He may be a crime fiction aficionado, but that doesn’t mean author Brian Haycock is so comfortable with the reality of crime — especially when it happens to him. If it’s happened to you, you know just how hard it is to feel compassion towards those who’ve victimized you. But could it be worth it?
I was only gone for a half hour. Forty minutes, tops. It was just a quick trip to the supermarket on a Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t in a hurry. I took the bicycle.
When I got home, I found the patio door open and the place trashed. I’d been robbed.
I called the police and waited two hours for a tech to show up and dust for fingerprints. I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t stop pacing. My computer and my backup computer. Gone. A printer. A DVD player. A leather jacket. A few tools. Gone.
I was thinking: Could it have been one of my neighbors? Someone who saw me leave and knew where I lived? What if I’d walked in on them? What if I’d spent a little less time at the store? If I’d come back five minutes earlier, could I have saved my computer? How much time is left on my lease? When can I move out of here?
The tech showed up and dusted a few surfaces. He saw a lot of these scenes, and he didn’t seem optimistic. He told me it happened a lot in my part of town. Usually it was a few guys out looking for trouble. It probably wasn’t one of my neighbors.
He said, “These people always get caught eventually. They’re not very smart.”
Sure, I thought, they’re idiots, but they’re playing video games on my computer right now.
It took a few days for the anger to die down. I was distracted, on edge. I needed to get some perspective on it. I had to take a wider view. But I knew it would take some time.
I added up the value of the missing items. The computer was a nice one, but it came from the Goodwill computer store. The backup computer was a ten year old iMac. The DVD player cost twenty dollars in a yard sale and I didn’t have a remote for it. There really wasn’t anything valuable. I thought I could replace everything for two hundred dollars.
Besides, they were only things. Possessions. Life isn’t about possessions.
And I realized something else. It was my own fault. I was careless. I know what kind of neighborhood I live in. It’s not the suburbs. Most of the people are pretty nice, but we all know there’s a crime problem. I’d gone out to the store and I hadn’t even bothered to lock the patio door. In fact, I probably hadn’t even closed it. I wasn’t sure. After all, I was only going to be gone for a half hour. Forty minutes, tops.
I’ll be more careful, starting now.
But the worst feeling was the sense of violation. The idea that strangers were in my home, helping themselves to whatever they could carry out. The idea that they could come back. That was the hardest thing to face, and it took weeks to get past that. But it’s just an apartment. It’s not me. It’s not really my home. It’s just a place to stay. A roof over my head. It’s temporary, impermanent. It’s not something to be attached to.
I thought about the people who’d robbed me. What were their lives like? Not so good, I’d guess. For one thing, they were burglarizing an apartment on a Sunday afternoon and getting a haul that would maybe bring in a hundred dollars. Split two or three ways, that’s not much. And sooner or later they would wind up in jail. They might feel like kings right now, but a week in lockup and they’d be having some serious regrets.
And I thought about what their lives had been like to this point. Again, probably not so good. These weren’t the best and brightest. These were people forgotten by society. People whose parents, neighbors and teachers might have given up on them early. People living each day knowing there really wasn’t much of a future for them. Seeing other people moving on, building a life. And having no idea how to build one for themselves. I’ve known people like that.
So I was able to find a little compassion for them. And not in a “They’ll get theirs” sense. I really do hope things change for them, even if it takes some jail time to convince them. Maybe they’ll find a better way of living. Maybe they’ll set out on their own dharma road. I hope so.
Strangers were here, and they took some of my possessions, but they’re gone now. I might as well let all of them go.