The crowbar and the damage doneBy Joan Vennochi
Even the barest brush with crime can leave a bruise. Especially if you are an accomplice.
That’s how I think about a long-ago break-in to the home where I’ve lived with my husband since a short time after our marriage. One day, someone brazenly jimmied open the front door with a crowbar and, just as brazenly, left the crowbar behind. We still have it.
I imagine the intruder-to-be staking out the neighborhood and seeing our home as a convenient target, with two young people leaving in the morning and returning many hours later. Or maybe our house was chosen randomly, without any forethought or preparation.
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What made me complicit was what I left there, for the taking.
After ransacking the house, the thief made a typical pre-computer era haul: camera equipment, silverware, and jewelry. The jewelry had mostly sentimental value, like the gold charm bracelet my parents bought me for some special childhood occasion and added pieces to over the years. An opal ring — a gift from an old boyfriend — was also taken.
And so was my diamond engagement ring.
It was simply set, and the stone was less than a carat. But it was given with much love at the base of the cliffs on Martha’s Vineyard at what then was called Gay Head, now Aquinnah. This momentous personal event happened decades before Instagram and Facebook were around to capture the celebratory moments of our lives. Yet, in an old-fashioned photo album, there’s still a photo of me looking stunned and happy, after I “found” the ring in a lump of clay. The picture was taken with a camera that was also stolen during that housebreak.
You may be wondering: Why did I remove the ring that morning before leaving for work? I don’t know. There was no young-married-couple’s fight that I recall, no dramatic showdown. However, I do remember slipping the diamond off my finger. In my defense, at least I didn’t remove my wedding band.
When my husband called to tell me of the break-in, my first thought was of the ring and the coincidence of its availability to a thief on that particular day.
We were renovating, so much of the house was covered with a thin film of plaster dust. A large handprint — belonging, we assumed, to the intruder — could be seen on a dust-covered wooden sewing box. However, in the days before “CSI,” the police had little interest in our home detective work or in the abandoned crowbar. In the next week’s police log, published in the local newspaper, there was a note that someone called in to report a man walking down a nearby street with a pillowcase. A pillowcase was missing from our bed. But by that time, the intruder, the pillowcase, and my ring were long gone.
My husband wasn’t angry, just disappointed. He didn’t demand to know why I removed the ring and left it home that day. But he didn’t replace it, either. He has bought me other rings — but not another diamond. I don’t blame him for thinking of it as a one-time proposition of love and commitment.
Please understand, I am not equating this in any way with crimes of violence, depravity, and cruelty that take lives or otherwise inflict great pain and loss on victims, their loved ones, and their communities. I know how blessed I am to think about crime as a journalist — in other words, as an observer and chronicler of other people’s tragedies.
Up against serious crime and its terrible impact on victims, this scarcely registers. Yet it shows that even the most casual intrusion of crime into our life has consequences. No matter how banal the crime, it will still feel personal and will make the person at the other end of it feel vulnerable. And it still has the potential to wound in a way the perpetrator can never imagine.
Produced by Elaina Natario, Laura Colarusso, Heather Hopp-Bruce, Alex Kingsbury, Jeremy D. Goodwin, and Mary Creane