My family and I stopped to look at art this week. While we wandered among sculptures, someone smashed the window of our truck and stole our stuff: all three passports, two cameras, and lots of clothes. Most devastatingly, though, they got my laptop. The book I’ve been working on, snippets of poetry, and countless sketches of stories, columns, and op-ed pieces — my body of work such as it is — all gone.
I remember when my family’s coin-op laundromat got bumped twice within a two-week period. I was sure I’d never recover from that chaos, either. We’d barely cleaned up the first mess and were figuring out how we’d pay for repairs when it happened again. I shouted the F-bomb publicly for the first and only time in my life, and then collapsed in angry tears on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, people filed in with their carts of dirty clothes and complained that so many machines were broken.
On another occasion, our beloved husky dropped dead in mid-stride as he raced to greet me after a long day. Gary and I heaved his slack body into the back of our Jeep and raced to the vet, who conjectured that our Sydney had been poisoned. The next day, our home was robbed, and our laundromat money was stolen from our kitchen, where it waited to be put in the bank.
Once, a criminal broke into our business and caused over $5,000 in damages. We handed an 8-by-10-inch glossy of his face — printed from a digital image we captured with an expensive security system just before the criminal destroyed it and a lot of other machinery — to a sheriff’s deputy.
This particular thief smashed a hole in the wall behind our dryers and used it to rob the jewelry store adjacent to us. The immigrant family who owned that business closed their shop shortly thereafter. It’s hard to withstand being the victim of crime — not just the financial toll it takes, but the brutal psychological costs, as well.
The criminal? Police arrested him, but he never served time and never paid restitution. I wrote a scathing letter to the judge who inexplicably thought that decision was fair, but he’s still on the bench and that thief is still at large.
This week, I’m reflecting on dishonesty, crime, and human-made suffering.
A therapist friend told me once that “things that happen to you” are easier to recover from than “things that are done to you.” In the past five years, I’ve received a nasty breast cancer diagnosis, my mom died, and I’ve lost two houses in wildfires. But that therapist was right.
The lasting scars in my life were left by people who deliver pain on purpose: strangers who killed my dog, burgled my home, ransacked my businesses, and most recently, smashed the window of my truck. They’re the ones who keep me awake some nights.
Cancer can seem like it doesn’t make sense, and some people who get it are furious about it. That hasn’t been my experience.
For me, my mom’s passing, the fires, and the triple-negative breast cancer I’ve endured haven’t been as difficult, in many ways, as the relentless crime that continues to shape my days.
Dishonesty is its own kind of cancer. It wears us all down, strikes indiscriminately, and has no cure. The world hasn’t invented a chemotherapy to combat evil or a vitamin regimen that bolsters immunity to victimization.
Cancer comes with a long list of visual imagery. For me, those images are now mixed up with a fabulous sculpture exhibit, a missing laptop, and a pile of broken glass.
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