It was last Monday. A new work week. I headed off to the college at 7:30 am as I do every morning. Tom left the house around 9:00 am. The house was empty. The street was empty. The neighborhood was empty.
My niece stopped by around 5:00 pm to pick up a dehumidifier to dry out the interior of her car. (I still don't know how her car got wet on the inside, but that's a whole different mystery.) We live in a safe neighborhood, or so we've thought for the past 21 years. We leave windows open in the summer. There have been days when Tom's left the back door wide open - not intentionally, of course, he just has other, more important things, on his mind than locking the back door. But this was April and the house was locked up tight. Tom left the dehumidifier outside the back door for my niece to pick up on her way home from work in case she got there before either of us were home. I was having a rare, get-ready-for-sandals pedicure at the opposite end of town when I got the call.
"I saw the broken glass, but I just thought Tom was working on another project," my niece told me. "I was all the way out to my car before I realized that Tom wouldn't leave such an awful mess, so I ran back."
As I listened, my niece walked through the house. I was numb to her words: "oh my god... oh fuck... sorry about my language... a knife on your desk." I don't know if I said "call 911" or if she did, but I ended the call and my unfinished pedicure in the same moment. Then I called her back. "Get out of there," I told her. "You shouldn't be in the house." And then I texted my husband.
"I know," she said. "I'm talking to your neighbor. Did you know he's a cop?"
I got home through rush hour traffic in record speed, but still Tom beat me. As I drove, I imagined the worst: lost manuscripts, lost photographs, vandalized artwork. I saw my sofa, rugs, furniture destroyed. Tom's new flat screen, a Christmas gift, gone. I saw a ransacked home and I was heartbroken. I didn't, couldn't, wouldn't allow myself to cry. Instead, I drove.
When I walked through my front door, I released a few tears and a big sigh of relief. There was no vandalism and the thief took very little - only what he or she could carry in a backpack. He (I'll stick to the masculine, but there's really no way to know) came in the backdoor and went downstairs. He rummaged through our bedrooms where he found my prescriptions for thyroid, estrogen and progesterone in my bedside table (on second thought, maybe the he was actually a postmenopausal she, desperate for HRT). He found Tom's backpacking knife and headed upstairs, armed.
My writing room was his primary target. He left with both my laptops, as well as cameras, watches and a number of other small items - we're still finding things we can't find. Then, he/she unbolted the back gate and rode away through the back alley on my new bike.
We were lucky. I won't even list what wasn't taken, but as a writer, it was a wake-up call, a reminder to back up everything daily, weekly, monthly. Ask yourself: What are you willing to lose? A week's work of work? Could you recreate a week's worth?
I'd just sent my latest manuscript drafts to a backup email the Friday before. A friend had also set up a cloud account for my writing folders. Still, the losses are profound: all the documents on my desktop that I'd failed to file - gone. All my photographs that I'd yet to back up on CDs - gone. All my contacts, emails, addresses and phone numbers - gone.
I know I'll be making changes in how I do backups and in how I think about home security. I'm still not willing to live behind an electronic fence, but a local sound maker triggered when the door is opened, perhaps. And maybe it's time to consider a new dog. A big, furry, messy, stinky, scary, loving mutt like Mozart. We never had a home intrusion while Mozart shared his long life with us. I wish we could have cloned him.
(Note: If you want to be in my new address book, please send me an email at email@example.com. Thanks!)