What’s Left After A Break-In

Story by Caroline McNally

I am afraid. I am afraid of sleeping alone.

On a Friday evening in November, my house was broken into. My five roommates and I were gone. My laptop was stolen. All my roommates’ laptops were stolen too, as well as other personal items. For weeks following the break-in, I was devastated. I had lost my sense of safety and comfort in my own home, even after my roommates and I took extra security precautions. I was empty, bitter, angry, and cold.

The night of the burglary, I didn’t go to bed until 3 a.m. All I could think about was the burglars sliding my window open and disappearing into the darkness of our house like a SWAT team. I also couldn’t sleep unless I had a friend staying with me.

The next Monday morning, I almost didn’t go to class because I was nervous to leave the house. It took me days to smile or laugh since I got that initial text from my roommate saying that someone had broken into our home.

That weekend, I only ate two or three full meals. I wouldn’t leave the house at night or for any period of time longer than three hours for the rest of the semester, preferring to stay at home with the rationale that no one would ever break in again so long as the house was never empty. Even though I was back in my hometown having fun with my family during Thanksgiving break, I was on edge, expecting one of the friends checking on my house to tell me that we had been robbed again.

Even if nothing of mine had been stolen, I would have felt the same. My home life and ability to feel safe was violated the moment someone unknown and unwelcomed slipped through my bedroom window. In my mind, he is a faceless dark figure dressed in all black. Two or three more figures follow him and laugh darkly to themselves about all the money they will make re-selling our laptops and cameras. They think we are stupid women, that we are vulnerable and weak and pathetic. That we deserve it, because we are rich, trusting, stuck-up college kids.

I replaced my laptop soon after the break-in because I had many homework assignments due that required a computer to complete. Among the roommates, we all took it differently. Two of my roommates had nightmares every time they closed their eyes. Another decided that her best way to cope was to buy flowers and put them in the places where stolen items once sat. My strategy – I realize now – was to become a weaker version of myself and make my friends sleep over every night so I didn’t have to sleep alone in my bed. I was too afraid to close my eyes unless someone was beside me. Perhaps that was the worst part of it all: letting a stranger change how I live my life.

This experience was awful, but it taught me to always take extra safety precautions. Never assume that you are safe or let your guard down. I know that this mindset will not prevent people from trying to break into my house, but at least next time, I’ll be ready – physically and mentally. I’ll be ready to protect my possessions, the people I love, and most importantly, my mental state. You can’t be too careful or too safe, especially as a woman.

My roommates and I have noticed men across the street from our house late at night. Sometimes, there will be a man on the corner when one of us gets home and by the time we have stepped out of the car, he is gone. No matter what we’ve done to secure our house, I still feel uneasy in the evenings. The cold darkness in your heart that trauma causes never fully goes away, it just shrinks. This is my new reality. While unfortunate and perhaps burdensome, it has strengthened me and slightly toughened me to the real world. Sometimes, only bad experiences can make someone a stronger version of herself.

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