In college I lived with many others in a house that was so old and drafty that our hair became icicles when we got out of the shower. We returned home one night in the midst of a robbery.
It was rather comical, actually, for our robbers were but young boys who clearly were more frightened of us than we were of them. They careened down the stairs and slammed into the door I’d just opened, leaving me totally confused about what was happening, my roommate screaming and cursing and a flurry of footsteps until all was finally calm. The police were called and they found a few things, a stereo, god knows what else we had, nothing really of too much value, tucked in the bushes for the boys to pick up later. I don’t recall being too freaked out about the possibility of them returning, although perhaps they did.
When I was living in Barcelona I lived in an old two-story building in the middle of the city which has certainly by now been torn down, a high-rise in its footprint. It had an ancient and heavily carved wooden door, at least 12′ tall and with an iron sliding lock which took a key which weighed almost more than I did. Underneath was a motorcycle shop and a modest family restaurant a bit to the side. It was hot at night, and I often slept with the large floor-to-ceiling doors open to the balcony. One night, as I slept, a robber (or two?) apparently slipped up and over my balcony to gain access to the restaurant only to find a pittance in the register. I wonder if he saw me, if he paused to watch me breathing. I don’t recall it making me terribly nervous when I heard of it the next day, after the fact and all. From then on I probably closed the doors at night, but it’s also possible I did not. (Hardly the princess type, nonetheless during those years I thought I had a magical cloak, of sorts, after all the house did feel like a castle.)
Oh, there have been other times, wallet stolen in Mexico, passport in Madrid, scary nights spent in train stations where potential thieves swarmed about like packs of wolves, waiting for me to stumble. The worst was the time I was held up at gunpoint with my husband just a few steps from our Brooklyn home when the robber pressed his gun into my very pregnant belly. What is most surprising about that moment was the fact that my instinct kicked in, the adrenaline flowed, and I ran… I flew, not even thinking that in doing so I left my husband there with the mugger. I was a bit more careful after that, but in time I regained that casual nonchalance with which I walked about the city, aware but hardly paranoid.
Last night though, was different, and I wasn’t even the one who was robbed. I wasn’t even there, but home waiting for my daughter to return from a concert. Her one-week-old iphone—the one she’d gotten the day they went on sale (the 4′s, not the new 5) for a hundred buckeroos. Gone.
But not totally gone, for through the power of technology, while the rest of the house slept I hovered over my screen in the darkness, commanding the wayward phone to play sounds, to lock its screen and to reveal to me on the map where it was. It did, finally, around 1:00 am. I called the police when my screen displayed a little blue dot on the corner of two streets, at an address which when googled turned out to be that of a Chinese Restaurant. I thought of waking up my husband and came this close to hopping in the car by myself, imagining myself puffed up with bravado as I entered the restaurant to demand it, as if those boys (for surely they were boys, right?) would look at me sheepishly and hand it over. The police officer basically told me that other than filing a report in the morning there was nothing I could do.
This time was different. First because that stupid little blue dot made the robbery all the more excruciating, but mostly because this time it was not me. I tossed and turned all night thinking not of the phone, but of what had happened to my daughter, and how many times she will put herself in the path of danger and how helpless I am to prevent her from doing so. I willed her to be more careful, more vigilant. Soon she will be gone and while technology may grant me little maps to tell me where she is, no one can tell me if she is safe.
I remembered all the close calls I’d had over the years, the people I’d trusted who I ought not to have, how I dove with abandon (as she no doubt will, too) into new experiences. How I opened my eyes so very wide that at times I was blinded, the part of my vision designed to keep me wary of danger lying at the periphery.
It’s not about the phone. It was and is a foolish and indulgent toy. It was about the violation of my child, and the invisibility shield I would place around her. But of course shields, even when invisible, have flaws and weaknesses. I could not be certain she would wear it when it’s sunny and the breezes are pleasant on her skin, or when it scratches her and feels heavy on her shoulders. I know that even if I were to drape it over her shoulders there would no doubt be times when she would choose to take it off and toss it aside as soon as I rounded the corner.
Little. blue. dots. An illusion of safety, of knowing.