It was a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon. My boyfriend and I had been away from our house about 45 minutes to an hour, tops. But as it turns out, that's more than enough time for someone to break into your home, steal any valuables you might have and scare the living bejeezus out of your pets.
Actually, the average time that a burglar spends inside a home is 8-12 minutes so if my burglars had watched us leave the house and stayed the entire time, they were way, way above the average time limit.
But anyway, the story.
We were returning from doing a few errands when we came across a Subaru Outback parked in parallel to our driveway.
So I was already a little bit pissed off because what kind of inconsiderate asshole parks in front of your driveway? I know to some of you, the answer should have been obvious (ie., the people robbing your house, numnuts.) But having experienced very little hardship in the form of personal property theft at that point in my life, it in no way occurred to me at the time that someone might be robbing my house, let alone be waiting for me when I got there.
So in my naivety, I walked right up to the passenger side of the car, where a thin, brunette woman with oversized sunglasses was texting.
“Hi, excuse me?” I said.
The woman looked up at me with a blank expression on her face.
“Hi,” I repeated. “This is our house and you're blocking our driveway. Can you please move your car?”
“Oh,” said the woman. “I'm just waiting for someone! I'll be out of your way soon! Sorry!” And then she flashed me a fake smile.
“Thanks,” I said. And that’s when I turned around, started walking up toward my front door… and realized that it was wide the fuck open.
So I screamed as loud as I could because I am the absolute picture of composure in the face of peril. And then I turned around and saw that the woman had jumped over to the driver’s side of the car and was now rapidly speeding down our street. My boyfriend, substantially quicker on the uptake than I had been, was already on the phone with a 9-1-1 operator with the make and model of the car, as well as the license plate. Although we thought that this was a boon to us at the time, it ended up meaning diddly squat since the car was (of course) stolen.
By now, the woman had sped down our street and then up our back alley to pick up her companion from the back of our house. We presume that her ally was male based on the size of the monstrous shoe-print that had kicked down our front door. That’s right, kicked down. I mean, who does that? When you picture a break-and-enter, don’t you always just picture some guy in a ski mask slipping in through an open window somewhere? But no, as it turns out, the vast majority of burglars enter your home through the front door.
Anyway, after the scream, I raced into the house, which the cops later told me is absolutely something you should not do since any potentially dangerous intruders could be in there. But do it I did, whereupon I was immediately confronted with my very frightened dog, running in circles next to the front-door shrapnel.
People always say that to prevent a burglary, you should get a dog. And in most cases, that’s probably true. Dogs will bark and cause a commotion and therefore any potential burglars that are thinking about robbing your house will move on to an easier, quieter place where they’re less likely to incur any bites to the ankle. The problem was that MY dog happened to be a frail, deaf 14-year-old yorkie… and while she was pretty formidable when she was younger (seriously, little dogs can be scary!), she was definitely wasn’t what you would call a “guard dog” any longer. And since she was deaf, she wouldn’t have barked if the burglars had knocked or tried my doorbell first.
I scooped my dog up and then ran through the house, frantically looking for my cat. When I still couldn't find her after a minute or two, I broke down crying, thinking that she had gotten out through the broken front door. Luckily, we ended up finding her hiding under the bed later, a spot that she refused to leave for about two days after the break-in. I'm well aware of how lucky I am that both pets were unscathed and not missing; if you Google “burglary and pets lost,” you will find pages and pages of heartbreaking results.
The cops came fairly quickly after my boyfriend's call, though not soon enough to actually apprehend the people that were robbing us. Apparently they would have been at our house sooner but dispatch had “screwed up.” In any case, as soon as they arrived they drew their guns and did a walk-through of our house to make sure that it was safe to enter (or, um... re-enter). And then after that, they let us come back in, where we could assess how much damage had actually been done and then file an official police report.
The burglars had taken many of our electronics, including our two laptops and the power adaptors that had come with them. I had never backed anything up (worst mistake ever: all of you reading this, back up the shit out of your stuff!!) so I ended up losing tons of meaningful photos and documents that ended up being a lot more important than the actual laptops themselves. A lot of other electronics that weren't missing had been pulled out (like our Playstation), and clearly would also have been taken if we hadn't come home when we did.
And although most of what they took made sense, there were a few oddities that I still don't understand. Like a reading lamp shaped like a turtle that I got for my 13th birthday. I'm sure that the lamp was $30 bucks, tops. So did they take it just because they liked it? Was it now occupying their own bedroom? That was somehow more discomfiting to think about than the more expensive stuff that was taken, which could be easily sold at a pawn shop.
However, by far the worst items that were stolen were the jewelry pieces that belonged to my mother. You see, my mom died when I was 20. And any remaining maternal relatives I had died shortly after that. So it wasn't as though I'd be getting any other items from them ever again. The fact that any tangible proof I had that my mom ever existed had just now been whittled down to a few dusty photos and some cross-stitching memorabilia felt like a punch to the gut.
I tried to take some solace in the fact that the vast bulk of the necklaces and bracelets were just costume jewelry and worth maybe only a couple of bucks. But somehow it felt worse thinking that something with sentimental value to me would probably just be chucked in the trash somewhere as soon as it was discovered how cheap it was. There were also a few signature, more expensive pieces that were lost that had not only belong to my mom, but to her own mom and grandma. Thinking about the fact that my great-grandmother, grandma, and mom had managed to keep those pieces safe for decades and yet I'd only had them for a few years now and managed to have them stolen made me feel like the biggest fuck-up imaginable.
If you've never had your house burgled before, it feels like an incredible violation. People in your home, without your permission; touching, taking and discarding little bits of your life. Our new house, which was supposed to be a joyous thing, was tainted for us for at least a year afterward.
Our neighbours, who asked us if we “knew the burglars,” started to draw the blinds when we came home, as if we were somehow responsible for our own robbery. It took weeks before either of us felt safe leaving the house again. And when we did, we turned on the lights, put up the “Beware of Dog signs,” collared the pets (who were usually sans collars when inside) and left the radio or the TV on. Our entire routine just to leave the house had changed completely. Every time we came home and the house hadn't been robbed felt like a huge victory.
We held out hope for a few weeks that our stuff would be returned to us and that the culprits would be caught. After all, we had “caught” them in the act, so surely our case was already stronger than most break-ins, which happen when people are at work and are discovered long-after the culprits are gone. But with no news, we started to accept that we'd never get any answers or any of our stuff back.
However, at about the two-and-a-half month mark since the break-in, I got a call from the police saying that they had picked up someone who fit the description of the woman who had robbed our house. And since I had stared that getaway-driver woman right in the face, would I be able to come in and identify her?
The phone call renewed in me a sense that maybe I would get some justice after all. I had visions of me entering a room with a one-way mirror where I would see a line-up of about 10 easily distinguishable criminals. The woman in the Outback would be there and I'd shout, “That's her!” before they'd take her away for a lifetime of regret, bad food and lifelong yearning to make it up to the couple whose house she had burgled (clearly a very realistic scenario.)
The actual experience was obviously not that. The police decided to have me do a “photo lineup” instead of showing me actual people. A police officer who had nothing to do with my case or the woman's arrest was assigned to show me the photos, so that he couldn't bias me in any way. And then he proceeded to show me about ten mugshots, one at a time. All of them were of thin brunettes with extremely similar bone structures, facial expressions, eyes, hair and so on. I mean, clearly they were different women. But just as clearly, it became evident that I hadn't gotten as good a look at the woman in the Outback as I had once thought. About 10 seconds of staring at her sunglasses-obscured face combined with a few months of time to forgot about it did not make for good memory recall.
If it was a test I was taking in school, I would have failed on all accounts. The woman I ended up fingering as maybe the culprit wasn't who they had picked up, and probably wasn't even the one who had broken into my home. I was disappointed that this wasn't an end to the case but I accepted that that was just the way it was. And at that point I absolutely thought that that was the last I would ever hear about our burglary.
But maybe six months after that, a plainclothes officer came to my work to talk to me. Apparently they'd arrested a couple for possession and synthesis of drugs. And contained within the stuff they'd confiscated from their house was my laptop, which they identified by the presence of my resume on the hard drive. Since I work as a biochemist and because the woman they arrested was also an Alberta Health Services employee (like myself), the cop told me that initially he'd thought maybe I had something to do with the whole thing.
Eventually he'd found the report of my break-in that listed my laptop as being stolen and figured that's all it was. But perhaps not wanting to miss out on some kind of "Breaking Bad" scenario (that's my guess, anyway), he decided to come to my work anyway to “check me out.” He told me about the arrest and also threw the name of the woman at me, to see how I would react. I obviously didn't and he conceded that it was a long shot anyway. But since my laptop, as well as property listed in other break-and-enter reports, had been found, they were going to try to add burglary to what the couple was being charged with.
I can't really know if the couple that were arrested for drugs are the same ones that robbed my house. Maybe my laptop was sold to them by the actual culprits. But I can't help but really, really hope that it's them and that they've received at least some justice.