Continued from yesterday. For those who wish to see the first part, it is located here:
Suddenly, I can’t breathe.
And it isn’t because of my cold.
I fumble a bit, pulling my cell phone out of my pocket. My hands are shaking but I manage to dial 9-1-1.
“911. What is the nature of your emergency?”
“My – my house is being broken into.”
“Ma’am, are you currently in the residence?”
“No – I’m standing outside.”
“Do not enter the residence, Ma’am. Remain in a safe place. We’re dispatching a vehicle to your location.”
I pace outside the lobby of my apartment building. Whoever it is… there’s no way they’d go out through the lobby, right? No way someone would just go waltzing out of my building carrying my stuff, right?
It only takes the cops a few minutes to get there and I’m grateful.
Apparently, two cops are the standard for a run-of-the-mill home invasion.
Hey, I should at least be grateful that they came in a car and I didn’t get stuck with the pony patrol, right?
The older one looks to be somewhere north of forty. It’s hard to tell just how far and he’s intimidating enough that I don’t want to ask. Tall, with dark hair over heavyset brows, just starting to go gray. The younger one is about my age…. When did I get old enough that there are cops my age?
His hair is a bit longer, sandy-blonde, with a paler complexion than his partner. They look so completely different from each other; I would never have put them together as anything. If it weren’t for the serious looks on their faces, I could almost pretend that they were neighbors, stuck together at some uncomfortable potluck and forced to make conversation.
I fill them in on what happened – walk, shadow, you know the drill – on our ride up to the fifth floor. I wonder, to myself, lest the police think I’m a psycho, if the robber took the elevator or the stairs. If he took the stairs, I suppose he must be one fit burglar – probably one who does a lot of cardio. But then, I figure, there probably aren’t a lot of fat burglars, are there?
I wipe my sweaty palms across my sweatpants, hoping to calm my nerves.
Someone’s been in my apartment.
Someone might still be in there.
We walk down the hallway and I point out my door. The door, I notice, hasn’t been broken into. It’s not hanging slack, like a broken limb. Like the doors always are on CSI. The door is still closed.
That makes sense, I guess.
Why announce “I’M ROBBING THE PLACE!!” with a broken down door if you don’t have to?
The older officer motions for me to stay back, while the younger one quietly tries the door.
And… it’s locked.
Why would it be locked?
What the hell kind of burglar locks the door after himself?
I see the two officers exchange glances as the younger one motions for me to unlock the door.
As quietly and efficiently as I can, I unlock it and push it open.
They rush in, moving through the door quickly, and more quietly than I would’ve thought, given that my entryway has a wooden floor.
I wait, holding my breath, outside my own door, as the officers move from room to room, I imagine, with guns at the ready. I hear nothing.
Finally, I let my breath out in one big whoosh, as the older officer sticks his head out of my front door and gives me the nod.
I walk back into my own living room just in time to see the younger guy holster his gun.
“The premises are secured,” the older officer tells me. “There’s no one in your home.”
“They really did a number on this place, huh?” the younger guy says, eyes roaming around the room.
This is the part where I blush bright red. My hand goes automatically to my neck, fingers turning the charm of my necklace round and round, in a tacit admission of shame. It’s what I do when I’m nervous or uncomfortable…. Somehow the edges of that charm against my skin bring me comfort.
“Actually… This is what it normally looks like,” I admit.
He’s looking around – at all of the fast food containers strewn across the couch, the Kleenex polka-dotting the carpet, the clothes and books tossed casually over furniture and stacked on tables.
“This is what it normally looks like?” he asks.
“Well, not normally, you know, but I’ve been sick and I haven’t had a chance to clean and…”
Why am I justifying my housekeeping habits to a pair of cops?
Oh, yeah… because I called them and told them my house had been broken into.
Because it has been…. Hasn’t it?
That shadow is just as clear in my mind’s eye as it was the moment I saw it. I swear I saw it…. But that doesn’t take the skeptical looks off of the cops’ faces.
Maybe, they suggest, using the reasonable tone one might use with a toddler trying to take a ride in the dishwasher, there was no break-in at all?
Maybe, they say, it was a little too much cold medicine? An over-active imagination?
Is anything missing?
No, I have to admit. I don’t see anything missing.
And given the fact that the door was locked, the way I left it, that nothing is rearranged and nothing is missing and there’s no sign of forced entry…. That maybe there was no break-in to begin with.
I should just admit it… There’s nothing in my house to steal. Nothing worth any money, anyway – unless someone’s super-desperate to get their hands on an old tv and a beat-up microwave. There’s no reason someone would break into my apartment in particular. I’m sure my neighbors have much nicer stuff, come to think of it.
I’m forced to give an ingratiating smile as I thank the officers. I offer them water or tea, along with half a pack of slightly stale cookies. They politely decline.
I know they’re laughing to each other about it as they leave the building. I suppose I should be grateful that they’re not mad at me for wasting their time or charging me for a false 9-1-1 call or something.
But here’s the thing: I know what I saw.
I know it wasn’t the effect of too much fresh air after being cooped up for so long. Or too much cold medicine. Or an overactive imagination.
I know someone was in my apartment. I don’t know why. I don’t know how they got in or what they wanted, but I know someone was here. I can see it clearly – that shadow crossing the lit window, stopping almost as if to look back at me, almost as if it knew I was watching and there was nothing I could do about it.
But there’s no way I can prove it. And there’s no one to prove it to, in any case… no one who would listen.
So I do my best to convince myself that I imagined it. I brew myself a strong cup of tea and take a shower before bed.
Toweling off my hair, I look in the mirror. I focus on my own eyes, deep brown with a few flecks of amber.
Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Did I imagine it? I don’t know.
I only look at my eyes for a few moments before a stray bit of sparkle draws my gaze downward. My necklace glimmers silver under the garish fluorescent bathroom lights.
It’s an odd little thing, but I find it comforting. I frequently find myself absentmindedly touching it, turning the charm around between my fingertips.
It’s an odd non-shape, really. Just some strange combination of metal and glass that someone thought was pretty at some point and strung on a chain. Maybe some sort of industrial byproduct? Some cogs someone fused together? I don’t know.
I say someone must’ve thought it was pretty because hardly anyone does. No one ever compliments me on it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even pay for it – whoever made it didn’t think highly enough of it to charge for it.
I got it in Israel last summer. I was buying a bunch of necklaces from a street vendor in Jerusalem – a handful of Stars of David and Hands of Miriam, mostly as souvenirs for my family and friends. I remember the moment, which is strange, since most of my trip is a blur – the man looked at me.
He really looked at me.
Mostly people, you’ll find, look at you but they really don’t see you. The cashier at the Starbucks looks at you, but only to give you change for your five. Your boss looks at you, but only to ensure that you understand what he’s saying. No one ever just looks at you and sees you for who you are in that moment. This guy did. He looked at me. And I watched as he reached under the counter and pulled out a little metal-and-glass charm on a little silver chain and gently tossed it into the bag with the rest of the necklaces.
“Free gift,” he said. “For you. I think you like.”
He didn’t speak a lot of English and I wasn’t about to refuse. I didn’t actually look at the necklace until later that day.
The chain turned out to be too short, so I’ve put the charm on a chain I already owned, but outside from that small change, I’ve worn it every day since then.
I like to think it brings me luck.
I very much doubt it will protect me from a home invasion, but I’m glad I have it anyway.
I bundle up in my pajamas and pop some Nyquil… I know I won’t get any sleep otherwise. I’ll be coughing all night, rolling over every ten minutes to destroy another tissue, not to mention worrying about strange men breaking into my apartment …. So the Nyquil seems like pretty solid choice. I gulp them down with what’s left of my tea.
I’ve already made sure that my front door is locked, but my hand hesitates as I close my bedroom door. Shaking my head at my own foolishness, I go ahead and lock it. I’m sure the flimsy lock on my bedroom door won’t stop anybody – hell, I could probably pick it, given a hairpin and a few minutes, but it makes me feel a little better as I tuck myself under the covers and try to fall asleep, assisted, more than a little bit, by those friendly blue pills.
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