She’s not ready for anything other than a bed after six grueling hours at Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
Mind you, the story doesn’t begin there. For three nights prior to this, she doesn’t sleep but rather tosses and turns and wonders what fate has in store for her family.
In the morning, before the trip to Shaare Zedek, she gulps down bitter coffee and braces for the day ahead. Today is her husband’s PET scan and the only thing fortifying her – propping her up really-, may be the caffeine. Today they’ll find out if he’s in ‘remission’.
Before she leaves the house, she locks the door – she does! She makes sure all the windows are shut – no question! Her husband, daughter and visiting niece accompany her, single-filing it to the car. The drive to the hospital is unremarkable, in the way that drives to find out if your husband’s PET scan is clean often aren’t.
Shaare Zedek’s parking lot on a typical day is packed and today is no exception. Drivers, in the usual Israeli entrepreneurial spirit, reframe personal vehicular space and park nearly on top of other vehicles. The family does the same.
They walk in silence through hospital corridors, forcing smiles and an easy manner their postures belie. They inhale and exhale fear and the weight and wait of time. The girls trail them, checking their mobiles, texting the universe; handling anxiety in their own way.
Time struggles to fly under the tremulous gaze of a clock. Six soul-compressing hours later a door creeks open and they are summoned out of the waiting room and into the radiologist’s office. Oxygen. Their nostrils fill – no flood – with blessed air and relief and the daily sensation of sandpaper rubbing against their beings is mercifully lifting. The news is good, darn good, and the sun outside seems more brilliant and bone-penetrating than it has in months.
The ride home is a combination of laughing gas sharing space with ether. Happy but sleepy. Sleepy with happy. Giddy with good news. Cautious but giddy. Giddy and comatose as their car negotiates Israeli traffic during rush hour; less negotiating and more asserting.
“Sleep, sleep,” she intones her caffeinated brain. She smiles with eyes shut. She exhales, just a little.
They are back at home. Home to call the family and share the good news (they ran out of cell-phone juice at the hospital with few available places to re-charge). Home? No, they don’t exactly return home. They return to a house, or rather, a skeleton of one, as its bowels have come undone.
Her husband needn’t have taken out the key to open the door for it is flung open for the world to peer inside. A few cats scurry out in panic mode as husband and wife cross the threshold – the mess-hold. Inside, there are more cats, prancing on top of the kitchen island, nibbling on remains of challah, as if they own the place. They, the glaring cats, are in the pantry and closet and everywhere underfoot. The feline population in the living room could make the local cat lady envious.
She struggles to say something. To say anything. She turns to her husband and her jaw contorts and drops open to unleash a wail louder and more frightening than any recent war siren.
Later, much later, she absorbs bits of what’s happened. Every drawer in their house is overturned, ransacked or trampled. The piano, living room table and cabinets are as disassembled as their thoughts.
The house is a miniature Hurricane Sandy, minus the water. Not true. A river will soon course, propelled by a deluge of tears.
They assess the damage. The basement wall is busted open with an axe. The bedrooms are inaccessible with heaps of clothing and sundries formed like haystacks across their line of vision. The ground beneath their feet appears to shake, or is it their legs?
The challah on the kitchen island seems misplaced, out of context on a non-Shabbat. It was likely used to poison one of their dogs.
She shakes her head in disbelief: Her departed mother’s ring gone, her engagement and wedding ring….gone. Her departed father’s Meerschaum pipe collection – gone. Every bit of jewelry – gone. Her laptops with years of her collected writings – gone (all cloudless backups – gone). Her husband’s laptop, back up computer and disc on key – gone. Ipads, cameras, precious family heirlooms, Kindles…all gone. Grandparents’ silver – gone. And what else? Ironically, huge Thanksgiving carving knives and three metal baseball bats –gone. The police claim the thieves prepared to use these latter objects as weapons against them – had they only walked in.
This is nothing short of a house-rape, a rape of their senses and valuables, leaving them in a state of emotional anguish and mental paralysis.
What did the thieves leave behind? No fingerprints, says the lone policeman, present for all of two seconds as he half-heartedly canvasses walls with a primitive flashlight. (Has he never watched CSI?) So what did the robbers leave untouched? Her books.
One of her friends, Cheryl, claims the burglars are cretins, because they didn’t steal her library. Cheryl says this while refolding scarves, accusing her friend not only of a book fetish, but of a scarf one to boot.
And so, on the day they receive good news, they receive, too, a major blow. Does one piece of news offset the other? Does it enable perspective?
It takes a team and an emergency visit from a friend in Austria to make a dent in the balagan, to create order in the closets and definition out of chaos. Their master bedroom is unapproachable, its contents piled waist-high – their bed, invisible, groans under clothing, papers and drawers. Where to begin when you’re already at the point of exhaustion? You begin at the very beginning, a very tiring place to begin. It takes ten days to restore the house, albeit to a fraction of what it was.
Suspects? Leads? There were a few. Thanks to private detective work, there was even a name and a phone number of a man sitting with their computers, with her husband’s files, with all of her writing, maybe even with all of their possessions. What did the police do to investigate? Nearly nothing – sorry – nothing.
She and her husband make a sport of it, visiting the station an embarrassing number of times.
“There are bigger fish to fry than investigating your robbery. We’re doing what we can, considering…”
She’s indignant in the way of a naïve American who mistakenly believes the police can possibly help: “Have you ever, in the history of my neighborhood, apprehended thieves and returned stolen property?”
“I thought not,” she says, exhaling in spurts.
“And what about the thieves stealing huge carving knives and baseball bats that can be used as weapons to kill someone?”
“You will never see your belongings again, Gveret. That’s a fact,” the blonde officer quips, ignoring any underlying argument and concern.
The policewoman yawns and spins around in her chair. She reaches for a cigarette. The back of her head, black roots bleeding into blonde highlights, is a dye job gone wrong.
This is their cue. They are dismissed.
She and her husband leave police headquarters – dejected. Another wasted visit – following a half-dozen wasted visits. Fists (theirs) clench and unclench.
Rumor has it, say their Israeli friends, of an ‘understanding’ between police and thieves. If it’s not terrorism, the men in blue often turn their backs on ‘petty’ theft. (This better be a rumor or we are so messed up.)
“There is nothing petty about this theft. Besides, it feels like terrorism,” she mumbles, mainly to herself.
Back home, friends, neighbors and acquaintances console them with lasagnas and tuna casseroles while offering post-mortem analyses of the strange and fateful day:
“Get over it, unless you want it to eat you up.”
“Your husband lost all of his work-related contacts? He’ll rebuild.”
“You lost your writing? You’ll write new beginnings.”
“Why do you think Ha-shem put you through this ordeal?”
“The thieves took away your possessions and (with that) Hashem removed your husband’s cancer.”
“You have to rejoice, they were only possessions.”
“It was a Kapparah (an atonement) for your husband’s health.”
(There are twenty additional references to Kapparah, even by secular visitors.)
“Now that you’ve been robbed, your house won’t be hit for years to come. (As if there’s only one group of thieves that have marked their turf.)
“It coincided with the radiology report so that you would put the emphasis on life.”
“It was on the day of good news so you could withstand the bad.”
And on and on the analyses go.
No one wants to hear that their alarm company failed to mention the security system is entirely useless when phone lines are snipped. No one wants to hear that many houses sport exposed wires next to streets, adjacent to properties, making it possible for even a kid with sharp scissors to cut the line, inviting thieves to ‘open house’ on a street near you.
Everyone knows there is a spiritual reason attached to the robbery.
The rawness and madness of this house-rape hasn’t dissipated. Not yet.
She can’t bring herself to buy jewelry even though she owns only the pair of earrings she wore to the hospital. Every day she discovers something else that is missing, broken or mangled. She’s mad she never unwrapped Old Navy packages she was saving for her children to grow into next year. Now these sealed packages have resale value for thieves. She’s angry they’ve stolen her daughter’s expensive camera with pictures yet to be downloaded. She’s angry that her mom’s ring, the one her mother wore on her deathbed, is gone forever. She’s devastated that her own daughters will never inherit their grandmother’s necklaces. She is still so very upset. But along with this, she is grateful that no children came home that day, in the midst of the house rape, to surprise the ‘house-rapists’.
As for their dog, their very sweet, sweet, dog: They’ve been to the vet seven times, the hospital twice. He’s taking six pills a day and needs a biopsy. The vet says hives that erupted throughout his body are a manifestation of the stress. He’s lost a lot of weight in a short period of time.
She knows she’ll need to ‘reframe’ this event. She knows that far worse things have happened to the Jews. There are, after all, every day stabbings, horrific bus accidents, bombings and terrorism plaguing her land. Sometimes, though, there is another kind of terrorism, the kind that happens indoors when you’re not home, when life has already kicked you in the shins. And she wants you to know about that. About what happened to her and how the police remain unhelpful and mum. And their silence makes her feel there is no one to turn to in an emergency.
Throughout this ordeal, she remembers to count her blessings – she does! She counts her blessings while indulging others in their post mortem analyses of the robbery. She’s gracious because, after all, she’s too tired to answer them.
Bottom line: While the police may have closed their case, with or without checking the lead provided – she hasn’t. She’s learned that after a theft, there is no one to call. The Israeli police are too busy chasing terrorists to worry about her ‘civilian matter’ and this ‘safe’ place, her house, no longer feels like home sweet home.
But, hey, it’s a ‘Kapparah‘ honey.
P.S. She wants the thieves to know one thing: Nothing left to steal. Be so kind as to leave her house alone.