Our car has been broken into three or four times over a few months, and I’ve noticed a pattern. It appears to be the same person each time. No windows are broken, no damage done, the gas gage is unchanged, but whoever it is leaves the same mess—the glove compartment splayed open with its contents spilled over the passenger seat and floor. And because we never leave anything valuable in the car, nothing is stolen, except for one thing. A pack of gum is missing from the door pocket.
My question of how he (or she) gets in the car is overshadowed by my curiosity. Why continue going through the risk of getting caught just for a pack of gum?
The first time one of these break-ins happened I was miffed, feeling a bit violated, but thankful we hadn’t lost anything. When it happened again—again the glove compartment spewing its contents, gum gone—I noticed a tire pressure gauge, not ours, left on the seat.
My curiosity gave way to my imagination. Being a writer, and having occasionally imagined myself to be a forensic investigator, I began creating a profile of this mystery thief. I presumed it was a guy rather than a girl, just a hunch. Probably a biker by the tire gauge he left, young, nightcrawler type, risk-taker, marginalized, unemployed, homeless, few social connections. A down and out teen?
After the tire gauge, other items started appearing. One time I found a hand cleanser, which made me think he was being covid safe, but it didn’t look used. Next a pair of cheap sunglasses were left on the dash. Another time the tire gauge was gone but returned several months later.
Most surprising of all, I started to feel a curious empathy for this kid. I thought, Yeah, this could have easily been me at his age if circumstances in my life had gone a different way. I shared my thoughts with Diane, but she thought I was being too sentimental about it, and the image of “the kind thief” I’d conjured, she thought, was going a bit too far. Maybe she was right, and I was developing a sort of “car-thief Stockholm syndrome.”
But I still thought about him and wondered. Why did he leave the items in the car? Was he just forgetful? Mentally ill? Was it a way of saying, “Forgive me but I can’t help myself”? Were these things a kind of payment to placate us, or simply a way of saying “thank you for your trouble.”
Months went by without another visit, and I thought maybe he’d grown up, changed, or moved, and we wouldn’t "see him" anymore. I was surprised by a sense of loss I felt.
But this Christmas he came back again. This time, after ransacking the glove compartment and finding nothing of value again, he left a CD without a label.
I pop it into the car’s CD player, expecting a clue of some kind, a message perhaps, to give us some insight to who he really was and why he kept coming back. The CD is a compilation of Christmas carols. They’re mostly secular oldies, sentimental renditions of “White Christmas,” “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and so on, cajoling us to be happy without saying why we should be, other than because Santa Clause is coming and because our soggy “weather is so delightful.” Then, near the end of the CD I notice one of my favorites, a real Christmas carol—“Oh, Holy Night.”
The carol talks about a hurting world below a starry night sky of promise, a world long in travail and waiting for Jesus’ birth. One line jumps out—“A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” and it hits me beneath my ribcage. I can’t help muttering “thank you,” and I send up a prayer for the break-in kid, whom I’ve never met but feel like I know. I pray when his long night is over, he’ll see a glorious morn and he’ll have found the promised Christmas he’s been looking for.
I lost my sight when I
stepped out of the Vietnamese café
into the dank December night,
my take-out for the family secured.
Put off by the sour-faced service,
the indecipherable English, the wait,
the dismissive good-bye, feeling piled on
after a day of contingencies and casualties,
I imagine racism from the waiter.
I head out and rip off my mandatory mask
as the strap catches on my glasses
and sends them flying into the night.
I'm immediately blinded,
peering down at the pavement as dark
and expansive as the night sky.
I take a cautious step, hoping
not to feel a crunch underfoot,
vainly hoping to see black frames
against a pitch-black sidewalk.
On my knees, my hands scan the ground
like a blind man—the search futile.
It’s a curse from the day and the café.
The Asian manners laugh in my head.
Then to my right, the vague outline
of an elderly woman. She approaches,
shuffling, muttering something
in Vietnamese, I presume.
“My glasses” I plead, motioning
to my eyes, “lost.” She stoops
gingerly, pointing to the ground.
Reaching where she points, my hand
falls on the distinct outline of spectacles.
My glasses again properly placed,
the night comes into focus--
the sidewalk, a lamppost, a tree. I'm saved.
Relieved, humbled and contrite,
I turn to thank the woman
who’s given me back my sight,
but she’s not there, disappeared
like an angel into the night.
You look back on another full year,
stilled, regretful , unfilled. You've yielded to the
impossible self-imposed expectations, to the
intoxicating allure of more of everything
because less means less, you're told,
but more needs more needs more, you know.
After misadventures, failures, paralysis from loss,
the crash, the crush, the cold, you find
you’ve forgotten exactly what joy feels like--
a bygone emotion you hung up and left behind
somewhere in a childhood Christmas tree.
Just when you’ve settled for the endless malaise,
you return home from a family outing,
gone longer than you’d planned because
the kids demanded ice cream for Christmas.
And when you open the door to a dark house,
your dog Jimmy greets you ecstatic, barking,
the long-awaited orphans come home. Bursting
down the hall and back, he rounds the table twice,
twisting, twitching, flipping—the pack is back intact!
Unable to contain himself, he smiles up
at his beloved regathered, wagging, as jubilant
as the dog in the Bethlehem stable. And just then,
in the re-membering, the joy you’d forgotten returns.
Awake in bed at 2 am,
the house is dark, nothing stirring
but the mouse running around in your head--
was it a dark scarf she wanted or white?
The kids aren’t happy you forgot the advent calendar.
Better not forget the Christmas tree.
You’ve bought nothing for anyone yet--
better shop online again this year.
Must get a present for your co-worker too,
who will give you a book you won’t want,
won’t read, will shelve to gather dust.
The wind howls, a storm threatens,
limbs knock on the window
to remind you your end of year report is due, or else
you’ll be doing it on Christmas Day.
The in-laws are expecting to see you this year,
you told your aunt in the hospital you’d visit.
The wind howls, limbs knock,
and you still haven’t put on snow tires.
You repeat a Christmas mantra--
“Rest my soul, be at peace, rest”
until the mice stop running
and sleep overcomes.
Light on the window, you draw the shades.
Dawn is dazzling like stars on a sea of snow.
You step outside. Muffled sounds are whispering
rumors of rest. Conspiracies of peace murmur
from the feet of a passing priest--a nod
of his head tells you it's all true. Slowly,
solace settles in under your ribcage.
Go, phantoms rising in the night,
glide to your grassy graves and rest.
Rest, cars and delivery trucks.
Rest, mobiles and keyboards,
newscasters, markets, soldiers, mice.
Rest, children still asleep.
Rest all, your peace comes.