André Kertész, 1965
A strange event occurred a few weeks ago: my house was broken into. At ten a.m., after dropping my daughter off at school and running a few errands, I unlocked the front door of my house only to find the entryway stacked with my husband’s cameras and, of all things, my ten year-old’s broken piano keyboard. In a household of six – three teenagers – unexpected piles for school projects, sports, overnights, randomly appear all the time. But something didn’t smell right. Literally, I smelled someone else.
I went into the kitchen to my desk and noticed my laptop was missing. (More than one laptop thief lives in my house.) But I didn’t understand what was going on until l I went into the bedroom and saw all my drawers on the floor, clothing strewn about the room. Then I knew someone had been in the house. Or was still IN the house. It’s odd what happens to the perception of time when you realize things are not as they seemed. I walked slowly and quietly to the front door and crossed the street to the neighbor’s lawn where I phoned my husband and then the police. After describing the scene, I was transferred to the County Sheriff. “They might still be in the house,” he said. “Stay where you are. We’re on our way.”
Within a few minutes, three police cars arrived. They had been patrolling the neighborhood already since ours was the fourth house hit in a few weeks. It was the first I’d heard of it. Two officers searched the house. A neighbor stopped to ask what was going on and reported seeing a large black truck just a half an hour earlier. Suspecting the thief was still in the area, the helicopter arrived next. That brought out the rest of the neighbors.
Eventually another neighbor was able to give a detailed description of the truck and a young man with a “aggressive” buzz cut walking out of our house that morning. We sent photos of the truck (a ‘white supremacist mega-truck’ as my daughter called it) to the police. A young man wearing my son’s Giants hat in a jacked up black truck was caught later that evening and booked in the county jail. Although the Giants hat wasn’t enough to link him to our house, I suspect the fact that he was transporting a quarter million dollars of heroin probably didn’t help his cause much. Or the used needles on the floor of the cab. None of our property has been recovered so we’re waiting for the lab to match up smudge prints left on the window. I don’t envy a heroin addict sitting in jail. Cold turkey can’t be fun, even under the best of circumstances.
I know that people are “burgled” all the time. (I’ve since learned to differentiate between a burglary and robbery – one involves weapons.) This isn’t a unique story. We were lucky that nobody was hurt. It’s all just stuff, after all. If I hadn’t given in to a caffeine craving (everyone is an addict of some variety) and turned around to go to the drive thru for a double macchiato, I probably would have walked in right in the middle of his ‘curation.’
However, stored on my laptop was everything and anything I’ve ever written. This includes a completed (unpublished novel), two half-finished novels, an entire collection of poetry, essays, and more than thirty short stories, not to mention hundreds of photos, music, my CV, etc. I had been meaning to back it all up, just as I had been meaning to send out all those query letters and submissions. Over the next few days I was overwhelmed by something akin to grief but more like nostalgia for all that lost work. But then, after a week, a new feeling overcame me: Relief. Relief that all the problems of those characters, their nagging, unresolved conflicts, their collective imprisonment in bad lives and even worse prose was no longer my problem. It was like the sudden silencing of ten thousand seagulls screaming for the last French fry.
In honor of this vanishing mob, I offer a few final words.
To the young slave woman of a futuristic South, pursued by a bounty hunter across an ecological dead zone where rivers glow with chemical luminescence – I hope you reach safety, I really do. Best of luck, remember to write, and turn north before you reach the Bible Belt where the zombies live.
To the rookie detective who meets a jaded cyborg informant in a San Francisco dive bar – don’t be fooled by the tarnished chrome; you’re being played.
To the old widow looking for clues about her dead parrot – it was your own sadistic cat that killed Sancho so stop blaming the neighbor. He’s got problems of his own.
Goodbye to the little Goth girl and her new friend- a gentle Samoan giant named Poi Boy – who helps her with a weekend bird count for a local wildlife refuge and becomes her loyal ally against the bullying high school jocks.
So long to the Holocaust survivor Morris Silver who, sitting in the car next to his wife of nearly sixty years who no longer recognizes him, experiences a sudden awakening when a few wild turkeys cause a ten car pile up on the 101.
Adieu to the sleep-deprived new mother in the haunted old farmhouse, kept awake by the ghost train in the attic that only she can hear.
To the free-spirited young woman drives her truck into a snow bank on Frozen Dog Road on her way to an isolated Wyoming ranch – your mother told you cowboys were trouble. You should have listened and you should have used chains.
To the middle-aged woman who flees a desk job to help study a rare albatross at South Atlantic research station, only to arrive and find the island barren, populated by spirits and full of hidden secrets – you’re better off so stop trying to get home. Your boss (like my most recent one) was a bona fide ass-wipe.
But for gentle David – I am full of remorse. After those endless hours spent practicing your violin in the old hermit’s cabin while your mother, abandoned by your father, scraped together a living in 1970′s Marin – you, David, deserved better than to waste away in a junkie’s loot pile, or to languish indefinitely in badly crafted words that could never do your music justice. Only music truly speaks for music.
As for my computer, the truth is still out there. The police didn’t have much to go on except for the few crumpled Venezuelan bills left on my dresser, possibly in payment for the $6.00 string of fake pearls from some past Halloween costume. My friend, a plain clothes policeman who works in Bay View/Hunter’s Point in San Francisco said of this decoy: “Oh, that’s classic. I’d be willing to bet the guy’s a suburban white boy who watches crime shows and is trying to pin the burglary on a Latino.” Along with the necklace, the thief took three guitars, two i-pods, my laptop, a desktop computer, my son’s brand new Giants hat and a Flower Fairy lock box full of seashells, poems, a few foreign coins, some special rocks and a secret letter written to a certain member of One Direction that belonged to my ten year-old daughter. This is where my compassion for a drug addict ends. Even the house itself seemed to be in a state of horrified shock at such an intrusion. Everyone could sense the residue of the thief’s groping, searching fingers, the violation and his desperation.
The burglary did have one positive outcome; it gave me cause to reflect on the bits and pieces of other people’s lives I have myself stolen, patched together, re-fabricated, painted with primer, peddled, discarded. Perhaps one botched heist deserves another. So it’s not with an entirely clear conscience that I say bon voyage to the MacBook. I wish you well, my plastic companion. Maybe someone in a distant future will redeem those entombed within your zeros and ones and show that wandering multitude of ghosts the way home.