That little theft we had this week got me thinking. Back to all the things that were pinched in Uganda and further back to an earlier and more devastating theft. And that led to thoughts about things, having them, losing them.
Things. I get very attached to things and when I lose them I get terribly sad. I have had two major losses of material objects in my life and neither time was my fault. Things never get lost easily with me, unlike my handsome and absent minded husband who could fill a book with the objects, ties, cameras, pens, sunglasses, umbrellas, clothes he has let slip through his fingers through the years, I am terribly careful, perhaps obsessively so. I check taxis before I exit to ensure nothing has fallen out of my bag, and likewise I check hotel room drawers, cupboards, airplane front pockets. I did once lose a roll of film in a dark but comfortable second floor hotel room in Mumbai that overlooked a courtyard filled with drinking travelers. It must have rolled out of an overstuffed backpack. Over 18 years later I still feel cross about it.
But the two great losses were completely out of my control and the greatest things were taken from me; sentimental, valuable and in the case of the London loss of great significance to my intellectual sense of well being.
It was summer and I was back in London at the parental home for a few weeks before heading back to Montreal. My mother was in a cleansing mood and was going through the storage area beneath the outside basement stairs. There were two arched caves there and my father was probably pleased that more space would be made for his growing wine collection. Inside one of those caves were two large trunks filled with the school paperwork, letters and paraphernalia of my sister’s and my school life. Upon being asked if she wanted to go through any of it my unsentimental and highly pragmatic sister said “ No . Chuck it.” When I arrived in London her stuff was already behind the house waiting for the rubbish collection the next morning. My box was waiting in the centre of a bedroom for the excavation that would begin the next day. I still remember that morning, at breakfast, listening to the large rubbish truck picking up her stuff, thinking how cleansing and unsentimental it was to just let it all go, all that clutter that we hold onto for so many years; school books, notes and letters from friends and old boyfriends that years before we clung to, promising to never let go.
When I went down and opened my box there was the usual collection of soppy letters and teenage angst written diaries, some embarrassing letters from an ex whose face I could barely remember. There were some charming and amusing school books from my primary years and one or two school projects from when I was an eager 12 year old, obsessed with the French Revolution. I looked around for the box containing my university and high school books and couldn’t see them. Thinking they might still be in the musty cave I went to check but having no luck I asked my mother if, perhaps she had put them elsewhere. No, she had no idea.
After some head scratching and searching that over the next half and hour became increasingly frantic, it was determined that the missing box, the most important box of all, the one containing my University Thesis and all my English A level work had been disposed of with all my sister’s stuff that very morning. At this moment it was probably being tipped with a simple lack of grace into a rubbish dump somewhere in East London.
I lost it. Tears, recriminations, more tears. Urgent phone calls were made to the rubbish company, tearful apologies were made but it was done. Remember that this was in the pre dawn days before computers, hard drives, USB sticks and the internet. The thesis that I had worked so hard on, for so many months, was gone forever, now a soggy stained mess rapidly turning to mulch.
I still mourn the absence of that box and often think how much I’d like my daughters to read that thesis one day.
The next great loss happened on September 13th 2004. It was 12.15 pm and I had just popped home to get my debit card before doing to do some grocery shopping. Uncharacteristically and in the mood of walking light, I left my handbag and wallet on the dining room table and simply tucked my ATM card into the back pocket of my jeans. I then left the house and walked to the nearby store. It was one of those wonderful late summer days in Montreal, where the light dappled though the trees and shadows played happily on the sidewalks. I walked to a coffee shop with my groceries, stopping to chat with a friend and making the most of my freedom while the eldest daughter was at school and my little one picked up at school and taken to a play date. It was rare that I was alone at this time since my curly headed youngest ended pre school at midday.
When I got home at about 1pm I couldn’t open the front door. The chain was hooked on the inside. My skin pricked and my stomach belly flopped. There was someone inside. I rushed to the back gate, entered though the garden and saw with a gasp that the glass door to the kitchen was smashed. The rock that has been used to break it had been tossed into the garden and was resting in the grass. I quickly went next door to the neighbour’s and called the police, thinking how lucky I was that I had no children with me. Within five minutes there there were, guns poised at the ready, on the alert in case the intruder was still inside. I wasn’t allowed in until it was declared all clear and then they walked me through the house.
It was a slick job, neat. Apart from one muddy foot print on the carpet of my sweet princess’ room, a foot print that made my eyes smart with tears, there was no trace of the robbery. He had known exactly where to go, the underwear drawer was tipped, the jewelry was all gone; the computer and camera had been un plugged and lifted from their spots on the desk in the office. There were a few glass shards in the kitchen, a small indentation on the wooden floor where the rock had hit and that was it. It must have been a two man job. One to call, by mobile phone, when I was seen leaving, another to enter the house and quickly remove all that I held sentimental.
We replaced the window before the children even came home and until a friend carelessly let out a remark about the robbery some months later they never knew. I insisted on it, not wanting them to feel scared or unsafe in their home. I remember my husband coming home from work, quickly and I remember sitting on the carpet in the front hallway and sobbing, really sobbing with anger and grief over all that was lost.
I still think, often, of items that were in that jewelry box, and I think with anger how someone came into my house and took things that were mine; valuable and sentimental things. A charm bracelet that once belonged to my grandmother heavy with charms given to her over many years by my grandfather, each charm from a different place on their travels. A watch, very valuable that I had received for my 21st birthday, the necklace that my real father had worn, was wearing when he died. The presents from Tiffany that my daughters were given on the occasion of their births, the first ring from my husband that he bought for me in Boston when we were so so young. And more, much more. A diamond pendant I got for my 30th birthday, a tiny ring I got when I was 12 that I was saving for my own daughter’s 12th birthday. The list goes on. It was devastating. The camera I was using professionally so that I had to rent another one for a wedding I was doing the next weekend. The computer filled with work. I felt invaded.
Yes, I know they were merely objects and no one was hurt. For a time I became extremely disinterested in jewelry or anything sentimental that I feared losing. I had been burnt by investing too much emotion in pieces of metal.
But we do, don’t we? Isn’t it normal to invest time, thought and love into something precious? I wish I didn’t and I am fully back on the jewelry wagon, but objects are important to me, maybe because I move so much I have held onto to these trinkets as concrete pieces of memory.