Friday, May 1, 2015
Home Invasion: an April Fool's Day Surprise
On April 1, 2015, I had plans to look at a condo with my husband before work. At about 10:00 am I jumped into the shower. Forty minutes later, I was dressed and ready to go.
I walked into the kitchen and almost stepped on a notebook and piece of paper on the floor. I thought "That's odd - the cat never knocked anything off the counter before."
I glanced at the counter and realized that my purse was not there. I was sure I had parked it on top of the notebook and piece of paper - my daily "parcel to go." But I thought, Well, maybe I put it someplace else. I'll look for it later.
The idea occurred to me that someone might have entered our house during the little more than half-hour while I was showering and getting dressed, but I thought, Naahhh....
I had to keep moving to get to my appointment on time. I walked downstairs and immediately noticed that the door from the screen porch to the family room was wide open, I mean wide open. I thought Well, sometimes Mike leaves that door slightly ajar. Maybe it blew open.
The idea occurred to me that someone might have entered my home through that door - that someone might still be in my house. Yet again, I thought, Naahhh.....
I didn't want to believe my home had been invaded, but a chink was forming in my disbelief. I thought, I should check upstairs to see if my laptop is still there, but I was in too big a hurry, and unwilling to entertain the possibility that we had been burglarized.
Using an extra car key, I drove to the condo. After Mike and I viewed it with a realtor, I told him about the disappeared purse. I asked him for some cash so I wouldn't be broke. He handed me a couple of twenties, looking as puzzled as I felt.
I drove to Waukesha County Technical College and taught my creative writing class as I do every Wednesday afternoon. Then I drove to visit my young friend Maria and my "adopted" grandchildren, as I do every week after teaching.
I told Maria about my missing purse, and about wondering if it had been stolen. Maria is a door-locker, but she lives on a busier street than I do. Our area is semi-rural and we hadn't locked our screen porch door since we moved there almost 34 years ago. Most of my neighbors - and many friends who live in Menomonee Falls - have told me that they keep one house door unlocked.
When Maria's husband, Chuck, came home and heard my story, he said, "You're not going home until I make sure it's safe." He left immediately for my house, ten minutes away.
Shortly afterward, he called. "I looked everywhere. There's no one here," he said.
"Can you check in our office and see if my laptop is on the desk?" I asked.
"Sure," Chuck said. I could hear his footsteps as he walked into my office. Then, "No, it's gone."
Now I knew for sure. Someone had invaded my home. While I was in the shower. During the time I washed and dressed, this person had walked past my closed bedroom door, within feet of me, to reach my office and take my laptop.
Yes, it is so so so so creepy.
After I was sure we had been burgled, I said goodbye to Maria and her children and went straight to the Menomonee Falls police station to report the theft. What followed were a few hours of police investigation, including two on-duty officers and three detectives.
The police told me that I should have reported the theft immediately (but I didn't believe it to be true immediately). They told me that having Chuck come over was the worst thing for them, since his hand on the door knob made it impossible for them to dust for fingerprints. (I too had touched the doorknob.)
Over all, I received nothing but kindness from the police. When I tell the home invasion story now, I find it so bizarre that I'm not sure I would have believed it myself, had I been one of the officers.
What followed that cruel April Fool's joke has been a month of trying to put together the pieces of my life that were stolen in my purse and laptop. There were days and days of tedious work for Mike and me. Luckily, I don't have a full time job, or I would have needed to use vacation days for the many phone calls and visits to the bank, the Verizon store, Office Max, and so on. I talked to our insurance agent and after considering how our premium would be raised, we decided not to make the claim for about $1,500 worth of loss.
A weird note: while I was getting my new phone in the Verizon store, three young men strolled in, grabbed three of the most expensive display phones, and ran out. My Verizon salesman explained that store employees have a "no chase" policy, and thieves clearly know it. Shortly after that day, I learned that there's been a rash of robberies in the Falls, including identity theft.
Years ago, I lived above my grandma in the duplex she owned. I used to laugh to myself when I saw Grandma stash her purse in her linen closet. She never left it in plain sight. I thought she was paranoid; now I wish I had been a little more paranoid. If my purse had been hidden, I'd still have it. You can imagine what was in it: identification, credit cards, medical insurance cards, personal checks, unused gift cards, blah blah. Today everything in my purse is new, including a driver's license. (At the DMV, I had to decide all over again how much I was going to lie about my weight.)
I haven't begun to re-create the files I had stored on the hard drive of my laptop. Luckily I had some items saved in an external hard drive. And I'm working on a new book, which I had e-mailed to myself, thank God. I did purchase a new laptop, but Mike and I still haven't figured out how to get it humming with WiFi and our printer.
Of all the material things, the saddest loss was my grandmother's rosary. It lay in its beautiful little pouch in the bottom of my purse. It was beautiful - big crystalline beads with a sterling silver crucifix and miraculous medal. And it is absolutely irreplaceable. I wonder if the thief sold the silver to support a drug habit.
The cops theorize that the burglar saw the "for sale" sign on our front lawn while I was in the shower, knocked on the door to feign interest in buying the house, and searched for entrance when I didn't answer. It's an old scam.
People ask if I feel violated. I'm not sure. I still have a general feeling of disbelief, and horror about what could have been. I'm grateful that I was not physically harmed. I have definitely lost my sense of safety. I keep my purse and laptop out of sight when I'm not using them (Grandma would be proud of me). I called the realtor and asked her to remove the "for sale" sign. I check and re-check the door locks before I go to bed. Every time I return home, I wonder if it's been broken into. Is this what people mean by "feeling violated"?
The burglary has changed our habits. Mike and I now lock all of our doors (with their new locks). Every time we come home and have to grope for a key, we grumble vulgarities.
When I replaced my purse, I bought a brown one for the first time in ages. I used red purses for many years because I'm superstitious. I used to laugh and joke, "If I were money, I'd want to be in a red purse." I don't want a red purse anymore. I guess that's superstitious too.
We used to joke about our "Welcome burglars" screen porch door. No more.
People have said to me, "You are one cool cucumber," for the way I reacted to the theft. I don't think I'm so calm; I just tend to not believe bad things happen. I'm slow to panic, and that's a trait sometimes not conducive to survival.
Years ago my daughter, her friend, and I were snorkeling when we felt ourselves being swept into a riptide in the Atlantic ocean. I reached a big coral rock, grabbed each girl, and held on as the water tugged at us. I weakly called "Help" to people on the breakwater above. Anna, my daughter, quickly had enough of my half-hearted efforts. She screamed "HELP!" so loudly that within seconds we had big strong young men pulling us off the rock and onto the breakwater.
I thought of the riptide incident during the sleepless night after the burglary. I don't know why I'm slow to panic; it's just the way I'm made.
If there's a next time - for a burglar or a riptide - I may shout "Help" more quickly, more loudly.
PS: I had a little sign right beside my purse. It was a mandala I had colored in, along with these words I had written on it: "Open your heart to God....Be a channel of blessings." I wonder if the thief saw it.
Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, and Dessert First, all available from Amazon.com.