...But They Can Take It From You


I open my eyes. I am still on the couch. The fire alarm has stopped. The sun is up. I look at my clock on the wall.

The time is 9:30 am on Friday morning.

I feel grateful I have slept, if only for a little while. My soul is numb but I feel OK, which is to say I don’t really feel anything at all. I sit up. I put my feet on the floor and it comes back quickly. I am in my apartment. My apartment that has been robbed.

What now?

I check my phone. Missed calls. Missed text messages.

What happened? Did they ever come? Are you OK?

I don’t know. Yes. I don’t know.

I walk around my apartment. I look at the mess I have barely touched. The idea of cleaning up a crime scene exhausts me. It seems impossible. Though it is just a messy apartment the task seems absolutely insurmountable. My heart sags in my chest.

I walk into my bedroom and stare at my window. An activity that will quickly become ritual over the next several days. My heart speeds up slightly as I turn the corner to see it. Every time.

I think about breakfast but I don't eat. My appetite for my life is nil.

I look at the footprints on the floor. Made in the dust from the cops’ fingerprinting efforts.

I stare at the fingerprint dust and digest how I never imagined seeing that in my apartment. I try to understand what it means to clean it up, try to understand if that is supposed to be a good thing.

But then I spend hours trying to get that dust out from under my fingernails. Because it’s everywhere. The windows, the floor, shelves. I don’t even see it. It just appears on my hands, my knuckles, and under my nails.

I clean up my apartment but not enough. I try to wipe up the footprints made of fingerprint dust in my bedroom. But that just makes it worse. Spreads it around into a bigger mess, a metaphor. I use paper towel after paper towel. There is still more than a trace of it. I still don't eat.

I call my insurance. I file a claim. The woman is apologetic and sincere. I appreciate her sincerity. She tells me somebody will get back to me in 24 hours. At some point I stop stepping over things and start picking them up.

I refold shirts, blankets. I put extra pillows back in my closet that don't fit. How did these go? I can't remember it seems so trivial and stupid but still it bothers me that I can't remember. I am awake for hours but I accomplish nothing. I lie down on my couch and take a nap. I sleep for hours.

I wake up somewhat more rested but still otherwise depleted. The insurance person calls me, a different woman. She is also sincere. Honest. She asks me if she can record the conversation. I agree.  I tell her what happened from the beginning. She tells me they can cover a fraction of the cash. The rest is gone. They can't cover the cost of all my watches and cufflinks, less than half of it.

I think I am beyond things. I think I have moved on. But then out of nowhere, it grabs me. And I cry. It happens fast. A flash flood from my heart. That lack of control scares me. But then again there was never any real control to begin with. I feel pathetic.

I know I have things I need to do but I fear leaving my apartment.

I fear coming back.

I talk to my super who speaks broken English. We watch 14 hours of security video in 30 minutes. We see nothing. He tells me in his broken English that I should put bars on my windows. I nod.

I leave him without feeling better about what happened.

I go to one of my banks to open a new account. An Asian banker who speaks broken English and ends every sentence with “my dear” sits with me and helps me through the process. She is sweet and polite to a fault. She asks me why I am opening a new account. I tell her. She tells me in broken English that it usually happens through the fire escape. I nod.

I leave her without feeling better about what happened.

I got to my other bank to do the same things. A polish banker who speaks broken English and is incredibly helpful sits with me and helps me through the process. She asks me questions about the robbery. She asks me if I have an alarm. I tell her no. She tells me that is why it happened, and I should have an alarm. I nod.

I leave her without feeling better about what happened.

I see people on the street wearing hooded sweatshirts and wonder if it was them. I realize safety is an illusion. I wonder if I should have kept my shades down more often. I doubt every single thing I've ever done in my apartment.

The phrase “scene of the crime” burns in my brain like a campfire that refuses to die.

I start to understand how other victims have trouble moving on with their lives. How they have trouble trusting. I feel withdrawn. Antisocial. I have no desire to see anybody.

From time to time I remember something new I lost. The watch my parents bought me for graduation. The tiffany cufflinks my sister got me. The Indian head penny I had since I was a child. Silly cheap jewelry I exchanged with girls I thought I loved when I was young and naive.

Jewelry I had never planned to get rid of.

I feel detached. I feel so uninterested in being around people I know. I don't feel like talking. I feel like sitting. Like not moving. Like forgetting.

It is nearly 6 pm. For the first time today. I get something to eat. I look around at the buildings as I walk. All of the buildings. So many. An impossible amount. Why me? Was mine just the easiest? Who knows that? Who knew that? I am so distraught one moment but sheepish at others.

Really it was just watches and cufflinks and a camera and cash. My first inkling isn't to replace those items. Whatever the insurance pays, when that check comes I won’t replace them.

I don't want to replace them. Part of me wants to forget them, or at least move on. I have a hard time rationalizing new stuff. New watches. New things that could be taken from me. Ephemeral. All of it.

Even if the rest of my life goes on undisturbed. Even if nothing ever happens to me and I am never stolen from again I imagine myself still feeling angry that I had to lose all of this to figure that out. That this had to happen. I will always be minus one. In the grand scheme of things it wasn't much, but the closest things I had to family heirlooms. My Father's cufflinks. The pocket watch I bought myself after I directed my first play. They aren’t items, they are events.

Friday night I don’t sleep in my apartment.

It frustrates me that there is no consolation. All I have is it could have been worse. And I know that. I know they could have taken my computer or my files or the art. But it doesn't change the fact that took MY shit. It wasn't theirs to take. They pulled my clothes out of the closet. My closet. In my apartment.

The one place that I rave about.

Oh I love living alone. Oh it’s such a safe neighborhood. Oh it’s so quiet in my corner of the building.

Yea I’m sure they realized that.

I am angry that I am not able to take my home for granted. It pisses me off to no end. I want to curl up in a ball in my bed. I want to feel safe. But I don't. I can't.

Saturday night I sleep on my couch again.

I want to move on and become a minimalist and forget those silly watches and believe that cash meant nothing. But I can't. I want to derive some renewed look on life and approach a scenario where the things I lost will pale in comparison to the things I will gain. But I worry that won't happen.

I worry that I will never get over this. I think about therapy. I worry about therapy. I worry about becoming the guy who turns this into a soapbox.

I don't want to teach every single person about fire escape protection. I don't want to always have something to say about homeowners insurance. I don't want to be any of that. I want to be done with this. But I don't know when I will be.

But they, he, it, touched my stuff. Turned the one place I felt safest into the one place I can’t trust. That window is now a gaping hole in my comfort. I can't walk into my apt without checking that window. Every creak and groan that my apt makes that I used to love now puts me on edge. I twitch and flinch with one feeling behind it all.

What if they come back?

It was easier when the sun was up. Nighttime puts me on edge. Even though it could have very well been day when my apartment was robbed, the night brings a fear. I don't know anything anymore.

Sunday night comes.

I will sleep in my bed tonight, or at least I will try. I pull down the covers. I climb in. I look at the window. A mixture of fear, paranoia, and hatred I try to ignore.

Futile.

I set my alarm to wake up for work. To try and return to normal. To start again. I go to turn off my lamp when I notice it on my hand.

Fingerprint dust. Again.

I wonder if I can ever get it all.