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Madeline Wahl Headshot

What It's Like to Recover After an Apartment Break-In

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I came home with my roommates and friends with a sense of foreboding and an apartment door slightly ajar. We turned on the lights and inspected our rooms. It only took a few moments to realize that something was amiss -- a few moments for the sinking realization that someone else had been in the apartment besides us to materialize. A few things were missing. A few expensive things. Things that were valuable in more ways than one.

We waited for the cops to arrive. We filled out the appropriate paperwork and we gave them accounts of what happened, and acted like detectives as we talked with them about possible entry and exit locations. We sat in silence, only interrupted by cars honking outside and voices and static from the cops' radio.

Realizing that someone else was in the apartment made my stomach tie into knots. The fact that someone had invaded our home -- had come in uninvited and unannounced and inspected our things without our permission, and then stole things that were close to us without a care in the world except to leave without getting caught -- left me reeling.

It makes my skin crawl. I feel uncomfortable, like I want to rub my hands over my arms to erase the impending goosebumps. Like wherever I go in my apartment there's some looming shadow of a figure who has been there, of some Eye of Sauron looking over our every move.

The thought that some stranger had been in my apartment will eventually fade from memory, and we'll still have parties and hang out and invite friends over. But it's when it comes back, a jolt of lightning, a gasp of air, that the emotions escalate back into my sudden consciousness. The emotions that come back also include anger and helplessness, and it's so frustrating to want to do something. But there's literally nothing you can do to ease the pain of what happened, except count the fact that no one was hurt and no one was there when it happened as a blessing.

I understand that crime happens everywhere, especially in a city with millions of people in it. I understand that bad things happen to everyone, that even if you lock the doors and windows someone will still get in, that sometimes there's nothing you can do to stop it. It feels like in New York everyone has a friend or a friend of a friend who's been robbed, mugged or has some other nightmarish story.

I hope people realize that these acts will not be forgotten. That though they may have temporarily gotten away with stealing our things, they will neither be forgiven nor forgotten.

I now always carry my key in my hand on the walk home from the subway stop to my apartment. I triple-lock my door, double-check my windows, make sure my personal belongings and valuables are hidden out of sight in my room. Throw a shirt over a purse, place a piece of jewelry in the dresser drawer. As a single woman walking down the street at night, it's become second nature to take in the physical appearances of those around me, to figure out how fast I need to run to escape a possible attacker, to see if there are any cops nearby, where the well-lit sections of the street are.

I was home alone a few nights after the incident happened. It was dark. I brushed my teeth and washed my face and locked my bedroom door before peering outside my window to the quiet Brooklyn street. I nestled under the covers and debated plugging in my phone at the outlet across the room but decided to keep it next to me in case I needed to dial 911.

I ended up checking Facebook and Pinterest until I fell asleep.

It's a slow road to getting things back to normal, and still on the walk home to my apartment my heartbeat quickens and I feel uncomfortable, but life moves on. Life always moves on.