Every day, when I round the corner to my home, I wince.
Not some days, not every other day, not once a week. Not snow days, sunny days, rainy days and Mondays.
As I make my way around the juniper lined yard, I squint, as I look at my front door. Is it ajar? I someone there, standing in my doorway?
Even my eyes play tricks on me. I think I see a shadow and my heart hides in my throat and beats like it did that day. That dreadful summer day.
I was 22 years old. A flight attendant without a care in the world. The thing about 22 is that you're too young to know what you are supposed to be afraid of. It's like a toddler discovering how to walk - they just don't know to be afraid - they just go, toddle, stumble and get back up. When you're 22 you just stumble through each day, falling and brushing yourself off constantly trying again because you don't know any better yet. The fear shackles haven't taken hold. The world hasn't completely shown itself and all of its dirty little secrets.
Being a flight attendant taught me to be brave in the face of the fear. Between nasty turbulence, an angry delayed passenger that you can't escape from, how to solve problems quickly and quietly, or how to make sure you have a backup plan in case you don't get from point A to point B the way you were supposed to, I learned to be resilient and resourceful. It taught me not to give too much information away to strangers, and to always have the pilot look behind my hotel door on overnights before I went in. I learned when to stop serving someone, and how to calm myself and others when things got rough. I was brave and bold, but I was young and naive.
Life was easy breezy. All that worrying by my parents for so many years - ha! I knew it all. I had this thing called the 'real world' in the bag. My only concerns were keeping my eyes and ears open when new bases came available and the best routes to grab - I didn't focus on details in my life. Isn't that where they say the devil is? The details?
That summer, the devil was watching me.
I was on a 4 day on, 3 day off schedule. It was glorious and I loved every minute of it. Hoppers to Nantucket and Boston, Bangor and Portland, Hyannis and Burlington. I was doing 8 flights a day most of those days. People were happy, pre -9/11 passengers were fun, and flying was mostly good, easy, laid back. There was the occasional tantrum from an unhappy person or two having a bad day for whatever reason - but it was manageable. It was summer, and having three days to hop from place to place in the jump seat were the dreams that the life of a 22 year old were made of. Especially my dreams. I'd been putting off my Wanderlust for years, and when I graduated from travel school, I was bursting at the seams to start flying. Life was good. Flying was even better..and my days off - were the best. As excited as I was to finally get home to my cozy little first apartment in my fun new life, I couldn't wait to unpack and repack for my next big adventure on my days off.
My taxi pulled up in front of my old New Englander multi-family apartment. It was a tiny one bedroom in a giant old house with quite a few tenants scattered throughout the building. If you think being a flight attendant pays money, think again. It doesn't. But at 22, there are some things worth suffering for. I was based in Maine, so my rent was dirt cheap and at least I didn't have to share an apartment with six other people like my friends based in NYC or DC or Boston. I gave a friendly goodbye to one of my regular taxi drivers and he sped off, leaving me standing in the warm breeze in the driveway of my apartment. I noticed the main front door was open but didn't think much of it as some of my neighbors left it open from time to time.
I happily made my way to my old yellow door, decorated with my silly attempt at a wreath, and it only took a moment to realize that it was ajar.
My door was ajar.
I suddenly felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest. My smile and confidence left me just as fast as the cab driver. The feeling of not breathing, and even remembering how to breathe consumed me.
All rolled into one.
I pushed the door open, still holding my breath.
What if someone is in here?
There were cigarette butts in the floor.
My mantle was wiped clean of my jewelry and personal things.
My underwear drawer was open and strewn on the floor.
My bills were thrown from the desk.
My closet was destroyed.
The window was broken.
My TV was gone.
I slowly crept in to my bedroom to notice my pillowcases were gone (apparently, those would come in handy to shove the goods into?) and my bed wasn't made. I always made my bed before I left so it became apparent that someone knew my schedule, and took their time, and lingered a while.
My things were ravaged. My privacy violated. My innocence, robbed.
I tried to think. I ran to the phone. I had to call 911 immediately.
They took my phone. They took my phone!
I was 22 years old.
I ran, crying, down the street, to my (now ex- husband) boyfriend's house and called the police. It was like I was in some kind of nightmare that I couldn't shake myself out of.
I met the police back at my apartment. I couldn't sit down. I had no comforts of my home anymore. My first time on my own, my first place, my inaugural shot at being a grown up. Someone took all of it from me. Hell, some of the things they stole hadn't even been paid for yet.
Do you have renter's insurance?
I gulped. Renter's insurance?
I learned quickly what it was, and the importance of having it. You mean I didn't know it all at 22?
There were harsh realities in the world that I had no idea about? I didn't cover all my bases when I finally branched out on my own? You mean I lied, when I thought I've got this. How could I be so stupid?
They asked me for serial numbers from my things...HA! Doesn't every 22 year old write down the serial numbers of their belongings?
Every question they asked me seem to imply how stupid of a kid I really was. No insurance, no back up plan, no nothing. But I had a question for them! Were they going to dust for fingerprints? Their answer -
you watch too much NYPD Blue.
There was no hope, no help from these guys whatsoever. They asked around for any information, they interviewed the neighbors, but no one saw anything - no one knew anything. The investigation was over before it began.
I had nothing left. Besides the clothes in my flight attendant suitcase, the ones on my back, and the few they left in my closet, I had nothing, and the worst was having my innocence stolen from me.
I left that day, never to return. I took a few photo frames of family and I left the rest of my tainted things. I told the landlord he could have anything I left, the futon, the emptied bookshelf, whatever - it was his. He was kind enough to tell me he'd worry about the ashes in the carpet and the broken window, he, after all, had insurance to cover the damages. I did not.
The next few days, I got situated somewhere else. I was angry, bitter, lost and upset. Every single person that walked by was a suspect. Was that my necklace? Was that my shirt? Was it you? YOU? HER? HIM? WHO!? It was making me crazy. Who was in MY bed? Who was in my living room? Who got in my drawers and read my mail? I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. And for me to not be able to eat - you know that's bad. I even gave up my dream job as a flight attendant and opted for something that would afford me the luxury of staying in one place. My immense desire to see the world was overshadowed by anxiety and despair. I was consumed with fear and uncertainty, I felt bruised and empty.
It took me a few months to get over what happened, but I did. I got another place, I worked extra hours, I bought new things, including renter's insurance, and I found a slice of happy again. That was the beauty of 22. The forgiving nature, the renewed hope found in the little things, and the endless supply of energy pulled me through a dark time. The belief was still strong that when one apartment door is 'ajar', another one opens-so to speak. I never once doubted that there was a reason this happened, I just had to find it.
These days, I have an obsession with locking doors, car doors, once, twice, three times on some days. I have dreams of coming to that same apartment door, and creaking it open to find the same mess I saw that day. It sucks, but it happened.
I was forced to grow up overnight because of that. I learned that there was so much I didn't know, there were things that I needed to be responsible for, and that being 22 didn't earn me the know it all award.
I am grateful for the life lessons. And I am thankful for my three boys that make me brave every time I round the street corner. They are my fortress around my castle, my armor, my courage. Without that break in, I would've never changed the path that I was on that eventually led me here.
It's not mine to question. Why it happened? How it happened? Who did that to me? It just happened. I feel like it was an invisible hand, changing the direction of the path I was on. Sometimes, it's completely baffling how much I went through to get to this place that I am now. The hard times make you who you are whether you realize it at the time or not. You just have to trust yourself and if that means throwing the road map that you drew for your life aside and going with fate's GPS, then so be it.
Every brick, every step, every mistake, every glorious win and heartbreaking loss led me here.