Generally speaking, anniversaries are nice things, annual celebrations of some joyous life event. A birth, a marriage, a first date, the day you started a job, the day you started doing something you love. But sometimes, an anniversary is NOT such a nice thing. A death, the day your parents’ divorce was finalized. These are dates of sober reflection, solemn remembrance of a time you might not want to remember but was a significant moment in your life.
For me, today is a combination of the two. Because today is the first anniversary of the night my apartment got broken into and my car was subsequently stolen.
On April 2, 2012, at approximately 11:45pm, I had just gotten to sleep when there was a knock at my apartment door. In my groggy, mostly asleep state, I was awoken by said knock and unable to fully comprehend what was happening. I think I was just awake enough to muse, “Was that my apartment, or the one next door?” when the banging started. At this point fear began to take over (as at the time I lived in a rather not-nice part of town) and I froze, huddled in my bed and STILL trying to understand what was going on.
Fortunately, the sound of a door being successfully kicked in is unmistakable.
I also fully understood that the stomping footsteps and light now coming from the living room meant that there was indeed an intruder in my apartment. This is where the fight-or-flight response kicked in. I looked at the patio door, fully realizing that A) opening it made a hell of a lot of noise, and B) there was a fence around my patio over which my Middle-Eastern dance and bellydance fusion classes had NOT prepared me to leap. The only other exit to the apartment was through the living room, where the intruder(s) was(were) currently stomping. Flight was not an option.
My fight response chimed in with, “Well, if I’m going to get raped, I’m not going to sit here and wait for it.”
I put on my glasses, grabbed my cell phone, and dug silently in my closet for the one makeshift blunt object I could think of: my baton case (filled with three batons, which hurt a lot when you are hit with them) from twirling in high school. I slung that over my shoulder like a baseball bat and crept down the short hallway from my bedroom to the living room…which felt like the longest hallway of all time. At last, I stood at the very edge of the hall, just out of sight of anyone in the living room, and took a steadying breath.
I will give you exactly the description I gave to the police: the intruder (I only saw one) was African-American, about six feet tall, lean, with a little facial hair and a flannel shirt that was plaid (maybe) and a black beanie…How they never found him with such a detailed description, I don’t know (in case you missed it, that was drenched in sarcasm). I only saw him for about a second, because as soon as I came around that corner, screaming something to the effect of “What the fuck are you doing in my house!?”, he bolted out the front door and closed it behind him.
And the only thing he successfully got away with was my keys.
I celebrate this anniversary with a grain of salt, as while it was the most terrifying experience of my entire life, I learned a lot from it:
Lesson 1: Don’t leave your keys on a table by the door.
Pretty self-explanatory, I think…
Lesson 2: I am a tough cookie.
I had never really thought of myself as a tough person before all this happened. I’m not a big fan of pain. I don’t understand why anyone would ever want to play sports of any kind, much less high-contact sports like boxing or rugby or roller derby. (Not that I have anything against people who play any of those sports, it’s just not my thing.) I can’t even change a tire by myself, not because I don’t know how, but because I’m not physically strong enough to get the lug-nuts undone.
But when I had a chance to reflect on it, and heard about a zillion comments from other women to the effect of, “Wow, I don’t know if I could ever do that,” I realized I’m a lot tougher than I thought. To be honest, my thought process—“If I stay here and cower and they find me, they might think I’m ripe for the taking. But if I make them think I’m a fighter, maybe they’ll think twice about hurting me,”—was directly and completely based in terror. But that’s what courage is: doing something even though it is scary. I wasn’t just making that burglar THINK I was a fighter, I SHOWED him that I AM a fighter. I showed myself that I am a fighter. I know now what I would do in that situation. I am not weak. I am strong—and if that burglar had anything to say about it, I can be downright scary.
Lesson 3: I have truly amazing friends.
Friends who would come sit with me in the middle of the night waiting for maintenance to fix the locks on my front door. Friends who would sleep on my floor and soothe me at two in the morning when I had panic attacks about sleeping in my own bed again. Friends who would let me live with them rent free for half a year while I got over the fear and finally found a new, safer apartment. Friends who would loan me the money for my car insurance deductible when the police found my car, and let me pay them back whenever I could. Friends who would drive me to and from work when I ran out of rental coverage while the body shop was still fixing my car. Friends who would help me move all of my stuff into storage, then out of storage, for absolutely nothing in return. Friends who would hold my hand and hug me when I freaked out about random stuff that had nothing to do with the break-in, but made me think about the break-in and the trauma and the violation I felt.
I was always the kid with few to no friends growing up. My siblings were both in school by the time I was old enough to play, so for the most part I had to learn to play alone. When I got to school, I bounced between groups of friends, never quite fitting with any of them. I was painfully shy, and at the same time a little too trusting. I had my fair share of hurts and betrayals, maybe more. And by the end of high school, there were only two people from my class with whom I would even consider keeping in touch.
Looking back, I know now that a lot of that was my environment: I was the one weird kid in my class of 75, while at a larger school I might not have been so very alone. But by the time I found all the other weirdoes at college, and then through dance, I was ingrained with the idea that someone truly liking me must be a rare thing, if not impossible. I still struggle with that cynical voice in the back of my mind, wondering if my friends are just tolerating me and my weirdness out of some (purely imagined by me) form of necessity.
And then, that fateful night made everything very clear. Yes, there were a few “friends” that faded into the woodwork, but there were far and away more that were with me every step of the way. I have a whole parade of friends who not only like me, they LOVE me. And I have no idea how I can ever completely express my gratitude.
Take that, stupid little cynical voice!
There are a host of other little things I learned through this experience, such as There is nothing so comforting as a baseball bat and a can of mace meant for grizzly bears tucked under your nightstand, or Always check crime statistics before moving into a new area, or Apartment leasing contracts are not in any way shape or form intended to protect the renter. But I think the best last lesson I can leave you with on my first break-in anniversary is this:
Lesson 4: When your life is on the line, pants are not that important.
Did I neglect to mention that whole exchange between me and the burglar happened while I was in my underwear?