So, that was awkward!

When a noise woke me up the other night, I thought it was just my cat, Emmitt. But then I listened a little longer and the sounds you made while disconnecting my TV were much different from the sounds my tiny cat makes when he’s chasing a stuffed mouse. I confess you frightened me when you heard me coming from the bed room and dropped whatever you were doing. I saw you leave, but you were just a dark silhouette in winter clothes that passed my vision briefly. I don’t know why that feels like a confession, but I’m relieved that I didn’t try to chase you or say something. Frankly, I don’t know what I would have said.

I also don’t know what I would have done if I had gotten close enough to touch you. Tackle you? Push you into the unopened packing boxes piled up in my living room? Hit you? No, you were leaving empty-handed, and there isn’t much in my apartment I’d hurt someone for trying to take. Those items that mean the most to me, like a bulb from a string of lights or a framed fish skull, are not things you would have been likely to take.

I guess you were trying to take my TV, which is the only thing in this apartment that cost a lot of money, but it’s old and you broke it when you unplugged it, so it’s not worth even the vanishingly little it was worth when it worked perfectly. Consumer electronics are like that — quick to obsolesce and surprisingly fragile. My phone is worth more than the tv, but even it has a cracked screen, and it’s usually pretty close to me. You would have had to come into my bedroom to get it and that probably would have awakened me, which you definitely didn’t want to happen, because you left when I got out of bed.

I didn’t know you left empty handed until after I confirmed you hadn’t taken anything, so that’s another thing for me to confess. My initial concern was not to apprehend or stop you, but to calculate my losses. See, I’ve been robbed before, but that was much more traumatic. My ex fiancee’s child was there and spoke to that burglar, who told him not to say anything. That guy got away with a lot of stuff, but I got most of it back. The only thing I didn’t get back was my laptop, which would have been the other valuable thing in this apartment you could have taken. But even that MacBook Pro, expensive when I bought it, was getting old, too. Not only that, but it somehow survived being half-submerged in Cornwall, when a water bottle in my bag popped open and soaked everything in it. I was standing on the pier in St. Ives, holding a dripping computer, while seagulls swarmed the people around me eating french fries. I valued that computer for the memories of that trip, not for its utility (though it was a pretty good computer).

I’m not sorry you didn’t take anything, but I will confess to something else and I’m not proud of it: I feel sorry for you. Pity is a terrible feeling, and it’s almost never a good reflection of the person feeling it, or the person being pitied. Pity feels like mercy but it isn’t. Pity is motionless, selfish. Pity is an opinion, not an act. I’m sorry that I feel sorry for you.

I feel sorry for you because you broke into my apartment to take something valuable, probably to sell, but you didn’t find anything except a big, old, heavy TV set. You probably need the money for drugs, which is what people like me say when criminals do things that we wouldn’t do. I don’t understand being desperate enough to steal something, but my tiny experience with addiction, as a cigarette smoker in my 20s, makes me understand a bit of what drug dependence feels like. I also know, intellectually, how powerful addiction can be and how it can make you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. When I look at your unwelcome appearance in my apartment, I see a desperate person motivated by a racist and uncaring culture into an addiction he can’t escape, and maybe cut off from his usual source of money by the pandemic.

Oh, I can’t forget that part of this whole thing, the deadly virus that is keeping everybody home, because that’s what makes this whole situation even stranger. Common wisdom among non-burglars like me is that you don’t want to break in to a house with somebody in it. If there’s ever been a time that we can be pretty sure everybody’s home, it’s now. Like I said, I feel sorry for you because if you’re going to break into my home, while I’m probably in it, you must be pretty desperate for money. This pandemic has made money scarce for a lot of people, and scarcity makes us more likely to act selfishly.

I’m sure we live very different lives. I made choices that led me here, just like you made choices that led you here. I don’t doubt that my life is, generally speaking, easier than yours. This is not entirely because of the choices I made. In fact, my choice probably had very little to do with it at all. But yours did. And I’m sorry you felt like you had to take some of my stuff.

I guess I should be thankful that you didn’t hurt me, which is another thing people like me say when people like you break into our houses. I bet it annoys you, because maybe you’re just as avoidant of violence as me.

What happens to people like me when somebody breaks into their house is that they are suddenly, inescapably confronted with hard, cruel reality. We are so removed from the daily indignities of crime and violence that when they happen to us, we’re sent reeling. We find that we have to deal with what happened to us, and to deal with the realization that the line between an easy life and a hard life is terrifyingly thin. It reminds me that my proximity to violence and suffering is bound by a thin fabric of laws and agreements and luxuries. All it takes for this illusion of safety to fall is for one person to have a bad night and try to take some guy’s tv.

I’m sorry you are in whatever bad place you’re in that makes you take someone’s stuff. I hope you get out of it, and your life gets easier. I hope you make the right choices that I’ll never have to make, that I can’t even imagine ever having to make. I got all new locks and a fresh reminder of how I still need to use them.

So, thanks for that.

5,495 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Guy Who Broke Into My House During a Pandemic

  1. I have read your article carefully and I agree with you very much. This has provided a great help for my thesis writing, and I will seriously improve it. However, I don’t know much about a certain place. Can you help me?

  2. I have read your article carefully and I agree with you very much. This has provided a great help for my thesis writing, and I will seriously improve it. However, I don’t know much about a certain place. Can you help me?