My wife reminded me that it has now been one year since we were last broken into. She was partly reminded of this because our car was broken into last week, an incident in which only a cheap phone charger and several quarters were taken. This occurred despite having moved to a “nicer” area of the city, one in which we easily enjoy walks in the park and Greek festivals and fancy burritos. It is a neighborhood where we can walk freely, a stark contrast to our old one where I whimsically described myself as sticking out like a Chinese thumb on a black man.
The house break in was devastating. Little of value was taken, but it precipitated a chain of events that led to our flight from the house. Kids on the block knew who did it, and so did we, but nobody really talked about it. Every time I came home from work, every time there was a creak or a noise in the house, I would reach for either a taser or a baseball bat. We started having nightmares. We stopped inviting people over. We changed because it seemed that our relationship to the neighborhood had.
Yet during those two years in that old neighborhood, my car was never broken into. Not once. Perhaps it was partly because I had parked in a lot where, police have told me, thieves have “hidden” stolen cars (a poor choice of location for a crime upon a crime). Perhaps it was because my car rarely had anything worth taking in it. I still like to think it was because some of the neighbors simply knew my car and respected it as neighbors do.
In fact, one good neighbor came up to me before and asked, “Do you own golf clubs? I could have sworn I saw golf clubs in your house before.” This was a man who had confessed to me he suffered from PTSD and perhaps some well-deserved paranoia after being shot in the face some decades ago. He invited me over to his house to show me the golf clubs I knew weren’t mine, and when I told him I didn’t play golf or own any clubs, he looked very disappointed. “Oh man,” he said, “I saw them sticking out of a car in front of your house, and it was a guy I didn’t trust, and I swore I saw them in your house before and I thought he took them from you, so I took them back.”
This was one of the most lasting and touching memories of my time there for reasons I still can’t explain or understand. One year ago, our house was broken into and the thief only took some petty cash, leaving our laptops and other valuables alone. In this remembrance, this little anniversary celebration I am holding with myself and you, I wonder if the violence of theft is most meaningful in its representation of relationships and their absence. We knew who broke into our house but not our car, and I am not sure which one should bother me more: loss from betrayal in the context of a broken friendship, or the anonymous reduction of me as a neighbor to the value of my assets. It is as if by knowing the thief, I can feel that forgiveness is more difficult but more meaningful, and yet with a nameless perpetrator, I am robbed of even this dignity and somehow feel even less valued and more violated. How twisted is that? What has happened to me that I can even think this way?