I wandered into a thieves market a few weeks ago and saw three strings of fire coral in a glass showcase. I wondered: could one of those be mine? There are many different species of fire coral in a variety of colors and shapes. They get their name from the painful stings they can inflict on divers. I didn’t know much about the habits of coral when my husband bought the necklace for me in Honolulu many years ago, but I thought it was one of the prettiest pieces of jewelry I’d seen. These days I prefer looking at live coral in the sea — which is just as well, since my necklace was stolen more than 20 years ago.
My high school class ring was stolen, too, though I have no idea when it went missing. The maid service, carpenters, plumbers, carpet cleaners — lots of people were in and out of the house during an exceptionally busy time when I didn’t have the time to stay around and stand watch. I hadn’t worn the ring in decades and certainly wouldn’t wear it now. Still, it was mine and it cost my parents a week’s worth of earnings. Why would a person want someone else’s class ring? Maybe someone, I thought, who had not finished school. Maybe he/she needed it more than I did. Sometimes this made me feel better; sometimes not.
Then there was the maternity dress, the one for special occasions, the only one in the batch that my friend “definitely” wanted back. She had loaned me her maternity clothes and I was able to return them all except the one that disappeared. The skirt to my favorite suit went missing the same year. The skirt could easily be worn alone, but the design of the jacket rendered it useless without the skirt, so it went to the Goodwill. The trick to stealing clothes, I’m told, is that thieves know to take only items that are off season (sweaters in summer, say, or sleeveless cotton when there’s a snow on the ground). This way the crime may go unnoticed for months. I made my discoveries when it came time to change closets for the season. I scratched my head and jostled my memories and came up with a number of possible scenarios but no way of knowing when or with whom my stuff had walked out of the house.
Sometimes you know the exact moment the thief makes off with something, but it doesn’t make a difference. One Labor Day weekend our bikes were stolen in broad daylight and we were all home. My young son was looking out the window, saw the two guys — one short blonde, the other tall and dark-haired — walk into our open garage (we were working in the back yard and came back and forth for tools). He watched the two ride off on our bikes but was too afraid to say or do anything. Finally, he opened the back door and told us. By then the thieves had ridden into the woods or into the back of an awaiting panel truck. We learned a couple of days later that 25 bicycles had been stolen in the DC area that weekend. But how did they know we had two bikes in the back of our garage when there were two cars in the driveway blocking the view? Could it have been one of the crew doing repairs that week on our street? We’ll never know. I like to think, however, that whoever took them never had nearly as much fun riding as we did.
I think about all the times I’ve traveled to places where I’ve been warned to watch my belongings. Carry a copy of the passport and lock up the real one. Take only enough money for the day and leave the rest in the safe. Keep the camera hidden when not taking pictures. And the list goes on and on. I go by it; I’m not foolish. Yet…I have never had anything stolen in Mexico, Central or South America, or anywhere in the Caribbean. The only thing I’ve had stolen on travel (knock on wood!) was my make up from the bathroom sink in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Most of the time when something is stolen it’s gone for good. But the heart can be stolen again and again. I’ve had mine stolen by the people I love, by places prettier than my wildest dreams, and even by complete strangers, especially children, whose eyes reveal a generous spirit. There should be more of this kind of thievery.
Have you ever had anything stolen?