Voicemails always make me nervous.
Unlike the friendly ping of a received text or the curious glow of a fresh Facebook notification, the dreaded voicemail arrives with an ominous undertone. There’s something you need to hear. It’s for urgent messages that are too serious to be delivered via text.
My least favourite voicemail arrived on a Tuesday afternoon while I was at work. It was the kind of message you only wish had stayed inside your fearful imagination.
“Our house was robbed so I hope you can come home.”
The four of us lived in a first floor walk-up on Beverley Street, a busy connecting road in the heart of downtown Toronto. On maps, our apartment’s pin fell right in between the ’T’ and the ‘O’. We couldn’t be more central.
I was immediately alarmed by the frequency of car break-ins on our street. The day we moved in, we were greeted by a pile of shattered glass lying on the curb just a few meters from our front steps. This would become a regular sighting. The bi-weekly smashings were almost always carried out in broad daylight, yet few people ever seemed to witness anything. Whoever this thief was, he was good.
We called him the Beverley Bandit.
On multiple occasions, one of his victims would approach us for help while we sat on the porch. They had usually parked nearby while shopping, inevitably returning to a broken passenger window and missing bags in the backseat.
“Did you see anything!?”
“No, sorry….it happens quite often, actually.”
“And the police don’t do anything??”
Unfortunately, the injustices went beyond theft. On two separate occasions, friends of ours were mugged just a few blocks down the street. But despite our alarming proximity to these crimes, we remained confident that our home was safe – because what good is it otherwise?
On paper, it wasn’t exactly a grand heist. The Bandit stole our Blu-Rays, headphones, a laptop, three iPods, a passport, jewelry, and a fancy camera. I’ve heard other robbery victims say the real damage incurred isn’t the possessions that are stolen, but rather the sense of security that’s taken from you. That may be true, but the people who say this are responsible adults with mortgages and contents insurance. We had nothing. We were unprotected twenty-year olds in a scary city with extremely little to our names. It felt like crashing our very first car.
I rushed home after getting the message and a pair of cops arrived a few hours later. One was a thick-accented Quebecois blonde in her early thirties, and the other was a grizzled veteran who looked like a grumpy Jim Belushi. He treated our misfortune the same way a tough dad treats a scrape on his kid’s knee. Quit crying. You’re fine. He’d probably seen a dozen more traumatic things that day alone, and it was only four in the afternoon.
He looked on as our questionably qualified repairman switched out the locks. Once he left, the officer took a closer look at the new doorknob.
“Do you think it’s okay?” I asked him.
“It’s fine, I guess. I mean, all you really have to do is jam a knife in there and it’ll pop right open.”
Ah. Thanks officer.
I’ve long battled with some mild forms of OCD. Nothing truly crippling like being forced to count breaths or having to stay awake until an even digit appears on the clock. No, my fears were less on the irrational side and more so just wildly worrisome. I still have a huge fear of stoves left burning, fridges left open, and still-set alarm clocks loudly beeping with no one around to hit the snooze button.
Worst of all, of course, is the fear of doors left unlocked. I recently learned a great trick to help; every time you lock up, you say the day of the week out loud. Tuesday. This tangible act reassures your reality and keeps your neurotic mind from convincing you otherwise a few steps later. We battle anxiety by telling ourselves we’re being irrational. Everything is okay. The fridge is closed. The stove is off. You don’t have cancer.
You locked the door.
But the truth of the matter is that most of life’s fuck-you’s are completely beyond your own control. Even with obsessive attention to prevention, you’ll eventually get nailed. You won’t be looking and then – WHACK – life will smack you square in the throat with a five-knuckle sandwich. It will take your breath away, and suddenly it won’t matter that you went back up the stairs three times to check the stove, remove the plugs, and lock the doors, because the Beverley Bandit is out there waiting with a butter knife, popping open knobs and crushing your safest places.
Interviews were conducted, reports were filed and not surprisingly, nothing was ever found. That was two years ago. We eventually replaced almost everything we lost, moving on with our lives and continuing to love Toronto as if it had never hurt us.
But the story doesn’t end there.
In the middle of writing this (and I swear this really happened) I arrived to work on yet another Tuesday morning to find my laptop missing – the same one I had been writing this story on. Someone snuck into our office in the middle of the night, swiping half a dozen machines, peripherals, and even a bag of chips from our communal fucking snack drawer.
Up until that point, I was totally ready to end this story with an uplifting and introspective “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” sort of message. I’d love to take this experience and spin it into a redeeming life lesson where things healed over completely and even thickened our city skin. But it didn’t. And this latest asshole served as a disheartening reminder that things can and will be taken from you, never to be returned.
So here’s my new ending:
Trust no one. Lock everything. Move to the boonies. Live somewhere with thirty acres of land and line the outside perimeter with hidden IEDs. Let nobody near you. Maintain a supply of pepper spray and non-perishables. Home-school your children. And if for some insane reason you decide to take on the concrete jungle, beware her mighty horns. Because sure, it might be Tuesday and your door may be locked, but you’ll never know who’s looming outside.
All you can do is pray that no one tries to come in.