Originally Posted: 2004-07-28 12:26am

To the woman whose panties I stole... please forgive me! - m4w

To the Columbia University graduate student whose panties I stole from the laundry room of our West 113th Street apartment building in the spring of 2002: I’m sorry.

There was no excuse for my behavior. Even though you’ve most likely already written me off as a creep – first for committing the crime, now for gratuitously revisiting it – I’m hoping I can appeal your forgiveness through this apology. I’m sorry I stole your underwear.

I should note up front that it was a completely random act. It had nothing to do with you personally. I don’t even know who you are. If we met in a class, if we exchanged words waiting to cross Broadway, if we shared an elevator, I’ll never know. The crime was simply an accident of my sour mood colliding with your exquisite sense of style.

I’ve wondered who you were and what you were like in the spring of 2002. I’ll bet you were beautiful. You were obviously supermodel thin and sexually confident, though I don’t know what color your hair, your eyes, your favorite lipstick were. And while I know you woke early, I have no idea how well or with whom you slept.

In New York City, the spring of 2002 was becoming warmer by the day, offering a preview of the drought summer ahead. On the day of the crime, Saturday, I woke early to do the laundry and get a head start on the sun.

I was feeling unsatisfied and excluded. I hadn’t been sleeping well. The night before, as I drank with friends at one of the neighborhood bars that catered to students, I’d come to realize that they’d been lying to me for most of the year. In the meantime, nearly all of my classmates were covertly dating one another, including one guy who was romancing the professor. All I was getting was good marks and "I really like you as a friend, but ..."

As everyone I knew slept off their hangovers in bed together, I was benched in the basement laundry room by myself, reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations on American democracy ("If I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: To the superiority of their women.") and I was jealous. I wanted someone in my life. I wanted to be a part of someone’s life.

I dropped the book in my laundry basket. The laundry room was dusty, humid and uninspiring. My clothes tumbled in the dryer. A washing machine in spin cycle skidded to a halt. I crossed the room and opened the washer’s lid, because I’ve always been curious about other people’s private lives. I still haven’t learned my lesson about peeking into medicine cabinets, diaries, desk drawers.

That’s when I saw your underwear, twisted intimately among your other laundry. I reached into the washer and took them in my hand. They were cool and damp and scented of a detergent’s imaginary springtime. Tiny, sexy, silvery white bikini panties, the color of snow, the color of angels, and absolutely pure. Even the cotton crotch was fairy-tale white. They were petite but not at all innocent, and stretchy with Lycra. I daydreamed about what you must have looked like in them, how they must have fit over your hips and bottom. They were by far the most beautiful thing in the laundry room.

My dryer called it quits. Driven by lust and anger and sexual frustration, I stuffed your knickers into the pocket of my jeans. I piled my clothes into the laundry basket and took the elevator back to my floor. Then I laid Victoria’s stolen secret on my bed to dry.

That night I went out alone to air conditioned places. A diner in Brooklyn, the big chain bookstore at Lincoln Center, a bar off Central Park. The clingy, too-precious couples I saw everywhere seemed to justify the morning’s theft.

Since then I graduated spring 2004 and I took your panties along with me. Not for indecent uses, but out of nostalgia for a place I was long gone from, a time that had expired, wishes that hadn’t come true.

They became a sort of Memorial to the Unknown Romantic Crush. Here remembered in honored glory, an unavailable woman known but to God. I’d folded them neatly into a satiny square and enshrined them in an antique wooden box in my closet along with such relics as my Phi Beta Kappa key, an autographed baseball, a piece of concrete I’d broken off the Berlin Wall.

After I’d left the city, though, remorse set in. I became disappointed to find that stealing your underwear hadn’t made me any happier. You weren’t in them, and I was still alone. Sometimes in the dark hours when I’d had too much to drink – I was drinking a lot of vodka back then – I’d begin to wonder about the last time you’d worn them, about what you were doing that very moment, about how charming and playful and seductive you were in my sexual fantasies, as you touched me gently, as I took you deeply.

Then I’d take a wrong turn and crash into the immediate aftereffects of my theft. There were the Eighth and Tenth Commandments and Article 155 of the New York State Penal Law, first of all. And I was almost certain that you weren’t feeling charming and playful and seductive when you’d picked up your laundry. Probably more along the lines of angry, embarrassed, threatened, violated.

Maybe they were your favorite pair. Maybe they were brand-new and you hadn’t even worn them yet. Maybe there was a bra that went with them, and I divorced a matched set. There wasn’t much laundry in your machine that morning, and it’s occurring to me that maybe you were washing them to go with a particular outfit or for a special occasion that night. I’m sorry I bittered your day, wrecked your evening, stole your panties from their rightful place in your laundry and your spectacular lingerie drawer, on your body and perhaps the floor beside your bed.

Sometimes I wonder if the disappearance of their intimates is a crime that urban women have just resigned themselves to living with. Ever since they were girls on a playground, when lawless boys tried to catch a glimpse of their underpants, women must have been aware that certain items of their clothing gathered attention, carried significance, created temptation way out of proportion to their display. That their underwear brought out a monster reaction in the opposite sex.

"I don’t know why us boys get so worked up about it," I once admitted to a girlfriend. "I mean, it’s just laundry."

"Yes," she replied. "But it’s also magic." She wore a lot of black lingerie and lit her house with rainforest-scented candles.

None of this talk excuses me from my actions. You didn’t deserve to be a victim and I don’t deserve to ever enjoy your company. I’m not proud of what I did, but in my remorse I still miss you, whoever you are. You should know that in all the ups and downs you may have seen in the five years since our paths crossed, there’s always been someone thinking about you, wishing you the best, and hoping you’re happy.

I don’t have your panties anymore. If I didn’t misplace them during amove, I discarded them in a fit of shame the next year when I dated a Christian girl who wore star-spangled underwear like Wonder Woman’s and liked to go to rock shows.

Although you may not believe me, I’ve never stolen anyone’s laundry again. If it were possible, I’d make amends with you.

Let’s say that you – or a female reader who’s representing you at this hidden bookshelf on the World Wide Web, since there’s no way that Columbia’s alumni magazine is going to publish this confession – can forgive me. Let’s say that the man in your life right now isn’t feeling compelled to stomp my pecans into paste – which, in all honesty, was my reaction when someone stole a girlfriend’s underwear from her backyard clothesline a few years ago.

If so, I would be entirely willing to take you shopping for new lingerie – I’ll buy, of course – or shoes if you’d rather, or at least write you a check over brunch at the bakery downstairs from the West 113th Street apartments. Let me know.

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