every year. In eighth grade, I brought Rolling Stone's 2004 summer preview issue to camp—the one that featured Jessica Alba on the cover in jorts and a high-cut top. A sixth grade Scout saw me reading it and screamed, "[REDACTED] HAS PORN!" I explained to the adults that it wasn't, so I was in the clear—but I was still mad.
One day, we were all sitting around shooting the shit when someone mentioned the clitoris. The same kid asked, "What's a clitoris?" I replied, "It's that little thing between your tongue and the roof of your mouth." He bought it, and before long, he was showing everyone his "clitoris." On the last day of camp, he tried to show one of the female counselors his "clitoris"—God bless her, she explained the truth to him.
In primary school, my three friends and I had an exclusive clique on the school bus. We wanted to get back at a girl who was rude to us, so we took Play-Doh, repackaged it in a purple Starburst wrapper, and gave it to her. She ate it. I still feel so bad.
THE BB GUNSLINGER
I grew up in the foothills of California between Yosemite and Fresno. For my 11th birthday, I got my first (and last) BB gun. Playdates were few and far between in the mountains, so I spent a lot of time outside with this gun. My sisters and I had a feud with the neighbors' kids across the road, who weren't as well off as my family (my father was a pastor). One time, they were playing outside and one of the boys began to taunt me: "I bet you can't shoot that trash can, fatty!" I shot the trash can. "Bet you can't shoot the lid," he said. I aimed at the lid, fired, and hit him in his stomach instead. I'd say it was an accident, but it probably wasn't.
Later, a deputy sheriff knocked on our door. My dad called me over and asked what happened; I lied and said that I saw them throwing rocks, they called me names, and I returned to the backyard. My lie was good enough for the deputy, since it came from a pastor's kid and trumped the four poor kids who saw me do it.
WE ALL (TAKE) PAUL DOWN
I suppose we can call him Paul (that's not his real name, so feel free to refer to him however you like). I went to high school with him, and he was one of those subtle bullies, the type who would brag about his sexual escapades in front of the class and then ask you about yours, knowing full well you had no boasting to do. He was also wealthy and drove a red Mustang convertible. He and his four buddies idolized that guy who wrote I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and they referred to themselves as "local legends." Outside of the group, they were universally despised, but no one ever said anything to them. Paul, of course, was the leader. Toward the end of my senior year, in late May, the administration decided it would be a good idea to give us a district-wide writing sample. The people in charge intended it as a way to measure our success, but they underestimated, with graduation looming, how little we gave a fuck. We had about a week notice before we had to sit down and draft a persuasive essay about school uniforms or whatever, and during those few days, my three friends and I promised one another that, regardless of the prompt, we would all somehow make it about Paul.
I had English first period, and when I saw the question was about the ethical implications of locker searches, I immediately sensed things might get out of hand. By the end of the afternoon, news of our idea to focus on Paul had spread (we all bragged about it incessantly), and in total, more than 150 people had written about him. Multiple people accused him of being a drug lord, arguing he kept class A narcotics stashed in his locker. Some simply asserted how much they didn't like him. Others penned long pieces about how cool he was. At one point, I watched his best friend sprinting down the hallway, shouting at strangers to "write about Paul." A couple days later, I spotted a downtrodden-looking Paul. Word about the writing sample had gotten back to him. He looked sad. So sad, in fact, that I wanted to cop to starting the whole thing and apologize. I didn't. I still feel very bad about it. So if it's worth anything Paul—you know who you are—I'm sorry.
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