There are no pictures to go with this post because they took our cameras. They took our bicycles, too, and some money, and an old gold pocket watch that belonged to Doug's grandfather, and two rolls of postage stamps. They took cans of coins--I don't miss the coins, but one can was an old red and white tin from Russia that said PETROSKOI on one side and PETROZAVODSK on the other--the Finnish and Russian names for the same place.
It was given to me in 1991, when I was there, and now it has been taken from me.
I do not know if the burglary Tuesday afternoon had any relation to the strange noises we heard on Monday night; it might be coincidence. We woke up Monday around 11 p.m. hearing the distinct sound of a door opening and closing inside our house. We walked through the house and found nothing amiss. When we went back to bed, I couldn't sleep, and when I left for work on Tuesday morning, I was diligent about locking the garage.
At work, I talked with a friend about break-ins, and about how we love to leave our windows open in the summer even though it is risky, and at 6 p.m. I drove home and knew almost immediately that something was wrong. The garage service door was wide open, wide open in a way that said, This is not right. An ominous feeling hung in the air. As I shut off my car I glanced around and saw that our bicycles were gone.
It could be that Doug is home early, I thought, and took the bikes out so we could go for a ride. But even as I thought it, I knew it was unlikely. He never comes home this early. He is not that big a fan of bike riding. I climbed the steps to the back screen porch, glanced in the kitchen window, and felt the world collapse.
The window screen had been pulled out of its frame and was flapping gently in the breeze. Inside, the dim kitchen was a wreck. All of the drawers were pulled open. All of the cupboard doors were open. A wooden box that normally lived on top of the hall bookcase was on the table, its drawers pulled out and dumped upside down. There were clothes on the floor, kibble scattered. It looked like every ransack scene you have ever seen in any TV cop show. But what struck me most was how quiet it was. An ominous, deep quiet, almost surreal, almost nightmarish.
The dogs! The dogs! Oh, god, I thought, what have they done with our dogs?
I slid the key into the lock, but the door was not locked. I pushed it open, stared at the unholy mess, called for the boys. Boscoe trotted up slowly from the other room, thank god, Boscoe, oh, Boscoe, but Riley? Where was Riley? I called and called, even while staring wildly at the open drawers, the scattered clothing. And then Riley emerged, tentative, cautious, from who knows where. Thank God, thank God.
I pushed them out the door and into the yard, and then I ran down the street, pounding on neighbors' front doors. No one home here. No one home here. No one home here. All up and down the block, nobody home.
I did not want to go back inside that house, but I needed to get to the phone. I told the boys to stay and went back up the porch, through the kitchen, into the front hall--oh, our TV is gone, oh, my laptop is still there, oh my god what a mess--grabbed the phone and ran outside. I called 911, I called Doug, and then I sat and waited on our front wall for the police to arrive.
What struck me, as I walked through the house later with the cops, was how careful the burglars had been. They had not harmed the dogs, but had bribed them with food.
They carefully unscrewed the TV from the cable box and the DVD player--no hastily ripped out cords here; they took their time. And then they left the TV on a chair, covered, oddly, with a dog bed. Was the bed meant to be padding? Did they forget the TV in their haste? Or did they decide, in the end, that it would be too hard to fence?
They did not break anything--no windows, no furniture, not even the screen, which they had punched out but not ripped. They opened every drawer, every door, looked in every hidy hole, but they did so carefully, almost with respect, even while they were dumping drawers onto the floor and scattering unwanted junk across the room.
They had closed the back door when they left, closed the screen door. All the gates in and out of the yard were shut and latched. My bicycle helmet had been hanging from my handlebars; they did not grab it and throw it across the garage, but set it gently on a cabinet and then brutally stole my bike.
They knew enough not to bring anything into our house, anything that they could leave behind as a clue. They had done this before, I am certain--they were too organized for this to be their first time--and they knew that every tool they would need they would find already inside our house.
Over the course of the evening, I began to understand the narrative of the break-in. They came up onto our screen porch, picked up one of my green gardening clogs, which sit by the back door, and used one to push the screen through. I found that clog in the kitchen, on the counter, the other still on the porch. They took my little white footstool and placed it under the kitchen window. They climbed up on the stool, leaned in through the window, reached far around, and unlocked the door.
They came in and scattered milk bones for the dogs; the cookie jar sits next to the back door; it was full yesterday morning and is now almost empty. We found the lid in the living room, on the couch.
They took a Tupperware container of Riley's kibble, opened it, and left it on the dining room floor to keep the boys busy, and then they made their way through the house.
They dumped out our recycling onto the hall floor and took the paper sack it was in--presumably to hold their loot.
Room by room, they made their way through the house. In the bedroom, you can see that they began to hurry. They pulled the lid off of my Russian birchbark box and then flung the box across the room, spilling its contents--buttons, not money--all over the floor. They opened my grandmother's wooden box and took out the money we had stashed there, $20 or so every payday for more than a year, $600 in all. But they left the box, which my father had bought for my grandmother and then, when he was dying, passed on to me.
They dumped out all of our financial documents from my desk but did not take any checks, as far as I can tell. They did, however, take two rolls of postage stamps. Do they write letters, these burglars?
They took all of our spare keys which hung by the back door--including my extra set of car keys. So we called a locksmith, a rangy guy with a leathery, friendly face, who changed every lock in the house for us on the spot. Changing the locks and ignition on my car will take longer, and will be more expensive. I worry that they will return for my car.
They did not trash the place, for which I am thankful. They did not harm the dogs, for which I am weak-kneed in gratitude. This was not kids from the neighborhood, or some desperate meth head. These were calm people who knew exactly what they were doing.
We found a knife on the stairs--a paring knife from our kitchen; I had used it that morning to cut up my lunchtime strawberries, and now here it lay in the middle of one carpeted step. It looked wicked, deadly, so out of context on the floor. (Though puncturing a person to death with a paring knife would be a lengthy and arduous process.)
All day Wednesday, after my sleepless Tuesday night, the dogs kept close by while I took an inventory of what was missing, wrote up my police report, called the insurance agent, vacuumed up the traipsed-in dirt and grass. Riley was anxious, Boscoe was gassy and full of the wrong food. At every noise, they would leap and bark and look at me nervously and with guilt.
And every so often, my mind flashed back to that first glimpse of the billowing screen, the darkened kitchen, the ominous silence.