While my house was being looted and torn apart, I was at a concert, staring up at a beautiful singer. All the strangers in my row were featureless in her supernova light. If she was the movie, we were the extras. Useful while we filled the background and lined the pockets, the star would be glad when we finally left.
My children were at their dad’s and my orbit had become irregular. I was dressed in a a big fluffy faux fur jacket from Target, the kind of thing selected for and peddled to permanent audience members. Fans. Followers. People better suited to spacesuit costumes than rocket science. When I left my house that night, I was more concerned with that stupid outfit than the bolt on my backdoor.
Earlier, my friends had picked me up in my driveway. I’d tottered across the cement in high heels, my hair and my anxiety whipped like stiff egg whites, the daylight shining badly on my array of cheap, poly-plastic accessories.
“You look fancy,” my friend Tom said, with concern. “You alright?”
“Yeah,” I said, tryharding to not tryhard so fucking hard. “Of course, why?”
I knew why. My feelings were ajar. My internal state visible to all, just like my house. Just like my blinds left stupidly in the up position, always letting the light in and the secrets out. For somebody so heavily invested in facades, I was not much good with them.
At the concert, I cheered and clapped, the hollows of my body taking up predictable space and volume with all the other bodies that cheered and clapped. We gathered our purses and coats and moved obediently to the merch table in the lobby where the artist posed with fans and autographed t-shirts. Flashes popped, people jostled to get closer. I planted myself near the water fountain, envying the pattern of highlights in her hair. How did women manage to wear their beanies so effortlessly, I wondered, and find devoted hipster boyfriends and create successful careers?
Meanwhile, back at home, my Christmas lights were twinkling over my fireplace, giving a luster of midday to xboxes below. Maybe the thieves had been watching from the woods for weeks, learning my dull routine. Me, dressing and undressing, curtains never drawn with proper consistency because the only things jostling around me were squirrels at the feeders, or kids at lunchtime. Years, timelapsing across my bedroom wall. My laptop was in a deep winter’s nap on the kitchen table, all the unsaved pictures of my children sleeping with her, unaware that gravity was quickening, pulling. My backporch security light, too, was in eternal slumber. My door knob yielded to the turning. Maybe they just got lucky.
On the way home from the concert, my friends and I rolled up to the scene of a car accident. A fire truck angled to block off the intersection. We idled in the blinding blue strobes, unable to pass, unable to see the travesty. Tom turned off the car engine. All was still and cold. A life-flight helicopter hovered overhead, invisible but for its pulsing chop and single, wheeling searchlight. It scanned the perilous whips of traffic lights and floated down, down, down. Humans disembarked, approached a waiting ambulance and disappeared inside it. The helicopter waited. The police waited. The traffic waited. Somewhere, in the middle of this steaming ring of light, the life of one person slipped closer to the void. We yawned and shifted in our passenger seats. My breath fogged in the air, my teeth chattered.
Back at my house, shadows crossed the living room.
Finally, they put the gurney in the helicopter hatch and the craft lifted away into the blackness. My friends delivered me unceremoniously unto my house, waved goodbye, and drove away.
Inside, I dropped my purse and keys and made my way through the dark, tripping over toys and detritus. It was so cold. I couldn’t wait to take off my fake pointy pieces and slip into a hot, quiet bath, float in a dim, weightless embrace, far far away from light and sound and pressure. I flipped on the bathroom light, turned the spicket to hot, and let the warm water rush over my red, freezing hands. Why was the house so cold? I turned my attention to the thermostat, and that’s when I saw the back door gaping wide open.
It was broken like a ripped airlock, its tattered screen lifting in the breeze. I stopped breathing and listened. I could hear the furnace straining full blast through the vents, warm air disappearing out the door and into the black night.
My laptop on the kitchen table – gone. The pen was still on its left, the bowl of oranges on its right, but in the middle there was a 12 inch by 12 inch space where it had vanished.
I took a step backwards, then another, retreating to a safer vantage point. I could still hear the bath running, running in a totally different sort of house now. The Christmas lights shone on the empty spot where the TV used to be. All the TVs, in fact, were but dusty outlines on their wood veneer platforms. These erasures hit the back of my retina and filled in my understanding forever. To be robbed is to become acquainted with the shock of these empty spaces. A thing that is there when you leave, may be an empty space when you return. The empty space is indelible. It is where your trust used to live.
I panned out to take in the floor, all my chincy baskets pulled out of their shelves and overturned and ransacked. All the empty cases, the strewn wires, the plugs stripped of their valuable ends. I listened again. Whoever had bulldozed through here, was he gone? I could still smell him. He’d taken all my portable things out the back door, leaving video game cases trailing like bread crumbs into the forest.
I rummaged my purse for my phone, swirling around the receipts and the keys and the coins. It took me a full minute to gather enough wits to remember protocol and press three numbers.
With the receiver to my ear, my awareness widened: my cat cowering under a bed, the sundries and the staples and the cheap things spread like dirty frosting across the wall to wall carpeting: costume jewelry and the vinyl place mats and the dirty dishes and the yard sale possessions. But all the tasty filling, the quality-of-life upgrades, the computers, controllers, and cameras paid for with blood, sweat, and installment plans – all empty spaces. In the room that my kids shared, everything dumped, yanked out, ripped, emptied, Christmas presents harvested and toted away in a missing backpack.
Material things don’t matter. That’s what good people say on the evening news. Material things can be replaced. But sometimes they can’t. Sometimes when things disappear, they stay gone. In their place are brand new problems, like bitterness, fear and lack.
But I was relatively new to robbery and when the cops showed up, I said white things. I joked like, do come in, gentlemen. I give you: le désastre. The gaskets in my brain had blown. I folded my arms tight so my body wouldn’t plume out the side. They stepped awkwardly around all my shitty pieces, snapping flash photos from every angle, piecing together a telescopic image of my scuffed walls and carpet stains, kitty litter crunching underfoot, nerf guns and school papers and garbage cans at max capacity. Opened cupboards full of mess, makeup all over the bathroom counter, hair dryer on the floor, bed unmade. And me, in rockstar clothes. You couldn’t tell where my life ended and the crime began.
While I waited for the cops to finish their work, I peered outside at the police cruisers parked by my mailbox. In every direction, my neighbor’s houses were shuttered up tight. Not so much as one curiously parted window blind. I might as well have been living in a colony on the moon.
It was 1 o’clock n the morning. They gave me a business card, a case number, a warning. It was probably just some kids, they said. Kids. Oh good, just kids! Send in the helicopter, amiright? Ha. No worries, material things, who needs them?
I was glad when they left. It was awkward for everyone, the way I stood there, ankle-deep in the discarded hulls, the airless window panes sucking away all the matter. I would be just fine. Everything would be fine. It was just extra stuff, and I was just an extra person, in an empty space. There was no real emergency here. I thanked them, in fact. Sunrise would come, albeit a frictious accretion disk around a black hole, but still. Sun.
copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2016