When I was in junior high, my siblings and I attended school in the same building (or next door to) where my mom taught English, so we all commuted together each day. One day in early December, when our tree was up and even had a few gifts beneath it from eager givers, we got home after school and we all swarmed through the front door to get inside. The first thing I noticed was that the coat closet door had been left open. I thought, “Someone left in a hurry this morning.” I pushed the door closed as I passed by to go farther into the room. I noticed a drawer pulled out of the hutch in the dining room. When I saw a piece of furniture out of place, it prompted me to look around in a new way, taking in the whole room.
As I processed the state of the room, everyone else was doing the same and putting together what it all meant. Gasps and exclamations starting coming from the rest of my family. We’d been burglarized. Gifts half-torn from their wrapping were strewn around the living room—small boxes that no burglar would be interested in once opened. They weren’t expensive pieces of jewelry. Only little trinkets, things a young teenager would make for her family, or other small token gifts that would mean nothing to a thief hungry for a big score.
It didn’t cross my mind—as it should have, especially being raised on TV—that the burglar might still be in the house. We should have dashed out of there and hightailed it to a neighbor’s to call the police. But instead, we all started to have a look around. The house was a mess. My parents’ dressers had their drawers pulled out, the contents dumped onto the floor. As a young teen, it was disturbing to see all the bras and underwear pulled out and draped around, almost like they were specifically targeted and touched. I decided I needed to go to the basement to see my own bedroom, to find out what had happened to my belongings.
In the basement, as I walked toward my room, I could see the light shining from my doorway into the hallway. I knew I hadn’t left it on. Someone had been in there. Suddenly it hit me that someone could even still be in my room. Did I turn and run as fast as I could? No. Stupidly, no. I can’t believe it now in hindsight. I remember the adrenaline slamming into my system in an instant, jump-starting my heart to reckless speeds. Breathing was almost impossible and my limbs were shaking. I slowly, laboriously put one foot in front of the other and moved toward that open doorway like a magnet was drawing me forward.
When I reached my doorway, I looked in, bracing for—I don’t know what. What was I thinking? Clearly, I wasn’t. Thank the good Lord in heaven, no one was in there. But stuff was everywhere. A total mess. Clothes stretched across every surface, projects and hobbies and more clothes over the floor, the bed a tangle of blankets and stuffed animals and still more clothes. Such a disaster, I couldn’t even walk in, not without stepping through a morass of stuff. Then I realized, as my heart started to drop back out of my throat, that it was exactly as I’d left it. It was in such disarray, not even a burglar would bother with it. Once we finished assessing the damage, my room was the only one untouched. The burglar had come through my sister’s unlocked window in her room across the hallway from mine. He’d messed with everyone else’s stuff, pulling underwear out in everyone’s room, except for mine.
The most significant loss was a rhinestone tiepin that had been my great grandpa’s. He’d been dear to my dad, who was saddened greatly that it was stolen. The thief also swiped several blank checks from the same drawer he’d found the tiepin. Soon after the break-in, he wrote out a check for $150 to himself, forged my dad’s signature, and cashed it. I saw the cancelled check myself. Pay to the order of—John West. Caught, red-handed! Well, you’d think. But no. There was a rumor the DA was crooked. Whatever he was, he wasn’t very effective or diligent. Even with the check made out to the thief and cashed, the DA told my parents there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. Or he didn’t want to. Or something. Nothing ever came of it. And we never got the tiepin or money back.
Recently my neighbor Jim had his car stolen. A few days later it was found abandoned with only minor damage so they towed it back to his driveway. When Jim turned it on, the stereo blasted horrible, deafening “music” that wasn’t his. A CD was still in the player, forgotten and left behind by the car thief. Jim carefully took it out (he’d watched TV too so he knew what to do), bagged it, and took it to the police for them to dust it for prints. They had him! Surely. Or not? In front of Jim, the officer dropped the bagged CD into a trash bin and said they didn’t have the resources to deal with it.
So, maybe our crooked DA when I was in junior high was just understaffed. It’s hard to guess what is really behind any situation. But at least, one thing I know. For all the work and risk John West went through, making sure to come when we were all gone for the day, checking numerous doors and windows until he found that one unlocked basement window, unwrapping so many tediously presents, sorting through all that laundry and lingerie, he didn’t get much. My dad, a musician, and my mom, a teacher, with four kids, didn’t have expensive, flashy things. At least when John West took my great grandpa’s tiepin to the pawnshop, he had to deal with the disappointment that it wasn’t a real diamond. So maybe John West learned his lesson then. Don’t steal stuff from poor people. Their belongings aren’t going to make you rich. They’re just going to make a real jerk out of you, John West. Worse than the Grinch. Way worse. Because at least the Grinch is just a cartoon.
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