Sunday, January 11, 2009

Unhappy Anniversary

A year ago today my house was broken into. It was around 5:30 am, and I was upstairs in bed, sleeping. I heard a crash. That day I had taken down my Christmas tree and left the bins with the ornaments stacked downstairs. I thought Comet had tried to jump on top, and knocked them over. I came downstairs in my long-sleeved tshirt and underwear and saw that the sliding glass door was shattered.

My first thought was that a fierce wind must have blown a tree into the door or something. As I walked closer (carefully, as I was in bare feet and there were shards of glass everywhere) I saw a sledgehammer lying on the ground outside, and the wooden stick (called a "burglar bar") was disloged.

I believe my words were, "Oh my god." I instinctively looked over to my big TV, but it was still there. I looked around quickly and everything seemed in its place. More importantly, I did seem alone. I ran upstairs and used the on-call cell phone (which was by my bed, of course) to dial 911. After about 10 rings, the dispatcher picked up and I told him what happened. He said he was sending the police right away, and that he would stay with me on the phone until they arrived. At this point my heart was literally pounding outside of my chest. I had never felt it pound like that before. It was unreal. Even so, the guy on the phone said I was handling this remarkably well. As we were waiting for the cops, I threw on some PJ bottoms and finally they arrived. They came in through the back. I remember one saying he had just driven through this area and hadn't seen anything. The other said he would call for someone to come dust for fingerprints. It wasn't until the officer asked me for my ID that I realized my purse was gone.

I was devastated. Frankly, I would have rather the crook stole the TV. Losing your purse means you have to cancel all your credit cards, close your checking account, get a new driver's license, etc. But if you're me, your purse is also a portable electronics store. It had my Canon G7 digital camera, my 30 gb iPod, my brand new iPod nano that I'd gotten for Christmas (red, engraved with my name!), my work pager, my flash drive, almost $100 in gift cards, $40 in cash, and other things that, while not monetarily valuable, I'd always carried around with me. The same tiny mirror since junior high. The same lens cleaning cloth since who knows when. Not to mention the purse itself, which I adored because it was the perfect size and had the perfect number of pockets. I had just gotten it, too. Thankfully the thief had dropped my cell phone outside, and my keys must have been sitting next to my purse rather than in it, because those were still on the table. That would have made the nightmare even worse.

While the cops were waiting outside for the fingerprint guy to come, I hopped online to see if there'd been any activity on my cards. Sure enough, about 6am, my debit card had been used at the gas station half a mile from my house. A $400 purchase. I ran out to the cops and told them to go get the guy! One of them took off, and said I did a good job going online. The fingerprint guy came, and after he put black dust all over the door handle, my phone, and the sledgehammer (which, by the way, the cops found out had been taken from my neighbor's work truck parked across the street), he said there were only partial prints.

By now it was getting light out. The sliding glass door was basically down to its metal frame, because all the glass had been falling out as the cops slid the door back and forth. Thankfully it was about 60 degrees outside--a blessing, since my house was open to the elements for several hours as I waited for a repair man to come. I called my parents and they came over. They watched the house while I went to get a new license. I called work to tell them I couldn't come in until the door was fixed. Of course when the glass guy came, he measured and said it's a custom size so they'd have to order the glass. So he boarded the door up (he did a good job, it was very secure) and cleaned up all the glass, which was a huge help. Even so, I was picking up stray glass chunks for weeks afterwards. I had to pay half of the cost up front, but with what? I used a credit card that I had in my desk upstairs, that I never carry. I was very grateful for that! Another thing I was very thankful for was my homeowner's insurance. I called Allstate and filed a claim, and over the next few weeks they did an awesome job. I received a check in the mail for the door right away. For the stolen items I had to provide receipts for the expensive ones, and just fax them over. I had a boarded door for over a week, and when it was finally replaced it was so bright in the kitchen! Alas, I don't look at that glass much these days. The curtains are pretty much permanently closed (and I clip them together so there's no peeking at all!). The fence into the backyard has a padlock on it. And I always arm the alarm when I go to bed. Not that the alarm would have deterred this guy. This is the definition of irony right here:

It was a smash-and-grab job. He would have been off and running before the alarm even sounded. (It's not instant at the doors. It gives a long beep--about 30 sec, I guess--to give you a chance to enter the code.)

In the days that followed I was ready to move. I wanted to go back to Apex in the worst way. I'd always lived on the second floor. In apartment buildings, I chose the second floor so that I would not have to hear people above me. In my condo, the garage was the first floor. I'm only now acutely aware of how vulnerable I am at street level. Anyone can see into my house. They can see my stuff. I don't like it. I have become a huge fan of certain styles of midcentury modern architecture, where they have windows up very high. That way you can cover all the lower ones but still let in light.

I am tired of living in the dark. I also seriously considered getting a dog, for the security aspect. Alas, that never came to be. Perhaps this is the year.

I am reminded of what happened every night when I am forced to take my purse and computer upstairs with me. I can't just leave them on the kitchen chair like I used to because even though the gate is locked and the curtains are know the saying: fooled once, shame on them; fooled twice, shame on you. I have trimmed down drastically what I carry in my wallet, but there are still other things you have to carry that would be a pain to replace. My insurance card, all the supermarket rewards cards, business cards for doctors and mechanics and such. At stores I see women open up their massive wallets full of every credit card they have and I cringe.

- - -

So now you will understand why I almost had a heart attack a couple months ago when the alarm went off in the middle of the night. It was not the normal siren sound, but rather a horrible screeching. But when you're dead asleep, a sharp piercing sound is a sharp piercing sound. I immediately leaped out of bed with my heart racing and thumping out of my chest. I tried to enter the code to shut up the alarm but it wouldn't be quiet. I was in the process of calling the alarm people (they are programmed into my cell because I've had so many problems with it) when entering my code finally worked. Needless to say, I could not go back to sleep. I was afraid the alarm would screech again, and that my heart could not take it a second time. I laid in bed and watched TV, and around 5 am it blared again even though it was not armed. I called the alarm company and they sent a person out the next day but that person found nothing wrong with the system and looked at me like I was looney when I described what had happened.

So that's the story of how my 2008 started out. It did not bode well, and needless to say I am elated to be moving on to '09. I did not write about all this when it first happened because the violation and vulnerability were too raw. Even now it's something I think about nearly every day. I get gas at the station the thief used my card at. I wonder if my purse is somewhere in the bushes in empty lot next to it. But you know, life goes on, and every experience teaches you lessons.

Oh, and by the way, I spoke with the investigator assigned to my case several weeks after the break-in, and they did get the guy, although he claims a friend gave him the debit card. I filled out paperwork saying I wanted to know what happened in the case but never did hear. Part of me wants to know he's behind bars for a good long time--this burglary was a first-degree felony--but what if he isn't? Sometimes ignorance truly can be bliss.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for being vulnerable now and sharing this story. I know that was a very difficult time. I wish I had been there to sweep up glass and keep you company. : )