Last night my sister, a friend and I went to a club in the tenderloin. The friend drove, and we parked on 6th, across from tu lan– a heavily trafficked street. Heavily trafficked by drug addicts, street people and society’s underprivileged. We came out two hours later to find the window broken into. They’d hurriedly gotten into the trunk, grabbing my sister and her friend’s two bags.
I didn’t carry a bag, and my jacket was untouched, but my sister had been apartment hunting lately, and almost everything she valued, including many artifacts of her identity, was in her bag. She spent 2-3 a.m. last night and 8 a.m. this morning trying to protect her identity, as well as canceling cards, disabling her phone, freezing her checks etc. She’s an office manager for an university, underpaid and will be unable to replace her birthday/christmas gift, or the fruits of her tax refund. She lives a precarious life, making enough to live and a little bit more. Which means when something bad happens, there isn’t much to do except cry a bit and move on. It’s frustrating, to work hard and finally get ahead, and then just have it gone.
I’ve been robbed twice, and the worst thing is the personal items the thieves will discard– they mean nothing to the thieves and everything to you and it’s still taken away. In seattle my bag was stolen from my sister’s van, and my sister and I walked down the nearby alleys to see if we could find anything. We were lucky– we found my sketchbook, a trail of origami paper, the novel I was reading and other personal items scattered every few feet as if the theif had been emptying the bag as s/he ran. In Europe I wasn’t as lucky. My bag was stolen and the item I still mourn was a sketchbook with about 30 drawings of Paris in it. I’m sure it ended up sitting in a trash can somewhere in Avignon.
Another friend told me a story about how she was in the lower haight, some years ago, and was jacked by three girl drug addicts. She was beaten with one of those sticks that are used to hold up sapling trees. This particular stick had a couple nails that ripped up her skin. She told me she would fall, and then get up and didn’t know why she kept getting up, because the girls would beat her again. Her mind had stopped working. When she told me this story, as we drove through the now-gentrified lower haight I had a chill– how easily she could have died, how easily I could have been cheated out of meeting one of the dearest people in my life.
San Francisco has always been startlingly beautiful and now it is so cleaned up and gentrified I think we’ve started considering it our personal Disneyland. Safe and clean and full of adult games, like “live in the heart of the mission” or “clubbing in dangerland”. My sister and I started to walk down an alley to see if the thieves had thrown her bag in a trashbin or a corner, and we did see a pile of discarded purses (though not hers.) Then I looked up, saw several men in black parkas, and encouraged my sister to quickly return to the main street where we hailed a cop.
When I got home — after my sister talked to several remarkably unhelpful institutions — I called my husband. I just wanted to hear his voice, hear him tell me about his ordinary day at his Dijon university. In five days I’ll know if he can come here for good, if the INS will allow us to finally live in one country as man and wife. At that moment I felt a strong urge to just see that he still existed. I was checking to see if my valuables were safe.
Why I am telling you this, why am connecting these events? I guess I’m warning you to remember that this world we live in is always dangerous, is never a themepark. Know what matters to you. Keep your valuables close at hand.
What is most precious to you?