When I came home the front door was smashed. It was the holiday season, and I was only gone for five hours to have a cheeseburger with a friend and watch my football team, the Colts, play their last game before the play-offs. I didn't think. I just reacted and ran into my home yelling for my dog, Dusty. Among the scattered fragments of my doorway and the ransacked damage of my home, I found Dusty hiding in the bedroom by the nightstand drawer. I had never been robbed before. I called the police, my homeowners associations and a therapist.
I know people who have been robbed. "Burglarized" is the technical term, but that doesn't feel quite right. When I lived in Brooklyn my friend Samir and his wife, Abigail, came home to find their apartment door chained from the inside. Thieves came in through the bedroom window and stole electronics, but Samir said what hurt was not the missing iPod, but the keepsakes they took from his wife -- a series of envelops with stories only she understood. As I waited for the police I went room-by-room and assessed the damage. My computers, TV and my banjo were all there. Forget-me-nots, like my grandfather's Depression-era knife and two wooden pigs my friend Ben brought from Vietnam were still there. Even my checkbook, financial records and passport were in place. Next to Dusty in the bedroom, in my nightstand drawer, was my ex-fiancés ring in a glass box, open, on top of a green post-it note that read "U R Luvd."
I met my former fiancé when we attended Columbia University, the same place we met Ben and Samir. She was sweet and striking with blonde, flowing hair. I was young and a little arrogant. Everything was fun, mysterious and surprising then. My former fiancé and I had a notorious on-again-off-again relationship, with the occasional argument on street corners and in rodeo bars. We couldn't afford a pet then, so we bought stuffed animals at FAO Schwartz. After graduation she got a job at a ballet company. I worked at a downtown theatre. We were so poor we had a one-room apartment in Harlem and saved our money to share two slices of pizza every weekend. I couldn't afford a nice ring to propose, but friends suggested I think outside the box. "Think antique," they said, and I found a ring online for $200. It took me months to save for it. I even stopped eating pizza on the weekends. The ring is cute with a diamond so small it could blow away, but it was ours. I asked my former fiancé to marry me on Thanksgiving. I stuck the ring in her mashed potatoes as my Colts played football.
Years later we moved to Texas to be closer to her family, and got a real dog, Dusty, but things were off again. When we broke-up she left post-it notes of many sizes, colors and variations all over my home saying "U R Luvd" so I wouldn't feel alone. I did my best with the break-up, but I still called a therapist. I'm grateful the ring was not taken. There is a string of memories attached to that thing. The robber has been captured now -- a young man with a neck tattoo. My neighbor believes he tried to mug her. All he took from me was a barrel filled with worthless coins, but I'm hurt he didn't take the ring. It is the most valuable object I've ever had. It was as if a schoolyard bully told my child they are ugly, that they weren't good enough to pick on.
Dusty is afraid to enter the apartment now after we have been out for walks. I use pizza crusts to lure him inside. My therapist says I have a case of post-traumatic stress disorder from the violent nature of the robbery, and we've been talking about the real value of things. I'm not as arrogant as I used to be, but after the break-in I'm too old to be surprised. Life masks no measurement, no mysteries anymore, just random notes of "U R Luvd" across my home, mementos found when the dog is hiding from a robber and what that robber didn't take from the nightstand drawer.