It started off as a fairly typical Monday morning. Typical within Monday parameters anyway. My kid wasn’t home Sunday night. Rick stayed over but got up early to head into town for a standing Monday morning meeting. I snoozed. And then in typical Monday fashion I woke on my own shortly before 8:00 AM.
I stretched. One of those incredible stretches that leave you feeling as though your fingers might skim the sky while your toes push toward the center of the earth. And then I picked up my phone to gently advance into my workday. I read a few work related posts. Sent a friend a text about shoes. I opened up Twitter and was just starting to read some of my search columns when there was an urgent thud. That thud was closely followed by a few additional thuds. My pulse quickened and every bit of me tensed. But that’s pretty typical too. I’m an anxious person.
I forced a deep breath. I reminded myself that I have two frisky cats and that it’s not at all atypical for them to get into a brawl while I hide quietly in my room. Maybe Rick didn’t feed them before he left. Maybe they were feeling the onset of summer. Maybe Ripper, in the midst of a tense territorial struggle, gorged on one bowl of food and purged into the other to keep Spike from eating. It didn’t really matter. I could hear a flurry of activity out in the living room so I stood up to go negotiate a peace between them. But my heart wouldn’t stop pounding and there was a nagging feeling of otherness. I picked up my phone and scanned my dark bedroom.
What if. Just what if it’s not my cats. And no I don’t mean what if it’s not just my cats like that one time I thought there was a raccoon in my kitchen for no reason at all.
I scooped my jeans up off the floor and tugged them on. They zipped and I was confused because I thought the jeans by the bed were button-fly. And I grabbed my striped shirt from the top of the laundry hamper pulling it over my head. I didn’t want to go out there naked because what if. I picked up my glasses and shoved them hastily into place.
Despite all my thinking and dressing it had only been seconds. Moments. And my hands were shaking just a little as I picked up my phone and stepped to my bedroom door. Because what if?
I stepped out of my bedroom door and looked down the hallway to see a man with a red goatee standing in my living room. He’d been rifling through the odds and ends on top of my entry table.
And one of my cats started meowing. And the man who stood there in my living room in baggy shorts and a baggy shirt with a bandana on his head and a red goatee was standing there in my living room. Just standing there. Staring back at me. And you know, he looked pretty surprised to see me. So I said “Please leave.” And he ran toward my dining area and I stepped back into my room.
And I remember listening to the sound of him trying to open my sliding-glass door. Too much pressure. One heavy clunk followed by another. I was dialing the second 1 on my phone by the time I heard the third clunk. And I hit the green circle to start the call by the time I finally heard the seal on the sliding-glass door open because he had figured out that there was a metal pipe barring the door from sliding.
And my hands were shaking and my throat was tight and I had backed into the walk-in closet in my bedroom because it seemed like a good idea to get as many doors between me and that piece of shit with the red goatee as I possibly could. And the voice on the other end of the phone surprised me when it didn’t ask for the nature of my emergency but instead asked for my address. And I don’t know how I made words out of the sounds issuing from my throat but I told him exactly where I lived. Except that whole city part. “Portland?” he asked. I managed a yes. “I’m transferring you to the Portland call center.” he said.
And I felt trapped. And I wasn’t at all sure what I should be doing or where I should be when another voice came on the line almost instantly and this time she asked me the question I expected to hear “What’s your emergency?” And I told her voice that there was a man in my home.
And at this moment I can’t remember all the things I said but I know I didn’t sound okay because she had to ask me to calm down. Twice. She had thought I’d come home to find I’d been robbed. She didn’t understand immediately that I had been safe and snug in my bed only to hear someone force his way into my home. She dispatched police. She told me they were coming. With sirens. And at some point while I was on the phone with her, still standing in my closet with my foot near the heavy axe that I keep tucked by my file cabinet, I texted Rick.
There was more conversation with the 911 operator. I somehow explained more clearly what happened. She told me there were cars with lights and sirens blaring heading my way. She was very specific about the lights and sirens. Rick texted back. He was on his way.
And I remember that I was holding all the air in my lungs and it was then that I let it out. Her voice told me where the police were. I don’t remember the street but I remember thinking it was close. I worried about starting work and I couldn’t get Slack to come up on my phone so I texted a coworker forgetting that she was off with family in town.
The voice on the phone started asking questions. She wanted a description. I gave her one, but it wasn’t the best. He was a white guy with a red goatee. Not that tall, but I’m a horrible judge of height. Average weight, not heavy. His clothes were baggy. I think he was wearing shorts because I remember thinking shins. It would hurt him if I kicked him in the shin.
And I felt like I had totally failed. Like I should have remembered in that brief moment that I saw him and asked him to leave that I was going to have to describe him to the 911 operator. To the police. To my neighbors and friends.
I calmed down enough to accept that the man with the red goatee and baggy clothes wearing a bandana over his hair had really left and so I worried about my cats. I kept thinking that a man horrible enough to break into someone’s home would not be considerate enough to close the sliding door as he fled. I told the voice that I was going to go into the living room to look for my cats.
She told me she would stay on the phone.
Ripper was there meowing and stressed. Circling my feet. Head-butting my ankle. Spike was gone. I called his name. The voice told me the police were nearly to my place and asked me where I was, where I would be. And I told her I was in my living room looking for my cat. She told me there would be a K-9 unit and asked me to try not to walk where the man with the red goatee had been.
And that’s when I got angry. Really fucking angry. Not with the voice but with that stupid fucked up breaking and entering thieving piece of shit who had forced his way into my home. I couldn’t step where he stepped. I couldn’t touch what he touched. And I started shaking and I told the voice that I would just stand in one place.
I told her that my boyfriend was on his way because I didn’t want the cops to arrest him or something. She asked for his name and for a description. Thankfully I was able to describe Rick more accurately than the burglar. The voice told me an officer had arrived and would like me to go outside if I could. That she would stay on the phone with me until I saw Officer Saunders.
I carefully walked to my front door not knowing where I should step and unlocked both locks, turned the knob, and stepped into the bright sunlight. It occurred to me then that I wasn’t wearing a bra or shoes and I suddenly remembered evacuating my hotel room in Philly a little more than a week ago at 2:30 AM when the fire alarm sounded. Throwing on clothes, running down 5 flights of stairs. Barefoot. With no bra. I was clutching my phone then too.
I saw the officer down at the sidewalk looking around and I breathed. “I see the officer” I told the voice. “You can hang up now.” She said something comforting and I remembered how helpful she had been. I couldn’t remember if I had thanked her and that seemed wrong. I thanked her and hit the red button to hang up. I walked a few steps down the driveway and stood very still glancing at my gate which was wide open.
The officer came to meet me. And we talked. I know we talked. She introduced herself and told me what would be happening but I can’t remember any of it. We stayed outside for a little while and I tried to call my team-lead but the voicemail message was unfamiliar. I wasn’t sure if it was the right number and I hung up.
And honestly it gets boring from there – with a few comical asides mixed in because such is life.
The officer was wonderful. She was careful, considerate, and kind. I asked if I could close the screen door to keep my cat in. She said of course. I mentioned my missing cat and she couldn’t help but notice the cat that wasn’t missing as he mewed for attention, both hers and mine. She asked if the K-9 unit would upset him. Yeah, it would. So I moved him to my room and closed the door. There was more conversation and I shifted nervously feeling naked and exposed in my own home. I asked if it was okay for me to go put a bra on and I felt like I was in grade school asking permission to go to the bathroom. She laughed and told me that it was, of course, okay. That I should pretend she wasn’t there.
If I’d pretended she wasn’t there I don’t think I could have continued to breathe. I told her how relieved I was that my daughter hadn’t been home and she hugged me. I thought it would be awkward she was so laden down with her vest and gear, but it wasn’t. I felt grateful. I felt privileged.
And then out of the corner of my eye I saw movement outside the front window. Rick showed up and as I opened the door he hugged me. I thought he would crush the air from my chest as he held me and I was thankful for the tight embrace. He made coffee and Officer Saunders took more details for the report. I could hear another officer in my yard. Officer Saunders answered a call on her phone. Rick went out to look for Spike.
I think this may have been when I realized that the metal pipe I used to keep that sliding door shut tight, my makeshift metal security measure, was gone. He’d taken in with him. But left the machete which rested by the sliding door. He stole my security pipe?!
Another officer came inside to show me a picture to id. He stood behind my couch and I sat on my knees backwards on the couch like a child. Ripper rammed his furry head into the officer’s hip and meowed for affection. And he showed me a picture of a guy who was quite probably the stupid fucked up breaking and entering thieving piece of shit with the red goatee and bandana who had forced his way into my home by ripping out the window-mounted air conditioning unit in my dining room. He was taller than I thought, but that’s no surprise. I’m bad with height. And I still couldn’t cry but at least I could breathe. Rick came back with no cat. Officer Saunders told him to make sure I didn’t work today. To get me to just sit. To breathe. And then she left. And the door was closed. And it was locked just as it had been an hour earlier.
Rick and I stood at the table sipping coffee. Me staring blankly. Rick rescheduling meetings. Me signing into work to sign off work for the day. Reason for day off?
“Other – I left my bedroom this morning thinking I was breaking up a particularly unruly catfight in which things were being knocked to the floor only to discover a burglary in process in my home. I am more than a little freaked out at the moment and one of my cats is missing.”
We drank coffee as I stared blankly. Rick asked if I called my parents. No. So I called my dad. It’s weird since folks have gotten rid of home phones and moved to cell phones a clear line has been drawn. Even though they’ve been married since before the invention of dirt there are definitely things I call my daddy for and things I call my mom for. Home invasion, be it rodent or human, seems to be a daddy call. But though I called my dad my mom answered. And I was mum on the reason as she called him inside to talk to me. But in that pause things started to sink in and my personality started to take over.
When my dad picked up the phone and I told him what had happened. About the burglar. About the missing cat. Things clicked and I laughed.
“I know Spike is missing but I’m pretty sure the guy wasn’t a cat burglar.”
“At least you still have a sense of humor” my dad said.
I think I’ll have that until they pry it from my cold dead fingers.
Because despite the invasion. Despite the attack on my space. Despite real harsh life seeping in. I’m still me.
Rick paced. I got off the phone. “I’m pretty sure Spike is under the couch,” he said.
In a display of super human strength, I tipped the super light Ikea sofa onto its back legs to find my fat black cat cowering. He looked up at me and mewed. He stretched, stood up, glanced from left to right, and then sauntered out of his hiding place. He was still unusually quiet.
And I finally cried.
It was then that Rick went into action mode. Fixing solving safe-making mode. I caught a glimpse of sheer anger on his face. Really, it’s one thing to fuck with him. That’s something he will deal with calmly. It’s something else entirely to fuck with someone he loves. He started pacing the backyard. Trying to uninstall the bracket for the air conditioner in the dining room. Doing the things he needed to do.
He needed to do things.
The bolts holding the bracket in place for my air conditioner were stripped and we didn’t have a Phillips head large enough so I called my daddy again. He brought one out. More action. More movement. More breathing. With the bracket out we moved on. Daddy left. Rick fixed a bolt through my gate latch. Then secured the gate with spare cinderblocks. He uninstalled the air conditioning unit in my bedroom.
And then all I wanted was to rest. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight,” I told him. He asked if I could sleep then. In the afternoon. With him in the other room working. I tried.
And it wasn’t that I didn’t feel safe. Because with him here I did. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t tired. Because I really was. But I couldn’t sleep. I could close my eyes. I could feel the weight of exhaustion. But I could also imagine a thousand scenarios in which the piece of shit with the red goatee broke into my home and took what was dearest to me. Not my things. Not my stuff. My safety. My security. My peace.
So now with both my window air conditioning units uninstalled, we move into the hottest week Portland has seen in a while. It’s going to be hot. 105 on Saturday. And I’m going to be bitchy. And angry. Not so much because of the sweat. But because I feel like it’s my fault that the scumbag broke in. Because I left myself vulnerable. Because I had not one but two window air conditioners. Because I made it possible for someone to force their way into my home.
I’m engaged in my very own round of victim blaming. But at least I’m wearing a bra and I know where my kid, my cats, and my heart are.