You struck during last year’s holiday season. This year, you probably don’t even remember me. But I will remember you forever.
Maybe that’s too dramatic, in light of what you did. No one here was physically harmed. In fact, there were additional silver linings, but you don’t get to comfort yourself in that knowledge. I doubt you could, anyway, because I doubt you’ve felt any discomfort about it to begin with.
My discomfort began right after I pulled into the garage that night, and looked up to notice the mudroom door ajar. I had to start second-guessing myself at that moment, and in some ways, I haven’t stopped. The specific topic changes constantly, but not the doubts. And as I got out of the car, my hands shaking just a little, the first doubt was whether I had closed and locked the door after I’d walked out into the garage earlier that day.
I thought about it as I walked back out into the driveway, and up the incline to the curb, where I retrieved my garbage bin. I was still mulling it over as I rolled the bin into the garage, and up to its spot at the foot of the stairs leading out from the mudroom. I was about three feet from the door, wondering if maybe I was just spooking myself.
Surely no one had been in my house. Nor was someone hiding behind that slightly open door at that very moment, waiting in my mudroom to shoot me as I dared to walk into my own house. That couldn’t be. I must have been in a hurry when I’d left, and forgotten to lock the door – and, for that matter, to close it.
I was reaching to push the door further open when I remembered having left that morning and gotten a block or two away before turning around and coming back to make sure I had locked up the house. And I had. That door had been closed and locked tight. The thought hadn’t left my head before I was out of the garage and standing in the driveway, dialing 911 on my mobile phone as I stood in the strangely non-comforting glow of the Christmas lights strung over the garage door.
I’ll never know if you and your partners were still in the house at that point. We later found evidence that you vacated before you’d finished the job – as if something panicked you – but I have no idea if I was the one whose arrival caused the panic. It could have been the mail carrier pulling up, a salesperson ringing the doorbell, a dog barking in the neighborhood, or anything at all, really. Breaking and Entering is risky business, and I’m sure you weren’t willing to risk being caught inside. But the more I think about it, the more sure I become that you were here when I pulled in, and you simply ran out the back door you had kicked in earlier.
Regardless, I found myself in the driveway, texting my wife as I awaited the police. She had the boys at a lesson across town, and I needed to know if she’d been home that afternoon. She hadn’t, and of course she wanted to know why I had asked. She later confided that her gut just fell when she saw my question, and knew it meant something was wrong. I answered and let her know the door had been open, and we’d likely been robbed. Now all four of us were on pins and needles as I awaited the police.
Even after the police arrived and discovered the damaged door in back, I had to wait outside in the cold, answering awkward questions from passers-by and just wishing I had used the bathroom before driving home. The cops went storming in, but of course you were long gone, along with around $8000 worth of electronics, jewelry, and cash. I still had to wait outside until their CSI person arrived; she was busy that night with the other three homes you hit.
Once she arrived, she invited me into the house, but only if I promised to put my hands in my pockets, to keep myself from touching anything and accidentally removing fingerprints. I felt like I was the criminal. She asked me to look carefully and indicate what had been had been disrupted. That was a ridiculous question, because just about everything had. I walked through the mudroom into the living room, and my face must have fallen – the floor was littered with files, papers, and other flotsam from your mad dash to find anything valuable. The only present that had been under our tree – a $5 gift from one of our sons to the other – lay on the floor in front of the tree, a strip of its wrapping paper ripped off so you could make sure it hadn’t been valuable enough to steal.
All of the kitchen drawers were open, their contents strewn about. The sunroom was a mess of splinters from where you’d kicked the deadbolt between the two French doors. The cats were nowhere to be seen, probably cowering underneath the recliner in the office, which was another mess of papers and various items deemed worthless. But the worst was the master bedroom, where you’d emptied the drawers and absolutely ransacked the place. This included the walk-in closet, where you’d pulled every box and container off the shelves, including the one preserving my wife’s wedding veil. Her jewelry box was gone, but you’d thoughtfully left behind some of the worthless costume jewelry that had sat on top of the gold. Gone with it were our class rings, her pendant with the boys’ baby pictures, several family heirlooms, and two ribbons with the parent pins we’d received every time one of the boys had earned a new Scout rank.
Gone from the other rooms were handheld game systems, laptops, Kindles, a tablet, a camera, an iPod, the boys’ XBOX, multiple game cartridges, lots of other crap, and every vestige of security we’d ever felt. It came out in the final hearing that you’d done this for drug money; you violated us for a high. I didn’t know this yet as I returned outside to wait while the CSI cop dusted for prints; all I knew is we’d been violated.
You didn’t just rifle through my wife’s underwear, you rifled through her self-esteem.
You didn’t just throw her wedding veil on the floor, you threw her sense of well-being in the dirt.
You didn’t just take my sons’ favorite games, you took their feeling of being safe in their own home.
A judge eventually ordered you to pay restitution, but that means nothing. There are some things you’ll never be able to repay or restore. Every time we leave our house, we worry. When my wife is alone here, she’s nervous. That will probably never end. And of course, we’ll never recover the sentimental value of the things you took. Nor will we recover the cost of adopting a high-maintenance dog who barks at every little thing – exactly why we needed him, but annoying, nonetheless. You cost us far more than those restitution figures indicate. You violated and hurt us, and you will never know, damn you.
Damn you for thinking you had the right to enter our home uninvited, and to take what was ours.
Damn you for making my family sad.
Damn you for making my family scared.
Damn you for putting us on display.
Damn my neighbors who wandered over to check on us, then stayed in our driveway and cut up like they were at a party.
Damn the neighbor who thought she saw suspicious activity that day, but didn’t call the cops.
Damn the German shepherd in the K-9 car, who barked viciously at me and my wife as I tried to comfort her after she pulled up.
Damn you for damaging our house.
Damn you for marring our holidays.
Damn you for skipping two hearings.
Damn your attorney for postponing one.
Damn me for continuing to show up, taking time off from work and paying parking fees just to look like a fool.
Damn the second judge for praising your grandfather for doing a good job raising you.
Damn the DA for giving you a plea bargain without insisting you name your accomplices.
Damn the third judge for agreeing to the plea bargain, and giving you a suspended sentence.
Damn him for showing more pity toward your grandparents than toward your victims.
Damn him for not giving me a chance to address you.
Damn him for ordering you to have no contact with your victims, forcing me to write this for closure.
Damn you for not paying any restitution so far.
Damn you for not paying in any way, other than the five nights you spent in jail waiting for that final hearing – and those, only because you’d already skipped bail once.
Damn you for being free, while we’re trapped inside our home and our heads, and will probably never feel free again.