When I walked up to my little cabin, I noticed that the door was ajar by a couple of inches. My natural instinct was not to turn around and lock myself in the car, but to walk in. It’s hard to describe the feeling as I stepped on the glass shards of what was my kitchen window and saw a shattered picture on the floor; then I noticed the sagging, ripped blinds and the short-wave radio face-down on the table, where I know it wasn’t before. Things were missing, oddly out of place, disturbed, moved, wrong . . . I felt a wave of sick panic and dread. I finally walked out and called the police.
They were in no great rush. It was, after all, just another break in of a mostly empty cabin. Our fault, really; we should be there more often. My thoughts ran along this track: we deserved this; it’s a sign from God that we have too much, that we are spoiled materialists; why do we have a cabin if we only show up once every two months or so? Then, again, you deserve this, Kirsten. Your fault. The accusations were relentless. I called the glass guy and almost cried as I set up the appointment for him to replace the glass. I saw the neighbor and told her, breathless, about what had happened. Her reaction was curious; she expressed no surprise whatsoever. She behaved as if I were accusing her of something, or suggesting that she should have seen something or reported it. She bore the marks of a guilty conscience, but why? She walked away with her big, brown dog and I returned to the car to ruminate.
After wallowing in recriminations and suspicions, I returned to the scene of the crime, a place which used to be my home. I walked through the living room; someone had dumped out the contents of a drawer. The radio was gone. Some CDs had disappeared. The door to the little humidor was open, its contents re-arranged. One of the WWII machetes on the wall was missing; then I found it on top of the antique organ. The keys were all messed up, and there were screws on the keyboard. Had they chopped up the keyboard? Why would anyone do that? Were they hiding something here? Then: the glass to the door of the wood burning stove was missing. The door itself was outside the kitchen window. The cops re-installed the door without the glass. This slowly started to obsess me: why the missing glass door?
I didn’t notice anything missing in the bathroom. I ascended the stairs and quickly ascertained that no one had entered Imanya’s room. At the time, I didn’t ask myself how I knew that; but now I realize that it was a psychic impression. I didn’t feel them there, and I knew that they had felt compelled to leave before they had the chance to look in her room. I knew that they felt they needed to leave quickly, but I wasn’t yet sure why. In our bedroom, there were books and pictures strewn across a wood storage bench. At first, I thought the pictures were broken. The closet was open. A corner of the bedspread was turned up, forming a little triangle on one corner of the bed. Thought: people were in our bedroom . . . people I don’t know. People who tried to kick in the door, force the locks, and when unsuccessful, shattered our kitchen window with a large rock. Those people, strangers, searched our bedroom for something unnamed. I heard labored breathing and realized it was me, trying to catch my breath.
Panic attacks feel like someone has drugged you with powerful stimulants. You shake, you can’t find enough air, you see dots and spots floating in your vision, your legs can barely hold you upright, and you feel cold and hot at the same time. You can also fly down a flight of stairs, run through a small house and reach your car in 22 seconds flat. That is what I did. By the time the police arrived, I was freezing cold and staring straight ahead into empty space in the front seat of my car.
The investigation was cursory and unsuccessful. There were no obvious fingerprints. These unnamed perpetrators didn’t steal anything worth a great deal of money, and they didn’t vandalize the cabin. Later, when my shaken husband showed up after a four hour trip from the Valley, we realized that certain items of value were stolen. We started a list. It was a surreal game of detective: what used to be here, on the wall? Where are my binoculars? What happened to my North Face jacket? Bit by bit, we cataloged the losses; but the biggest loss was building up in both of us: we had been thrown off our center, kicked out of yet another home by a force more tangible than a distant, corrupt bank: we were, yet again, psychologically homeless.
I tried to imagine, at first, who these people were. I was certain that there was more than one. In my hysteria, I couldn’t fix any identities, and everyone–neighbors, friends, family–had different theories after they heard the story. I wandered around blessing the house and praying, cleaning up glass, praying some more, scrubbing the floor, blessing the house, cleaning the windows, putting away the scattered items, repeating the Our Father, ‘as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ attempting to see them as victims as well, poor, desperate, addicted?
My husband attacked the door-repair project. The glass guy installed another pane. Everyone seemed suspicious to both of us. Did the glass guy have his delinquent kid break the glass so his father made more money? Even friends and acquaintances in town appeared stand-offish and distant. What did they know? Do they blame us for not occupying our cabin? Was this a conspiracy? Did everyone know what happened, yet refuse to tell us?
Ty built up a fortress: alarms for the windows, motion detectors, timers for radios and lights, and a front door that looked like it came out of a Mad Max movie. I cleaned like a woman possessed. At times, the cabin returned to us as a refuge and a place of peace and beauty. But something lingered, a certain darkness that they left behind. You couldn’t see it, but you could feel it. It came and went in waves, that strange density and silence where something terrible had happened. There was a shadow by the window in the kitchen that connected with the part of my brain that felt fear; and something else was connecting, too, something that was about to make contact with me through my dreams, in the dead of night.
Last night, I saw her. She was with a man wearing a hood, his face dark. They were in their thirties, or perhaps late twenties. Something was wrong with the lower half of her face; either she was missing teeth, or her jaw was caving in. Her lips were very thin, her nose slightly beaked at the tip. Her face was very pale. She wore a light-colored sweatshirt, not enough to keep her warm. She wasn’t thin, but was losing weight. She was slightly taller than me. I can’t see her eyes. I can’t see her hair. She is telling her partner, who doesn’t give a damn about our property and would happily take an ax to all of it, she is telling him to leave things alone, to not make a mess, to not touch things they don’t need. She sees the Virgin Mary on the wall; she feels bad, she feels watched. He doesn’t care; he doesn’t see anything or feel anything. Her job is to keep him in check.
He is the one responsible for kicking the door, for prying the locks, for tossing the rock through the window. She stands back, her hands in the pockets of her sweatshirt. He keeps his hood up. All I can see of his face is a broken nose, the face of a boxer. He is very, very dark. Something in him broke and died a long time ago. I’m afraid of him. She is taking things they need. I can’t see what they are taking, but I know that they have a definite and specific purpose. This isn’t random; this is part of a larger need, a project, a plan. Upstairs, she is frightened. She hears something, or she sees something, but whatever sends her away is powerful. I don’t know if he feels it, too, but they leave very quickly. It’s night. They used a flashlight to see into drawers and storage spaces. They didn’t find everything that they wanted; but they had to leave.
I see her face all night. She is addicted to methamphetamine. She lost teeth and has jaw problems from the effect of the drugs. When I wake up, the first thing I say to Ty is: I saw her. She’s an addict. So is he, but it’s more in control. She is losing all hope. They are cold and living somewhere with no heat. It’s winter; she’s desperate. He’s working on something. He needs . . .
The glass. The tempered glass in the door to the wood-burning stove. That’s it. I look up the shopping list for meth production. First item needed: Tempered glass. I’m thinking, thinking that something else was missing from the kitchen and the bathroom, and then it hits: cough syrup, gone; Sudafed, gone; all drugs in the bathroom cabinet, missing. In my altered state over the weekend, I noticed that there were gaps in the medicine cabinet and in the kitchen shelves, but I couldn’t place it. It hits me. The blender is gone. I look at the methamphetamine shopping list: tempered glass, blenders, Sudafed, aspirin, cough syrup . . . my hands feel light and shaky, my head is floating off my shoulders, the world is unreal.
Do you believe that I saw her? Do you think I know who they are? How did I know? Somehow, it doesn’t matter; I do know. I could pick her out of a line up. Maybe one day, I will.
Everything I have written here is the most accurate representation I can give you of what actually transpired over this last weekend. The police may never find the people who robbed us; but know, I feel that I know them. This hasn’t helped my panic, because I am not scared of her; she is a sad, broken, addicted woman who protected our cabin from her partner. I am scared of him; I can’t see his eyes, I can’t read his face. He is a void, a black hole where nothing I care about is allowed to exist. He is still out there, searching for the next rock to throw into the next window, and if someone happens to be home, he will do whatever he thinks is necessary to escape unnoticed and unrecognized. He has become, for me, the stuff of nightmares.
He reminds me of the dead space at the end of the long, dark corridors in the worst units in the old Camarillo State Hospital. He left some of that darkness in our cabin and in the corners of my exhausted brain.
Our Father . . .
–Kirsten A. Thorne, Ph.D