I was robbed the first day I moved to the U.S.
I had only lived in the country a few hours.
Walked out to buy a shower curtain and a few small things after the movers left, and returned to find the front door smashed in.
Wandered around the house, and was shocked to find almost every single drawer had been opened and its contents tossed; books flung from shelves; and stuff, well, re-arranged all over the place.
I was amused that the oh-so-chef-like kitchen was untouched. Earlier, while the movers were doing all the heavy lifting, I had spent hours arranging and rearranging all my pots and pans and utensils and dishes and wine glasses and — essential in Washington — martini glasses and brand-new shaker.
Soon, a squad car with lights flashing screeched up on the sidewalk, and a uniformed cop dashed past me with handgun drawn. I was standing on the verandah (it was an old, restored house). The cop was so excited by this break-in, he left the driver’s door wide open, facing traffic.
‘Don’t try to stop anyone!’
“Don’t try to stop anyone coming out!” the cop yelled, and dashed in the house with that gun.
As a Canadian newly deposited in America, the gun was a revelation.
The earnest cop was a revelation. (American police actually answer break-in calls?)
It was all so John Wayne.
(What did he think I was going to do if a thief DID run out? Tackle the guy?)
Another police car arrived, no sirens or lights or markings. This was getting more impressive: More uniforms, and a few men in everyday clothes. The forensics team! A houseful of men-in-charge!
Now I was really impressed. (All this for a house break-in?)
They dusted everything for prints — leaving black smudges everywhere — and asked a lot of questions.
You say you’re single?
Most of the questions were about my marital status (single), career (journalist), employer (Canadian), personal assets (not much), and insurance. More questions about being single and alone in a four-bedroom house.
Called my employers (it was their house); called the insurance company; called the landlord, a government lawyer. My boss said I could move right away if I felt unsafe; the Canadian insurance company said I was still covered; and the lawyer promised to install a security alarm. Seems most other houses in the neighborhood already had them.
The thieves took all my jewelry — little of value — and I only felt sad about one heirloom ring from my grandmother. It was the only possession I cared about; and it was the only belonging I had from her.
The stereo wasn’t a big deal — still laugh that the CD that went with it was the Gypsy Kings. I listened to it during unpacking , as I recall, as an incentive to keep working.
I declined the landlord’s offer of a hotel room until the alarm system was installed.
I declined my employer’s generous offer to move again.
I declined the dinner date with the kind police officer who was certain I needed consoling and comfort. I declined for weeks, when he would call almost daily to assure me he was checking every pawn shop for my jewelry and other stuff.
I slept in the house, confident I had survived my first test of American life.
Three days later, as I was getting ready for my first day at work in my new city, I was robbed again.
Thieves apparently had returned in the night — I didn’t hear a thing — for the stuff they couldn’t carry the first time.
This time, they left a calling card: A big chunk of firewood by the front door.
Called 911 again. Again, I was warned not to search the house. Again, I already had. Some more stuff was gone.
When the police arrived, they advised that the firewood would have been used as a weapon in self-defense.
Police explained that if thieves use a found object in the house to defend themselves, they face a lesser charge than if they were carrying a weapon.
Got it. Left the house ’til the alarm was installed. No more break-ins.
Had my wallet stolen twice — from inside my purse, on my shoulder — in the next few years in the National Press Building, where such robberies seemed to be all-too-common then.
I learned a few lessons from all this: It’s only stuff. Stuff doesn’t matter.
I was uncomfortable knowing that strangers knew a lot about me — they had rifled every desk drawer, every closet, every bit of lacy stuff in the house.
But I was safe. They didn’t break anything. I was grateful for the concern and compassion of D.C. police (they kept calling and calling afterward).
And I learned a lot in a short time about crime in my new country.
TOMORROW: 5 lines or less, on moving