I had high hopes for April. I’d been cruising right along with the last of the major revisions to my novel-in-progress, bringing to an end a years-long writing process. My agent was headed to town toward the end of the month, and I’d planned to have a completed manuscript ready to hand to him in person. The sun was even starting to peek out in the Pacific Northwest. Things were looking pretty good for April until the evening of the 4th, when I returned home from teaching a class and discovered that someone had kicked down the door of my home.
I still don’t know how to write about this. In fact, I feel rather sick trying to tell the story at all. But the scene that followed was what you might expect–I raced around from room to room to discover what had been stolen. Computer, check. Jewelry, check. Family heirlooms, check. Everything of any monetary value had been taken. Quite a few things of irreplaceable sentimental value, too. Then there were the odd things: a stick of deodorant. A can of pepper spray I’d taken off my keychain before air travel. A battered suitcase that I’d dragged all over at least five countries. The more I looked through my home, the more details of my personal life I discovered had been rifled through. I turned on every light in the house, and I let them burn all night.
We called the police. I went to the neighbors to tell them what had happened. I shook. I tried to make a list of what was missing, and tried to draw pictures of my antique jewelry for the sherif, my hand wobbling. I remembered that my laptop had a tracking device that could be enabled remotely. I set an alert, and hoped it might work. I didn’t sleep that night, and sat bolt upright in bed every time the house creaked or a car drove by outside. (A car just drove by outside as I wrote this sentence, and I still jumped.) I thought about the two somewhat sketchy people I’d seen taking a walk in my neighborhood as I left for work, then felt terribly judgmental for suspecting them.
The next day, I was flummoxed as to what to do with myself; I couldn’t work on The Los Angeles Review. I couldn’t work on my manuscript. I couldn’t grade the papers my students had turned in online, or pull up my lesson plans for class; everything I needed–the entire rhythm of my everyday life–was on that laptop. Instead of accomplishing anything that I needed to do, I stayed in sweatpants and scrubbed every inch of my house. I washed all of our clothing that had been rifled through with the thieves’ I-don’t-know-where-those-have-been hands, scrubbed down the light switches and doorknobs and cabinet handles that the intruders must have touched. I went through a quantity of Lysol that can only be described in terms usually reserved for Howard Hughes. Just in case, I left one big, clear handprint the intruder had greased against the door.
When I eventually did get an alert that my computer had been located, I got in the car right away, and drove to the intersection that had popped up on the notification. When I got to the intersection and saw a rare coin shop, I tried my luck. I went inside and talked to the very kind people who worked there, and asked them to keep a lookout for my belongings, and for those two people I’d seen in my neighborhood. I don’t know what I thought I’d find when I went to that intersection–some criminal holding my suitcase full of my stuff?–or what I thought I would do about it. I felt rather stupid as I drove home.
I was back to my regular program of Lysoling my now thoroughly Lysoled house when the administrative assistant of the coin shop called me to come down to the store right away–the thief, the one I’d described to her, was on the ground in handcuffs after having been tackled by the police. His girlfriend, the second person I’d described, had fled, but not before dropping her (my) purse full of stolen property. One of the workers in the store actually chased her down the street in an attempt to catch her–a rather heroic move, I thought. The shop’s staff had done as they promised, and more, alerting the police when the couple came in to sell some of my things. The cops showed up quickly, and the couple ran–the police caught the man and his giant backpack full of my possessions, and one of the workers in the shop chased after the woman, though she eventually slipped away. The rest of that day is a blur of talking to police lieutenants, giving witness statements, identifying property (and answering questions I never thought I’d be asked, such as “I assume this isn’t your crack pipe, ma’am?” when a gross, crusty item was pulled out of the stolen purse), and being interviewed by newscasters. That massive handprint on my door was later dusted for prints, which matched those of the man tackled outside the shop. I then Lysoled the heck out of that door.
It was quite some time later when the police were able to give me back my laptop–the well Lysoled one from which I am now, happily, writing this blog post, and which has my still unfinished novel inside (thank goodness). In the interim, when all I could do was Lysol and re-Lysol the house, I realized that the thing I missed most was being able to work on my book. Yes, I am still missing lots of my stuff, including heirlooms passed down to me from my great-grandmother, and it makes me blazingly angry that these people took some irreplaceable things from our home without any compunction about it. Yet the only time I actually lost it–sat down on the floor and wept–was when I couldn’t work on the book that I’ve been writing. I didn’t just want to write it; I needed to. I still need to. And this laptop is never leaving my sight again.