Wait For the Footsteps

I wondered how long she had waited until she didn’t hear any more footsteps. I wondered why she was the one they had robbed. I wondered if it could have been as scary as she made it seem, and I also wondered why I didn’t care.

Jan 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

It was a late summer night nearly a year ago. It’s a night I have a hard time forgetting.

My friend and I were stumbling from Mac’s Pizza Pub down to our friend’s house on Ravine in Clifton. It had already been quite a long night of drinking but we were ready for more.

About halfway to the house, at the intersection of Stratford and Warner, we saw a young girl running down the street. Her hair was a wild mess. Her clothes were stained with dirt. She was crying hard enough to make her mascara run down from the corners of her eyes far past her cheekbones.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her sarcastically. This had not been the first girl I’d seen running down a street crying in Clifton. I figured she was a mess because she saw her ex-boyfriend kiss another girl or some other college drama had messed up her perfect little sorority life. This couldn't have been further from the truth.

“I need to use your phone,” she stammered. “I’ve been robbed.”

We waited with her until the cops came. We tried to console her but we could both tell she would have rather sat in a hole by herself and cry.

When the cops arrived, she told them three young men stole everything she had. She said they had shoved her around a bit and thrown her on the ground. They told her to put her head under a car until she didn’t hear footsteps anymore. My friend and I were the first people she had seen after she pulled her head out from under the car.

After the cops told us we could leave, we kept walking to our friend’s house down the street. My mind began flooding with questions I wished I could have asked the young girl.

I wondered how long she had waited until she didn’t hear any more footsteps. I wondered why she was the one they had robbed. I wondered if it could have been as scary as she made it seem, and I also wondered why I didn’t care.

It hardly shook me that a young college girl was forced to put her head under a car as a bunch of thugs ran away with all her things. I even stumbled home by myself later that night, down the same street the young girl was robbed on. It didn’t scare me.

One of my friends was robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight on Ohio Avenue soon after the incident. It hardly fazed me. I moved onto the street a few months later.

Neither of these incidents scared me. I never thought I’d ever be in either one of their positions, but that feeling of invisibility has since vanished. My house was broken into in early December.

It happened early on a Wednesday morning. Around 3 a.m., a person opened the back door to the house I live in. One of my roommates remembers locking the door, but there were no signs of forced entry.

The criminal went straight into my roommate’s room, while he was sleeping, and grabbed his girlfriend’s purse. The criminal ran downstairs, grabbed her iPod, $10 and her car keys from the purse before ditching the bag in the foyer and running out the back door.

My roommate woke up in the morning to find the contents of the purse laying on the ground and the back door wide open. He called the police around 6 a.m. After telling him this was an uncommon occurrence and asking him if he thought one of his roommates might have committed the crime, the police left.

We had been robbed, we were the likeliest suspects and we had no idea the robbery had even happened until the next morning. We felt violated.

The money, the iPod and the keys can be replaced, but the feeling of safety in my house, in my own room, has forever been shattered.

My biggest fear is my inability to do something if we get robbed again. The inability to protect myself is a fear I had never felt before. Knowing someone could be in my house without my knowledge, rummaging about as I sleep scares the shit out of me.

Each night when I try to fall asleep, my ears are sensitive to every creak in the house, every person walking by the window, every gust of wind blowing against the house. As I lay in bed, I cannot help but think I’m leaving myself vulnerable. I’m relying on the age-old notion that people can be kind and will treat others with respect — a notion that has left me robbed of my naiveté.

Weeks after the break-in, a bit of uneasiness can still be felt in the house. Everyone yells, “Who’s there?” when someone steps inside. A sign hangs on our front door reminding everyone in the house to keep the doors locked, no matter the time. My own roommate even tried to fight me, thinking I was a burglar, as I walked down the stairs to get a glass of water. Booby trapping the backyard and stringing trip wire around the house have become major topics of discussion.

I now often think about the young girl who got robbed on that late summer night. I wonder how she was able to move past the time she had her head under a car. I wonder how she walks through Clifton without being terrified when someone walks too close.

In her case, and with me and my roommates, the criminals won. There’s nothing we can do about it, except try to be safer.