We get into our habits and routines and go about our lives in the steps and ways that become familiar to us and comfortable in their sameness, or we live differently and make chance and opportunity exciting, grabbing at anything different and charging full-steam toward that unknown end, relishing in the adrenaline of “what if” and laughing all the way to the inevitable end with whatever conclusion comes, made by our hands or not. We might find peace for our souls in that raging unknown, the unpredictable change or risk that we embrace in our fullness to invigorate our modern selves and lives…throw us into the wild and unknown to make us know that we’re alive…make the ledge we’re standing on give way beneath us and drop us those several yards or meters with our hearts hanging and nerves tingling in anticipation of what’s going to happen when we hit the ground again, and when we’re finally there intact and whole, we can look back up to where we’ve fallen from and have all of our senses awake and alert and buzzing with that rush of living, of being alive in that moment.
And then sometimes our habits and routines become too known, or at least observed enough by shadowed opportunists who contemplate our rhythms and mark us as prey, knowing when we’re here or gone, home or away, and how we go and return, on foot or bike or in a bronzed-colored four-door returning at this and that time, at night when the lights are out and the sun has fallen in its course or in the graying dawn when it’s rising again from its sleeping….
A few years ago, and in the second week of October, I returned from an evening class at the university to find the screen from the front window of my house propped-up against the outside wall next to the front door. I had never seen the screen in that location before, and in that immediate rush of thought and memory and consideration of the screen in that unusual spot, I knew that I hadn’t left it there and that nobody else was living in the house at the time who might have done so either. My wife and kids were living out-of-state for a while and it was just the dogs and cats and me residing in our home and house.
I had turned-off all the lights when I left for class some four hours earlier, knowing that my housemates wouldn’t need them. Why have the lights on when nobody’s there? Maybe the answer to that is precisely because nobody’s there. I/we want to give the illusion that someone is actually in that sacred place keeping watch over all that is special and dear and identifying and wrought with the history and histories of the people who live and have lived within those several walls. We want the boogie-man to understand that it’s not ok to come in right now because we’re actually there, even when we’re not.
I backed-out of the driveway a little bit and then pulled back in at an angle so the headlights of the car would be pointing toward the front door that was tucked into its alcove and darkness. As I then walked up to the door, I saw that the window whose screen had been removed and placed so neatly against the front wall had been kicked-in…kicked-in and inward and glass lay all about the tile floor of the entry-way and even up the stairs, and I could see that the “security” door was unlocked and opened, as was the front-door proper…the means, of course, of the bad-guys’ exiting the house. They were too encumbered to step or climb through the broken-out window frame with all of my “stuff” in their hands and arms…actually in my pillowcase and the seat cushion cover from “my” seat. My heart was pounding and my mind racing as I walked back outside after turning-on the front porch light. I called that ever familiar “9-1-1” and told the folks that I had just arrived home and found my front window kicked-in and didn’t know if anybody was inside or not. Those were the key words, I knew, from working where I did and “answering the call” when people called 9-1-1 in the city where I worked. “I don’t know if anybody is still inside.” I didn’t hear anything, and given that I had been gone from the house for over three hours, I didn’t know if they had just left or had been gone for hours. At any rate, my town’s cops were there in less than five minutes, really, and were rather professional, in their way, as they walked their dog through the house (on a leash so he/she/it wouldn’t attack my cats) and then had me walk through with them to identify what was missing or otherwise damaged or out of whack.
Working where I did, I had taken probably a couple hundred calls or more from people who were reporting that their homes or businesses had been burglarized. The situation itself sucked, listening to someone describe how they felt violated, how they were frustrated that the cops were not going to rush right out there, and then how they felt that someone had stolen more than their property from them. The people felt and knew that their sense of security was stolen, too. I suppose, in truth, their “illusion” of security had been stolen. They were probably never really secure to begin with, but it was comforting to them to think that they had been. And now the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak. I had made that call. I had asked for help. I had beseeched those armed and uniformed somebodies to come and check my house to see if they could find the bastards still inside who had the gall to break-in and steal those fine and important things that they had stolen. I wanted my city’s “finest” to loose their dogs on the shit-head who had stolen my illusion of security. I wanted to hear them clear on the radio and say “Hey Boss, we’ve got to do some paperwork tonight,” which would tell me and their boss and their dispatcher that the dog had found someone inside and taken a bite or two out of him. That would have been sweet.
So, aside from the two computers and monitors and modems and router and pillowcase and seat cushion cover and DVD player and birth-certificates for myself and my older sons, and the adoption papers for my older daughter, and my and my wife’s marriage certificate, and the savings-bonds for my little one and the CD case with the hundred and more CDs and the intact window…the bad guy or guys also stole my sense of safety in my own house. Actually, I don’t think I was fearful that they would come back when I was home, but I never drove away without wondering if they were going to come back when I was gone. Nobody else was going to be living in the house with me and be there during my odd hours away for another ten months or more. My “stuff” was going to be as vulnerable to being stolen again as it was the day or hour before it was stolen this first time.
I did manage to sleep that night. After the “emergency board-up” window/glass guy left sometime around midnight and after I had managed to clean-up probably 98% of the glass that had been kicked into the corners and crannies of our furnished living room, my racing heart finally settled and the waning level of adrenaline finally allowed my mind to slow to a calming pace…sleep finally came to my wondering self and brought a needed semblance of rest.
Morning found me walking through the house again looking for what I might find that would help in identifying the person or people who had broken-into my house, my home…our home, my family’s and mine, the sanctuary in which we worshipped and loved the people who were and are dear to us…the hallowed place where we believed we were safe from the evils and uncertainties of the world…that sacred place that had been violated by some unknown person or people who had left behind a single glove in his or their passing. He took all my stuff and only left me his glove and a sense of being wronged, a sense of wondering each time I drove away, what I would find when I returned, a feeling that hasn’t left me yet…three years later.
The morning light revealed the black smudges of finger-print dust that the cops had left behind after their attempts to find identifying clues as to who had been there when I was gone…black smudges and powder on my bedroom closet door, on the drawers to the filing-cabinet inside the closet, and on the front door in the living room. It also caught and reflected itself from and in the many tiny shards of window glass that I had missed the previous night. I found splinters for months, tiny pieces and large, laying under furniture and in the cracks along the baseboards…clear across the living room and under the piano, four and five steps up the staircase in the thick carpet…tiny sharp prisms of who’s been here and gone.
So what then and what now, these few years hence? I would drive away and wonder, as I do now. Living in the solitariness that my current situation demands, I know where everything is in my little apartment “home.” I know when I leave a closet door slightly ajar and remember where I laid the remotes the night before when I turned off the TV. And I have the serial numbers and model numbers for everything electronic and so labeled with those numbers of identification logged in their special place so that if they’re taken again, I can say which exact one is mine and ours. The phone calls I took from complaining citizens after I had been in their shoes were slightly different from the ones I had taken before…as I understood in my core what they were going through. I knew what they meant when they said they felt more wronged by the act and intrusion than they had ever felt before. I understood the loss of the illusion of their security…their extreme sense of violation, as it was also mine.