The first time, he used the basement door that led into Karen’s empty bedroom as easily as if we’d invited him in. Opened drawers, moved through the laundry room, up the stairs and into our living room. In the kitchen, he opened cabinets. Nothing upstairs was disturbed. Maybe he was rushed, we said. Maybe he didn’t want to take a chance getting stuck up there. He stole nothing, not the dish of gold jewelry on my dresser, the pair of Bose speakers on Karen’s floor, a few dollars on the kitchen table, the television.
The police officer told us he was probably after drugs or cash. I stood in our kitchen, shades drawn tight, my sparkly New Year’s Eve dress not yet unpacked from the suitcase I’d just dragged home from a week in Paris. Karen had arrived late the night before I had and had noticed, first, the frigid air. The dog didn’t bark, didn’t hesitate, only padded after her down the stairs. Karen hadn’t even considered reporting the crime. Instead, she put the house back in order, locked the door again, and fell asleep, worn out from her own holiday.
“We could dust for prints,” the officer told us, after I insisted we report this. “But the detective who does that is out until the end of the week so I’m not sure it would do much good.”
And that was it. We let him go. The landlord installed a bolt lock on the outside cellar door. I installed one on the door at the top of the cellar stairs for nights when Karen wasn’t home.
The second time, he had a twenty-four hour window, and it was this window, as opposed to the one he laid across the Karen’s bed before climbing back in, that chilled me most. He’s watching, I thought. He’s waiting. In that one night between Karen leaving for her vacation and me arriving home from mine, he had returned.
What I noticed first was the phone off the hook. I thought Karen’s dog had knocked it off the table with her tail on the way out, but then I saw the splintered cellar door that he had kicked in. Whatever Karen had seen on her return, could not have been like this: every cabinet door opened, every drawer pulled out, like some cheesy demonic possession. No cold rushing up the stairs this time because it was August and nothing touched in Karen’s basement room.
But upstairs, this time, he had felt at home, had emptied my dresser drawers onto the floor, had flung clothes from my closet across the carpet. What could I believe he hadn’t touched? Doorknobs, bedposts, the sleeves and crotches and soles of things that I had worn. He had seen himself reflected in my mirror.
This time, the landlord secured the windows with locks. I got a dog. Karen and I talked about moving out but, for a few more months, we stayed. I never slept there alone again. I never felt that it was my home after that. I never felt any sense of nostalgia for a place where, before, and even after his intrusions, I had been happy. But I didn’t have to return, either, and, so, I never did.
Now, he shops for groceries in Framingham on a day when I am on the highway, driving a few hundred miles south of there. He tries to convince banks I’ve changed my address to Tennessee and should have my credit cards forwarded there. He calls a bank in Texas and attempts to establish credit in my name. Calls other banks to request new cards, to expand my credit limit. He knows my mother’s maiden name. In this carefully crafted world of mine, he has stepped back in. He has my daughter’s information, too. Numbers that are useless to him until a few months from now when she turns 18.
At night, I lie awake and consider all the windows I have not yet sealed against him. Ways in that I cannot yet conceive of, because, most of all, he has stolen my imagination. Hard to believe now we can ever be safe. That he is the kind of person you can ever be rid of, that you can ever keep out.