It’s not very good, but I just felt like posting something different…the following is true and I put it in a poem while I was in college.
V. The police called to tell me my car window was reported â€œfound shattered.â€ I slip on my shoes and white T-shirt and break out of the front door, heavily squinting in the morning sun. I slowly twist my head through where-the-window-should-be to find glass seeding the front seat. I talk to the police officer; taken:
1 rental tape,
26 music discs.
The letter that came this morning:
â€œYour recent letter came. I have read it and reread it many times. You know you can count on us for prayers for your safety. Itâ€™s a problem I have understanding how God answers in so many unusual ways.
Your mother needs you so terribly much. Through her tears is sobbed, â€˜I wish he could spend some time with Andrew this summer.â€™ I really donâ€™t know what else to say.
Congratulations on your graduation.
I remember this event well, I was in the last days of college, desperate about what I was going to do with my life. The policemen knocked at my door and woke me up in the early morning telling me that my car had been broken into. It was a smash-and-grab, and it was the first time I had ever been deliberately robbed in such a way. I really felt violated, which was surprising to me.
I had also sent out a bunch of letters for support for China, which is what my grandmother responded to in a letter I received the same morning.
The thing that I thought was worth putting in a poem when I was in college was the specific feeling I recieved of being alone in this place, at the cusp of graduating from college which was I was promised would be a pivotal moment in my life. However, I mark this time as one of the most confusing lost times I have ever been in. My relationship with Katie, whom I had just started dating a few months prior, was strained because neither of knew what we were going to do post-graduation. I hoped I was going to China, a place I loved, to people I cared about.
Then, this letter from my grandmother, that wasn’t really about me whatsoever. I felt like a hollow husk when I got this, punctuated by the “congratulations on your graduation.” I felt like the graduation card was just a vehicle for familial guilt to be conveyed to me…and in that specific time, with all the pressures and violation of the morning, I think I finally left my family.
And I felt left by them.
Anyway, I stumbled across this the other day and it set me back in this specific moment strongly. I thought I’d share.
To my Hollow Men,
Thanks for sharing this, Tob, and great to have some poetry on the blog, from your college days. It’s interesting how you juxtapose the break-in of your car with the guilt hurled at you from your grandmother. It really heightens the sense of violation, as you say–that violation can come from without, but can also come from within. What a tough letter to receive from your grandmother, and good that you point to the moment you cut yourself into your own self, your own existence.
I also went through something like that in my last days of college. My parents seemed to assume I would be moving back to McPherson, and it was awkward and difficult to explain to them that that was not my intention. I think that’s when they realized I was really on my own, and that college had done its noble work of pushing me out into life.
My car has been broken into twice, actually–once in Saint Louis: nothing was stolen, oddly. Just the window broken. And then once in Saint Paul, in the dead of January. Again, nothing taken, just a smashed window. You could see that someone had smashed every other car window all the way down the street…
My first week of school at SVA I walked from the school (west 21st street) over to NYU MED (east 33rd) where Sara was. I got mugged. When I say mugged, I mean two guys struck me, and forcibly removed my wallet from my pocket, as well as taking my backpack.
Sara and I had been in NY for about a month and a half and in our apartment for about three weeks (we lived in a YMCA until we were permitted to move into the Staten Island apartment, miracuously, on the very day our YMCA rooms could no longer be renewed).
I remember walking toward the hospital at night, one block away on 33rd and 2nd Ave. when I observed a young man approaching me. He was walking fairly stiffly and intently, and I remember being unsettled by it. But against my instincts, I kept walking toward him, thinking to cross the street was to act out a prejudice.
He stopped in a shadowed area about thirty feet ahead of me with both hands in his pockets and said, “Give me up your goods.” I rememebr considering bolting for just one second but feeling uncertain as to whether he had a weapon, when I was struck on the head, hard, from behind which caused me to sink to the ground. My wallet was ripped from my back pocket (I never carried my wallet in my back pocket again while in NY) and my backpack was stripped from my shoulders, all this as I was ordered not to get up.
I remember facing the concrete wondering if they would be bold enough to assault me further right on the street. I lay there, somewhat trembling for a moment, when I realized the two muggers had already retreated down the block.
Here’s the strange part. This may make the entire incident seem less terrifying than it was at the time, but I wasn’t in a real sensible state of mind. I remember thinking, my sketchbook, my Seamus Heaney Collected Poems, and some irreplaceable family photos are all that are in that backpack.
I shouted at the two shadowy figures, now at the far end of the block. “Can I have my backpack back. It’s just got some books and stuff in it.” My voice was trembling.
They stopped, rifled through my back, dumping the contents on the sidewalk; and (here’s the odd part) one of them ground his foot into the Heaney book, as if to say, I disrespect your reading tastes. Then they were gone.
I decided the responsible act was to report the crime which was an eye-opener. I spent three hours in the 17th precinct only to have a dis-interested policeman ask a few questions like: Can you descibe them enough to recognize them again? Did you see a weapon or were you threatened by a weapon? Did they say anything to you? (He did take note of “Give me up your goods.”) In the mean time, I felt like I was in an episode of NYPD Blue watching people handcuffed trickle into the station and cops head out for a night, coffee in hand.
After the incident, I remember thinking that I could have been shot, and, later, my primary thought was that I consciously refused to hesitate to walk at, near, alongside, across, or with strangers of the same general appearance. If I didn’t belive in stereo-types before that incident, I sure as hell wasn’t going to start afterward.
The only other incident of such a nature was once, when traveling, Sara and I were forced, unexpectedly, to leave Agnes in our car for the night.
In the morning, our window was smashed, and Agnes was gone. I was heartbroken, and we spent four hours combing the town (Willimington, N.C.) until we were joyfully reunited with our puppy. If I would have given up after three hours I would still feel guilty today. Agnes has been with us through 9/11, the blackout, the ferry crash, and the birth of both our children. To this day I wonder if the car was broken into BECAUSE she was in it (perhaps it was believed she was guarding), and I deeply regret not devising a better alternative.
Honestly, I think I can recover from crimes against my property quite readily, it is when my loved ones are threatened that I really become upset. When Sara had Eliot in a stroller and a pitbull attacked Agnes, I was at work. Sara beat the pitbull off with a heavy metal umbrella. I returned to an apartment covered in blood. I had to calm myself, before I gave the owner of the dog a piece of my mind.
I remember after her stitches, Agnes was in so much pain that she wouldn’t lie down. I watched as she slowly fell asleep against the wall, only to slide down, snap awake, and whimper. I spent the night on the wood floor of our apartment with her between me and the couch so she could relax a bit. I woke up with her blood on my sleeping clothes. I ended up taking her to the doctor who gave her a time-release morphine patch that lasted a week. Then she slept like a baby (or a puppy?)