I hope there is a special place among the lower circles of hell, perhaps among the serpents and the rivers of blood, for the thief who stole my husband’s suitcase and briefcase from our own driveway at the end of May, as we were getting ready to drive to the airport for a quickly arranged flight to New York where my cousin’s 48-year-old son had just died of a rare bone cancer he had fought with uncommon grace and optimism.
“Where are my suitcase and briefcase?” my usually calm husband exclaimed in near panic, coming back into the house. As if I might have gone outside and taken them in for safe-keeping. I wish. A well-trained New Yorker in origin, who knew how to carry her bookbag and purse in a way to prevent theft or groping on the crowded subway she rode to high school, and whose similar habits avoided the purse-slitting incurred by her companions in a market in Toluca, Mexico, I had always warned my husband not to leave anything on the driveway, even for the few seconds required to go back into the house for forgotten car keys (and yes, those seconds did wind up being distracted minutes). “You were right this time,” he said.
We had to go to New York. So my husband spoke to the police I had called, while trying to repack his pills. And I ran into the bedroom and threw clothes for him, in record minutes, into a small carry-on. We made it to Ontario with a half-hour to spare since I usually err on the side of allowing too much time to get to the airport. And aside from trying to compose a list of everything that was missing, and calling our insurance company, and my sending up a silent thank you to the powers-that-be that it wasn’t my suitcase, which I had not yet taken outside that morning, that had been stolen (in which case repacking in six minutes would have been a pipe dream), we shelved this annoyance in the midst of a tragedy, as we entered the world of a family devastated by the loss of an adult child, and a brother—still far too young—a loss putting material losses into the perspective they deserve.
Still, when we came back home, glad we had been able to offer what little support we could to my cousin’s family, the annoyance felt increasingly annoying. The thief—or someone connected to the thief—had tried to use a check from our account (we had forgotten the checkbook when we made our list) for a considerable sum at a local store, so we had to cancel ours and open a new checking account. And, fearing some private information could have been found among our things, we cancelled our credit cards, but the replacement cards, although the package was listed as delivered by UPS, were nowhere to be found. At that point, a sense of being watched or targeted made me feel almost as uncomfortable in my own house as I had been when a roof rat took up residence inside for almost two weeks the previous summer. It turned out, according to the UPS person who successfully delivered yet another set of replacement cards a few days later, that the previous guy had never even been to our house, but had misdelivered packages all over our neighborhood, even dropping a pile of them on the street. A weird form of small solace?
It has taken several weeks, but we are emerging from the woods, are pretty much finished, we think, with all those calls to banks and creditors, those online morasses when we try to change our information—all of which made me coin a new acronym: NEWTWIST (Nothing Ever Works The Way It’s Supposed To).
I think now of a friend whose insurance company was less cooperative than ours turned out to be, and who gave up her claim; some valuable jewelry was stolen while her house was tented for termites (!), but the insurance people wanted pictures.
I think of what it might feel like to be less middle class, less able to deal with the re-arrangements of our finances, the collection and calculation of receipts for the insurance company, the replacement of essentials lost, or to have no insurance, no recourse, few or no “essentials.”
I think of what it might be like to feel targeted or vulnerable all the time.