The robb'd that smiles, steals something from the thief.
-- William Shakespeare
'How could they not feel guilty with all of our pictures here? I mean, we were basically staring at them as they did this," Jane said, gesturing at the wall-sized photo collage our sister Jenny had created years ago in the recreation room of our mother's house."Jane, this wasn't you or me. People like us don't steal . People who steal don't feel bad. They simply want something without having to work for it like normal, decent people, so they take it. What scum," I said, beginning to feel sick.
"It makes me not want to trust anyone," said Jane.
"Yeah, tell me about it," I said. We peeked through the blinds to the street below and glared at a kid walking by on the sidewalk. "I haven't felt this misanthropic in a long time. People are shit."
We turned back to the task at hand. I struggled to get a heavy file drawer on its tracks.
"Look, they didn't have time to get this all the way out," Jane said, shoving the large computer tower back where it belonged. The surface of the desk looked bare without the monitor and color printer. Glancing up again at the wall covered with our family's faces, Jane added, "I bet they felt a little guilty," as though part of her needed to believe this.
"Yeah, you're probably right," I said.
I spoke with my mother not half an hour before she arrived home last night, before she hurried into the house to use the restroom after a long day at work. Because she lives alone, Mom didn't bother to close the bathroom door. So, while seated on the commode, she had a clear view to the guest room directly across the way and looked in puzzlement at the pennies scattered on the white carpet near the doorway. Then she noticed that not only was the guest room light on, but light also seemed to be spilling in from the living room to the right.
Mom's first thought, her first hope, was that Jenny had been over and left the place a mess. But that wasn't the case and, as Jenny was telling her this on the phone, Mom noticed other telltale signs of robbery -- the back door was wide open, the stereo was gone -- and she ran outside to call her best friend, whose son is a U.S. marshal. They both came over immediately, and Mom called the police.
My parents have been separated for eight years, but my father agreed to spend the night at my mother's request. Fingerprints were dusted for, locks were changed, and a report was filed. Jenny and her boyfriend, Brad (who is also a cop), decided to stay the night as well, and Jane and I, who both had the next day off, volunteered to come over to help clean up the mess left by the thieves.
Jane and I pulled into my mother's driveway at the same time. Neither of us had spoken to Mom for more than a minute between last night and this morning, so we did not yet know the extent of the damage and loss. We walked past the front lawn, which looked greener than usual beneath the giant, white plastic snowman, which was surrounded by equally large plastic gifts. Christmas was weeks behind us, but just as she relied on her son-in-law Sean to set up this scene that defies the laws of nature but enhances her spirit for the season, Mom was probably waiting for Sean to help take it down.
I had expected the place to be turned completely upside-down, but entering the house now with Jane, things looked pretty neat -- the place was definitely in more order than it had been the last time I was there, which was Christmas afternoon, after my niece and nephews had torn into the results of "Santa's" excessive generosity.
Apparently, my mother had arrived home mid-burglary; some valuables appeared to have been dropped in the hallway by a startled thief. In every bedroom, drawers were on the floor. The biggest mess was in Mom's dressing room, where contents of shelves had been thrown in the middle of the small room in a frenzy to find prized possessions. Jane examined some of the papers on the floor. "Mom, these are dated 1987," she said. "Why do you still have most of this stuff?"
"I don't know," Mom said. But after more drilling from us, it became clear that Mom hadn't been through these boxes in almost 20 years.
"If you think about it, this is a good thing that happened," said Jane. "It gives you a reason to purge a lot of this stuff you don't need or use." With indirect help from our desperate and most likely drug-induced "friends," we filled four large garbage bags with crap and left the dressing room in better order than the robbers had found it.
"Did you already put the drawers back in here?" I asked, indicating the two dressers and bedside tables in Mom's room that appeared unmolested. Mom laughed. "What's so funny?" I asked.
"I just tried to picture the look on their faces as they opened these," she said. "I bought all of this furniture last week. It's empty!" Jane and I joined in laughter. I imagined the disconcerted reaction the robbers must have had to fling open empty drawers in what must usually be the "jackpot master bedroom" after going through a house packed to the brim with 20 years' worth of accumulated things. "Stupid shits," Mom said between giggles.
Jane and I asked what else was missing. Mom's beloved Lladro collection, comprised of porcelain statues my father selected as he traveled the world and a few smaller statues that her daughters saved up to get her over the years, still sat in its glass case. The television still rested in the corner, and the DVDs had not been touched. We didn't want to say the word, but Mom knew what we were getting at.
"You mean the jewelry?" Mom asked. My sister and I shared a knowing look, preparing for the rationalization to come. Silently, Jane agreed to launch in with, "They're only material items," and I nodded, indicating I would follow up with, "What good are a few stupid rocks anyway?"
Mom smiled smugly. While waiting for her to divulge the reason for her smile, I entertained the possibility that she was having some kind of breakdown. "They must not have looked in the chicken," she said, ending the suspense. Finally, it all made sense -- despite the fact that we had always chastised her for keeping her most sentimental pieces in what we thought was an obvious hiding place, Mom's stubbornness had paid off.
My mother has something of a chicken fetish. Chicken calendars, chicken printed fabrics, chicken kitchen utensils and dishware, likenesses of chickens made from metal, wood, straw, and every other conceivable material; she is to chickens as Bubba Gump is to shrimp. So it was no surprise to us that, rather than in a jewelry box or under clothes in a bedroom drawer, Mom had stashed her few favorite pieces inside one of the thousands of chickens that live in her home.
It didn't take us long to put everything back in order, but we were concerned to leave Mom alone. "Are you going to be okay?" Jane asked her.
"This place is like Fort Knox now," Mom answered with a smirk. Then her face became serious and she said, "You know, sometimes I feel like I'm really alone in the world. But after this happened, my friends and family were here for me in a heartbeat, and I realized, I'm not alone at all. So, yeah, I'm fine. I'll be just fine."