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August 12, 2012

The day my house was broken into

My Santa Rosa plums were a legend: Intense, sweet, and practically a juice box when they were at the peak. There was one catch: the season was just 2 weeks. During that time, I would have ripe plums rain out of the sky. Everyday, I picked, sorted and packaged them. I would eat at least 30 myself, then drive around to give away boxes after boxes.

It’s pure work, but the Chinese frugalness in me just can’t stand good food being wasted. Squirrels and birds don’t count. My sense of generosity draws the line well within the primate order.

It was early July, 2003, 2 months before our wedding. We had plans to visit William’s parents in New Jersey. Before we left, I told my parents they were more than welcomed to stop by and pick plums from the backyard. They had friends who loved my plums for years. It’s easy because we never locked the gate to the backyard. Back then, PG&E’s came every month to check the meter.

They happily obliged and we happily flew to the east coast in anticipation of a whole week of cultural and culinary immersion.

Maybe 2 days into it, I got a call from my mom at the house. She NEVER, EVER called New Jersey. Something was wrong. I answered the phone apprehensively:

“Everything okay, Mom?”

“It’s terrible!!! Your house has been robbed!”

They were at the house to pick plums. Just on a lark, they turned the knob on the side door that led to the garage. It turned and they found themselves standing IN our garage.

Growing up, my parents frequently called me “absent-minded” or “careless”. That was just my thing.

“But at least she is not stupid! and leave THIS door unlocked, right?!” my Mom said to my Dad as they approached the door that would open to inside of the house.

To their horror, the door opened (again) and in front of them, a “completely” ransacked kitchen. “Drawers pulled out! Stuff scattered everywhere!”

But what confirmed her worst fear was the sight of our bedroom. Not just pulled-out drawers, she found my Coach wallet on the floor, the content spilled out, credit cards, cash, coins, as well as my clothes, underwear … it was “total chaos”.

No doubt anymore: We had been robbed.

Back then, they didn’t have a cell phone, so they rushed back to their house, 50 miles away, called my sister about the situation, then me.

I felt my head spinning and my body sinking: “Did you happen to see a diamond ring on the dresser?”

“WHAT??!! You left your engagement ring OUT? IN PLAIN VIEW??!!”

To my defense, I only did that because years of experience told me if I tried to be ‘smart’ and hide it, most likely I would forget where I put it and never find it again. I was TRYING to be proactive and responsible.

She couldn’t tell me if there was one or not because she understandably, did not look for one. The sound of her yelling, thought 1,500 miles away, was loud and piercing, and rightfully so. I hung up the phone, feeling utterly incompetent, and tried to reach my sister. William on the other hand, had started the process of changing our return flight to California.

We should go home as soon as possible.

When I got Emily on the phone, she was in front of our house waiting for the Sunnyvale police. She was told not to get in the house even though she had a spare key. I told her about the ring. She sighed and said she would look for it after the police showed up.

In the meantime, William got our flight changed. We could go home tomorrow after a $300 fine from United Airlines. Biting my nails, I waited for Emily’s call on the sofa, while my future in-laws sat quietly next to me. The phone rang.

“Okay … I am in the house with the police …” I could hear Emily’s breathing as she walked and some male chatters in the background, presumable between my brother-in-law, Tim and the police.

“wow … the house IS a mess …” Emily said to no one in particular when a unfamiliar male voice went: “I think there’s no one here.”

“The ring, check the ring!” I barked into the receiver and felt my heart was about to jump out of my throat. Emily started explaining to the police why it was essential that she checked the master bedroom first.

So there came my verdict, delivered by Emily’s clam and leveled voice: “Yes, your ring is here.”

Seriously? You meant somewhere out there, there was an EQUALLY stupid thief who would miss a one-carat diamond ring, sitting on an OPENED jewelry box, while he ransacked the drawers below filled with just old underwear and T-shirts?!

Emily said she’s gonna hang up and look around the house with the police some more. She will call me back.

At this side of the coast, everyone hugged and cheered. No harm done. Everything is okay. Next time, let’s be more careful before a trip.

10 minutes later I heard the entire account from Emily.

The policeman showed up soon enough and instructed them to stay back. He wanted to go in first to make sure no one was inside. He took the spare key, walked up the steps, and with one hand, he pushed the door.

To Emily’s surprise, it swung open.

My front door was always kind of tight and it took force to REALLY get it latched. Considering I had managed to leave 2 doors into my house unlocked, the possibility of a 3rd, though technically ‘un-shut’, did not seem that far-fetched.

Yes, I really took the word “absent-mindedness’ to a new height.

“Hello! Anyone here? This is Sunnyvale Police! Anyone here?” Emily and Tim stayed in the courtyard while the policeman walked around inside. When the coast was clear, he signaled them to come in and that was when Emily called me.

After they finished inspecting the rest of my ‘ransacked’ home, the officer concluded:

“In my professional opinion, I don’t think this house has been broken into.”

He faced Emily, as if he felt sorry for her. His voice turned a little softer and sympathetic:

“Some people just prefer living this way …”

My work, at the time, was Internet consulting which meant I spent much more time on the road than at home. William’s marketing job was also very travel-intensive. Consequently, our house appeared less tidy to some, like old Chinese people. Since I travelled more often for work, I also tend to be less decisive what to pack for vacation, which required a completely different wardrobe. I took a lot more clothes out than I needed. Some of them were understandably buried deep in drawers. Back then, I wasn’t a believer of closing drawers after myself. What’s the point? They would need to be pulled out again anyway.

Over the years, I also developed a habit of ‘packing’ my wallet as well. The vacation essentials should be: One credit card, minimum cash, and no coins. As a seasoned traveller, I firmly believed “less on you, less to lose”.

Besides, after 911, air travel just needed a LOT more lead time. There were so much to do before a trip already and some of them just might be overlooked.

So the next day, we were back to California, $300 shorter and 5 days quicker.

But I still had my ring.


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