I went through this phase for a while where I broke into cars. But I was real picky about it. I never busted out a window on anything that belonged to a single mother or someone who could’ve been friends with my Nana at the rec center. So, technically, I wasn’t a bad person. I wasn’t even some punk kid on a dare.
I was jut getting by; just looking for a little rush. You can justify everything as long as you don’t think about it too hard.
Like when it was just me and a coat hanger and that sly pop of the lock. Sometimes I even got lucky and the door would already be unlocked for me. I wouldn’t have to use the coat hanger or bust out the glass or anything. As much of a rush as breaking into cars gave me I was always so relieved when the door would click open without effort. I wouldn’t need repentance then, you know? It’s not my fault the door was unlocked. It made the vision of the owner finding fault with themselves much more realistic. “How could I have forgotten to lock the damn door,” they’d think on their way to the store to replace their missing aux cord and the Nike FlyKnits from their gym bag.
When push came to shove I’d poke around the smaller apartment complexes. The one’s that weren’t gated and usually not as well-lit as some of the bigger communities. And, if you’re really smart, like I was, you target the parking lots in back. That way, if anybody sees you, they just assume you’re some weird neighbor they haven’t met yet.
I’d be telling a lie if I said I made a lot of money doing this. I didn’t. But that didn’t hold me back. I’m not someone who gives up easily. My aunt always said I have true grit. Spare change adds up and I have somewhere else I want to be.
The last night I went window shopping as I so cleverly dubbed my hoodrat hobby, I picked out a complex that had 12 spots in the back of building 16. I liked this lot because the buildings in the complex were numbered out of order so they read 17, 18, 16 as you wound your way to the back. Anyway, I’m in the lot right, and there’s this nice Jeep Renegade with one of those monogram things on the back windshield out there (the initials were REH) and the door’s unlocked like some kind of gift from the Great I Am himself.
I get in there and start looking around and the stereo system isn’t really worth prying out so I leave it alone, and there’s not a watch or anything in the cup holder, so I just swipe the change from the backseat and get out. When I slide out of the backseat there’s REH and she’s got these big brown eyes and she’s just staring at me.
She’s got a duffle bag strapped across her right shoulder and her keys are in her left hand and I’m like Oh shit and somehow, before I know what’s happening I say the words “Oh, shit,” and it suddenly dawns on me that my legs aren’t moving. Most people would’ve been hauling ass by this point, right? So I’m standing there like my toes are made of lead and I’m thinking to myself, Do you want to get arrested, dumbass, and after what seems like an eternity, I utter the brilliant phrase, “Is this your car?” and she just kind of looks at me and then I say, “It looks exactly like mine. I guess those drinks were a little stronger than I thought.”
I haven’t had a drop of liquor in 2 years but her eyes soften a little and I think for a second maybe she believes me. She sees right through me but she says it’s okay and it’s also not okay and then asks if I’m okay. She looks at me like I’m some prodigal friend who’s just walked back into her life after a decade or so and asks if there’s anybody she can call and I’m so surprised at her words and my own stupidity I’ve gone dumb again and I’m just kind of standing there with my hands in my hoodie pocket like I’ve got something worth holding onto in there. I don’t.
And then I notice that she’s noticed my hands in my hoodie pocket and her breath catches in her throat so I take my hands out real slow because I didn’t come here to terrorize anybody or anything like that. I’m not a monster. I had no idea that it was possible for someone to perceive me as an actual threat.
The cloud cover breaks and the moment is suddenly caught in a moonbeam and it’s just like heaven is recognizing her for her goodness in this world. I felt pretty crappy right about then. But I couldn’t help thinking in the same moment how I could just take her keys and her wallet and her cell phone and the cross around her neck and the ring on her finger and her sense of safety.
There’s also this alternate scenario where I just tell her I’m sorry. I tell her I’m sorry that I coveted the spare change in her back seat. Tell her that I’m sorry I ran 2,000 miles away from home and missed my uncle’s funeral. Tell her I’m sorry that the world’s the way it is and there are people like me in it. Tell her that I’m scared of the same things she is. Everything.
What did I do?
I told her all the things I’d been dying to say to a best friend if I ever found one: That this just happened and it’s still happening and I don’t have a good explanation why it keeps happening. I told her that I just want something to love for the fact that I can dedicate my entire life to it and never know a damn thing about it and it all be okay. I tell her that if she could just forget this happened, just wrap an arm around my shoulder, even if the city went on burning, I’d be okay.
I tell her I don’t deserve for her to be looking at me like that. Like she knows me or something. Like we knew each other in some alternate universe. And I know she believes me. But it doesn’t stop her from looking at me like that anyway.