It technically wasn’t my first apartment, since I had an apartment on campus during my sophomore year, but it’s the place that will always represent my first foray into independent living. It was a three bedroom crap-hole that was a little too close to the projects for comfort, but to my roommates and I it was perfect.
We lived there for less than 6 months before it happened. I had three roomates; one night three of us were at a movie while the 4th was working. When we got out of the movie, two of us headed home. We walked in the door and the first thing I noticed was that my bedroom light was on. It took only a few seconds for the rest to sink in. Closet doors open, contents of drawers on the floor, desk ransacked.
I immediately shoved my roommate back through the open door and called the police from the foyer. It was almost an hour before they showed up and during that time we figured out that there were no weapon-wielding delinquents in our apartment and ventured in to survey the damage. My laptop, my laptop bag (including all back-up disks and accessories from said laptop), my digital camera, my 35mm camera, some jewelry, and some other small things – gone.
I have never felt such anger towards someone I didn’t even know. The police finally came, and our
slumlord landlord opened up their office down the street to review the tapes from the security camera in the foyer.
They had this guy on tape. They had his fingerprints. But they never caught him. While I’m sure the Boston PD had bigger crimes to solve, it matters to me that the particular criminal that I wanted caught most was not caught. (Although in my fantasies he has faced a far worse fate. Like, say, the burning fires of HELL.)
Because what stayed with me long after the anger was gone, and long after I bought a new laptop and changed all my bank information, was the vulnerability.
Even though it certainly could have been worse, and I am so grateful that no one was home when he entered our home, it look me a long time to feel safe in that building. It was a scary thing, to think that someone had come into our home uninvited, had come into my room, had been through every drawer and every possession of mine and had taken whatever he wanted. I couldn’t stop ‘what iffing’ What if I had come home while he was in the house? What if we hadn’t gone to a movie that night? Would he have left us alone and found someone else to violate? Or would he have come in anyway, armed to the teeth? One option leaves that day without incident, and the other leaves things much worse than how they actually turned out.
It took a while for me to recognize it, but some good things did come out of that experience. I learned to be smart and protect myself. (No, not a shotgun. Renter’s insurance.) I learned to stand up for myself when it really mattered. (“Landlord, I think you really need to better protect the windows that face the alley. Oh, really, it’ll cost you more because of the fire codes? Well, tough shit, do it anyway.”)
I have many more good memories of my two years living in that apartment than bad ones. That was not the last time that I felt such a sense of vulnerability (falling in love with Matt, buying our house, changing positions at work). But it it is a memory that sticks with me as one of those times when life seemed to fast forward; when the distinction between life before and life after seems pronounced. And whenever I remember that night, I still wonder where my stuff went and I still hope that the guy who took it is rotting in hell.