Please Stop Robbing Me

This afternoon, I installed a bigger version of the message that was already in my window. It’s a yard sign that says PLEASE STOP ROBBING ME. (I also attempted to say this in Spanish, but being a non-native speaker I decided to cover that part with tape.) It’s like the “we’re glad you’re our neighbor” signs. Ironically, I agree with that message too – unless they keep breaking in, of course.

Predictably (?), the sign was an immediate conversation starter. It makes people uncomfortable, but that was part of the point. It even amuses me, because I’m feeling liberated from the all-is-well routine. Perhaps people feel when I have fortified the house to my satisfaction, I will no longer feel the need to publicly say something so uncomfortable. That may be true, but in the meantime I have an excellent reason to keep saying something else: what happened here is not okay, and I want to speak publicly about it, without shame. I admitted to a neighbor that doing it via yard sign was a weird thing to do. But if you’ve experienced what I have you might do something “weird” too.

Admitting that I am vulnerable is hard, but also freeing. It is obvious by now that I am not in complete control of who enters my home anyway. It was suggested that I might be placing myself in more danger by a public proclamation. It elicited conspiracy theories and anti-burglary tips, including the ever-popular canine acquisition strategy. Meanwhile, I very intentionally did not print a sign reading “PLEASE GIVE ME ANTI-BURGLARY TIPS!” I’ve noticed most tipsters have not been violated themselves.

I have not heard anything from the police.

The Second Time: April 6, 2017

If you’re looking at this page, you probably saw my sign about the home break-ins/robberies I have experienced at 919 Carolina. The first time was in November and you can read all about it below. You can also read a little about me on the intuitively named “about me” page.

Today I will talk about my second experience with this, April 6, 2017. Again, it felt like a relatively normal day when I arrived home. As I approached my door, I noticed the floor mat was slightly off. The sort of thing many people wouldn’t notice or care about, but having been violated once before, my guard was already up. I unlocked the door and peeked in to check on the TV, as had become my habit. Lo and behold it was gone, again. I was in shock that I was living this nightmare, again.

I called 911, again. I surveyed my house to see what was missing, again. They started by cutting a back window screen open like the first time, but were foiled to find that window locked. At some point they forced their way through the back door and promptly set to work disassembling my living room cabinet so they could remove the TV. They popped into my bedroom and took what was left of my jewelry – nothing of real monetary value, but things I valued for what they meant to me. Pacing around the house wondering what I had done to deserve this, again, was a decidedly bad feeling. A rock was left on the carpet, as if they tried to throw it through the window. They didn’t bother closing the back door.

I wanted to cry, but couldn’t muster the energy somehow. I was numb. The police arrived and walked around with me. They asked for my ID and the serial number of my tv, but otherwise had nothing in particular to say. We stared at each other for an awkward few minutes. I was handed a card with a police report number and left to my thoughts.

Everything that happened in November came rushing back, along with a feeling that the same invaders were back. They watched me, and waited; gave enough time where they would feel confident I bought more things for them to steal. They brought their weapons back, cut and pried their way into my house, and drove away with whatever they thought was worth taking.

Again, I felt tremendous shame and guilt that I had somehow provoked this. That maybe I was violating everyone else’s peace by bringing this to light. And that if I admitted it or mentioned this happened, I would receive another round of unwanted hints that started to feel a lot like blaming.

I considered giving up and moving out for about half a second. Then went on a shopping spree for more security paraphernalia. I tried to sleep, without much success. To my surprise, the next morning I felt like mentioning my experience on the neighborhood listserv. What I got back was supportive, and helpful. I started to feel it was worth it to stop pretending everything was fine. It actually felt good to talk about these otherwise tremendously negative experiences.

I’m not naïve enough to think that someone who robbed my house would be motivated enough to read a sign, and a blog, and then change their mind about invading my home again in the future. But right now I feel like asking for this to stop. So I have, and just doing that makes me feel a little better about the future.

So stay tuned. If and when I survive yet another of these, I’ll share it here. The same goes if either crime is ever solved. What I won’t do is pretend that I’m okay with people invading my home anymore.

The First Time – Aftermath

After that first time, I slipped into what I can now recognize as a depression. I kept visualizing the invaders walking around my house, touching my things, sizing up what was worth taking. I wondered if they would’ve hesitated to use that knife on me. I wondered if anyone walked by, suspecting nothing – or suspecting something but carrying on.

I told a few people. They all meant well, I’m sure. I wouldn’t have the perfect reaction either, but it was rough. Some gave blank stares. A few expressed sympathy. Most offered unsolicited suggestions about how to improve home security:

Get a dog!

Get a security system!

Install new locks!

I have a magic doorbell that allows me to see and talk to people through my cell phone!

You should move to Raleigh where it is much safer!

These “helpful hints” began to infuriate me. They implied that if I had been a better citizen this wouldn’t have happened, which in turn implies that this was my fault. I was feeling isolated and ashamed, yet I was supposedly living in a great neighborhood where people lived for decades with no problems.

I withdrew more and more, gradually speaking to no one about it. I didn’t want their advice and I hated the way I felt when talking about it. I subconsciously felt that speaking of this trauma made me look weak. Plus, had I inadvertently done something to deserve it – should I have gotten a cheaper car? (It’s a lease, in case anyone cares.) Maybe picked a smaller TV? What if a repairman or passer-by decided I deserved to be brought down a notch? What if I had been more outgoing, nicer to my neighbors so they would watch out for me a little more?

Often I tried to pretend it never happened. Yet every day when I got home, I would habitually glance in the living room before I stepped in. If the new TV was still there, I figured I was safe. I repaired the damage as best I could, bought a few items of replacement jewelry, and took various steps to make it harder to get in (and out) of the house. I browsed a pawn shop and pondered the ridiculousness of “shopping” for stuff I already owned. I even tried to find some gratitude that they did not break anything in the house. I hid the few valuables that weren’t taken and told myself this was a freak thing that wouldn’t – couldn’t – happen again. There was no way of knowing I would be proven wrong just a few months later.

Here are some things I recommend saying if you ever have a friend or loved one experience this (or any crime, really). Please do not give them unsolicited advice about how to avoid future crimes. Please do share if you have been through a similar experience and how you got through it. Thank you to the kind and supportive people who said these things.

I’m sorry.

I have been thorough this too.

I know this is not something you can get over quickly.

I know from experience that the worst part is not losing stuff, but the violation of your space and feeling of safety.

And one “tip” that was actually helpful: Theft losses can be tax deductible (Uncle Sam later determined I didn’t qualify for this, but it’s a real thing)

My First Time: November 16, 2016

Never did I think I would be referring to a break-in/robbery/burglary as “my first”. But it wouldn’t be the last, so let’s start here.

I got home from work. It was a seemingly normal Wednesday. A Time Warner van was parked at my new neighbor’s house. I was thinking of going out to dinner somewhere – maybe the delicious Little Dipper in Brightleaf. I unlocked the door as usual and dropped my purse in its usual spot when I noticed a penny on the floor….

Now, most people probably wouldn’t think much of a penny on the floor. But I am a serious neatnik, and don’t just leave stuff laying around. Something was wrong.

I turned around toward the living room. To my shock and horror, the cabinet had been moved and the TV was gone. Just gone. I called 911 and started searching the house.

They ransacked the bedroom, left drawers open, went through my underwear and socks. They took my jewelry box. I fully acknowledge that jewelry is basically just metal and rocks that may or may not be worth a little bit of $$. And yet, there were things in there that told the story of my life. The bracelet my mom gave me the day I started fourth grade. The necklace my (now deceased) dad gifted me. The diamond bracelet he let me pick out – I remember agonizing and feeling guilty that it cost $125. That seemed like too much to spend on anything! Practically every Christmas and birthday since I was born was in that box.

They spent plenty of time exploring the rest of the house, but it seems they didn’t find much else worth stealing. Except for my 20 year old LL Bean backpack with the Rainbow Brite keychain, the keychain so old I can’t remember where it came from. But that backpack went with me all over the place. It was the first thing my at times painfully shy self had ever worked up the courage to call and order from a catalog (this was before online shopping). I couldn’t figure out why someone would bother stealing a decades-old backpack; but later realized they probably used it to carry out the jewelry.

An officer arrived. We looked around together. I couldn’t tell how they had invaded my house at that time. But we could tell they let themselves out the front door and carried my stuff right out – perhaps along with a little bit of my sanity. They didn’t even bother closing the front door. Later, I saw they had cut one of my window screens but found a locked window, which of course means the invader(s) were armed with a knife. I later realized they found an unlocked window, slid up the screen and let themselves in.

The officer told me that anyone who thought people weren’t walking around their house, checking it out, was fooling themselves.

To my surprise, a very kind and professional detective called the next day. With everything else going on, the fact that Durham PD would even bother looking into something like this impressed me. Deep down, though, I had a sinking feeling the invaders would get away scot free. So far that feeling has proved right.