My apartment was burglarized and now I'm terrified

An intruder stole my laptop and made me afraid to be in my own home

Published September 19, 2010 11:01PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I don't know what to do right now. I guess my problem, in a nutshell, is that my house was burglarized last night and now I feel scared.

I'm sitting in my apartment, feeling stuck to my couch. I went for a late-night walk with my boyfriend last night only to come home and not see my laptop where I left it on the couch. I looked everywhere for it, and that's when I noticed that my bedroom window was wide open. I had stupidly left it unlocked, and the burglar just popped the screen out. He came into my bedroom, went into my living room, took my laptop (nothing else as far as I can tell, even though there was my boyfriend's laptop and other small electronics all over my place) and then, presumably, crawled back out the window.

I am in shock. Burglars and robbers have always been my greatest fear since I was a little kid. I used to have nightmares of my family home being broken into in the middle of the night, of everything being trashed or taken, of me or my parents being injured. I'm worried they'll come back. I'm worried that I'll always worry that they'll come back for the rest of my things and, worse yet, that I'll be here when they do. I'm worried that I'll be at work when they come back, and that I can't just sit in my apartment for the foreseeable future with baseball bat in hand and that the next time they won't just take my laptop, but other things, or that they'll trash the place.

The initial things I did were to log on to my boyfriend's computer and change my passwords for everything I could think of and to change my sheets (there was no evidence anyone had been in my bed, but the mere thought of someone being in my bedroom just repulsed me). Then, we locked all the doors and windows and we went to sleep like usual.

Today I just feel drained. And nauseous. Every time I think about a stranger slinking into my bedroom (and I can't think of anything else) I feel sick to my stomach, but too dazed for my body to throw up. I'm having trouble getting up off the couch, or having a shower. I went to the corner store briefly, and everyone I looked at, I wondered if I was looking at the person who stole my laptop. I've tried to talk to my friends about it, and my boyfriend, but I feel dazed. I thought I would feel angry or something this morning, but I seem to have less emotion about this than I did last night. Am I just in shock?

On top of this, this weekend was my birthday. I'm one year out of school, I live in a nice neighborhood with a great boyfriend, we're both employed, he's about to wrap up the rest of his education, and I had a great party filled with friends on Friday. It seemed like good omens about the coming year. The living room from which my laptop (which contained all of my work on job applications, doctoral applications and personal writings) was taken has balloons and birthday cards as well as gifts all over it. My laptop was nothing special, nothing fancy.

It's not worth a lot of money, especially if it ends up going to a pawnshop. I can't believe that it has more value to someone who might get like a hundred dollars for it than it does to me and I know that I could never have broken into someone's apartment and stolen from them amidst the remnants of their birthday party. It just feels so low. It makes me sick to think someone is looking through my personal thoughts that I recorded, or what my favorite music is, or what kind of recipes I was looking up not even 24 hours ago.

Can you please give me some advice on how I cannot let this make my home scary? I've locked all my windows and doors, and feel that the only way to protect my home is to stay here, which is not realistic because, you know, I'm not a hermit. How do I get my feeling of this being my home and being safe here back? Will I ever feel like I have privacy back?

I'm sorry if my letter is hard to follow: I feel like I'm not making a lot of sense today. Thank you so much for reading this.

I guess it could have been worse.

Dear Could Have Been Worse,

Some problems require finding peace within. This is not one of them. You're not going to find any peace within until you know your apartment is as secure as it can be.

So get some expert advice and make your apartment secure. Talk to experts. Talk to cops. Research. Learn all you can. And read Stephannie's very informative Open Salon piece on how to choose the best backup routine for your situation.

Once you've learned all you can, and have had an expert take a look, decide what needs to be changed in your apartment and make a plan. Then get the job done. You're probably not a skilled carpenter, so hire somebody to do the job right.

Think about who comes into your apartment. It might have been somebody at the party.

You can't look at somebody and know whether he's a burglar or not. Burglars don't wear masks and striped shirts like in the old cartoons. People get in trouble. All kinds of people commit burglaries.

I did a burglary once. You wouldn't know it looking at me. I was pretty young. It felt like a prank, a caper. But it was breaking and entering. It was larceny.

I'm not going to burglarize your house today. But the point is you can't really tell about people. You have to make your place secure.

There is lots of advice on the Web. I learned a lot by looking around. For instance, not surprisingly, "Computers are creeping up on the list of the most stolen items."

So of course you want to back up your computyer

Burglars have their problems, too. They want to get in and get out fast. So anything you can do to slow them down and impede their progress, it's worth doing.

It might take a while to get over the awful feeling of knowing that somebody broke in. You might take some comfort in knowing that most burglars just want stuff. They don't want to see you, much less hurt you. They just want some stuff. And stuff is replaceable.

You can get your peace of mind back. It will come back. It might not come back right away. But you can get to a place where you know you've done everything you can, that your apartment is now more burglar-proof than others, and that any burglar is probably going to pick an easier target now.

Good luck. This will pass. As a cop would say, be thankful it was just your laptop.

The SYA eBook is here!

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By Cary Tennis

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