It’s Friday afternoon, 1 pm. I’m away on vacation with my family in North Carolina. At the same time, two guys, kids, actually, are tearing through our apartment. Some 14-year-old and his 17-year-old accomplice are rifling through our home and are taking our things. They take the Xbox I was going to probably never use again; they take a camera I had home from work with footage from a recent ad shoot; they take the hard drives that store our family photos and backups; they take much of the jewelry I’ve given my wife over the years, the watch my father gave me for my 30th birthday, and worst of all, the engagement ring that my wife randomly took off for the first time in seven years.
Then they get greedy. Our stuff isn’t enough, so they break into our landlords’ apartment above. The alarm system in their apartment scares them out before they could leave our home empty. They get a lot, but they didn’t get everything. They run, but are so brazen that one of them stops to take a piss on a car in front of our house, as one does in a nice neighborhood in Brooklyn… And like that, they’re gone.
The cops show up, neighbors start talking, saying how they thought the two young kids coming in and out of our apartment seemed odd, but that they decided not to do anything about it (thanks, neighbors…). Fortunately, a few who didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late point out a video camera that might have caught them on tape to the police. It did and now the police have an idea of who they are looking for. But what are the chances that they will ever find them?
Turns out the chance was pretty good, especially when you consider that the kids were dumb enough to show up on the same block the very next day to find another home to rob. By the time I was able to get back to our house to start getting it in order before my wife and kids would return from vacation, the 78th Precinct had found the likely suspects, suspects who became even more likely when one of the bags they had in their backpack and were preparing to use for the next break-in, was my wife’s. Two pieces of her jewelry were on them (sadly neither was her engagement ring). But these two new breaks, the bag and the jewelry, gave the cops a lot to work with and the officers worked diligently to get a confession and see if there was any possibility of receiving any of the stolen goods.
While I was relieved that they found the guys, I began to resign myself to the 0.00% chance that anything beyond those two pieces would ever be recovered. So as the police continued to do what they do, I tried to learn something new: a crash course in zen and minimalism. I tried to process that I would lose valuable family moments (my off-site backups proved helpful, but not quite as current as they should have been) and that my wife would never see the engagement ring I gave her on Christmas Eve, 2004 ever again (of all the weeks to have a random skin irritation…). I tried not to give in to the anger, the sadness, the confusion, the fear, the numbness. I tried to be okay with something that wasn’t okay. I tried to tell myself that it’s just stuff; I tried to cling to the cliche.
The trying helped and I’ve been doing better than I ever would have thought possible, but I love the pictures of my kids I’ll never see again (I will likely be kicking myself for a while for not figuring out a cloud backup solution for my insanely large photo library, regardless of Time Warner Cable’s brutally slow upload speeds in Park Slope). I love some of the jewelry I found or had made for my wife over the years; I love the ring that I’ll never see on her again. Sure it is all just stuff, but it was really nice stuff. And it was our stuff…
And as I worked through the insanity that was my newfound paranoid worldview, I received a picture via text. There were no words, just the image… a shot of my wife’s ring in the hand of one of the amazing officers of the 78th Precinct in Park Slope. They worked their asses off and not only got what they needed for their case, but they tracked down her ring as well as a few other pieces of my wife’s jewelry at a nearby pawn shop. A pawn shop that, I later learned, purchased the engagement ring, along with her more substantial pieces of jewelry for a pittance. Our home violated, our memories taken, and two young kids will likely be going to jail for some time and for what? A measly $100, which was all they got in exchange for the most valuable things they took.
I can’t help but feel guilty and I’m sad for these kids. These crappy days in my life are likely better than their best days. I can’t imagine the desperation that drives someone to risk so much for so little, but I also can’t forgive the violation. I can’t stop thinking that we got off easy and just received a wakeup call as to how unknowingly careless we’ve been with things that are precious to our family. I can’t quite explain the gift we received from those officers. I can’t believe I was able to put my wife’s ring back on her finger.
I’m not sure I have a bigger point, I probably just needed to get this out. I can tell you that regardless of how paranoid you are about backing things up at home, be equally paranoid about backing things up offsite. I can tell you that you should and I will have a lockbox that is bolted to something immovable by the end of the week and will be putting anything that is precious inside of it (possibly even children…). I can tell you that I am so lucky that this happened while we were away. I can tell you that, cliche as it is, it’s all stuff and everyone is okay and that is the only thing that really matters. I can also tell you that there are several incredible and dedicated officers at the 78th Precinct who took something horrible and managed to turn it into something terrible, and I will eternally thank them for that. Stay safe, be smart, take precautions. Trust me, you don’t want to learn the hard way that some things cannot be recovered, even if it is just stuff.