Saturday, September 5, 2009

Here's What I Can Tell You About Getting Your Purse Stolen

It sucks. It sucks big time.

I'm a Virgo. I'm anal. I'm organized. Everything at my apartment (and car and office) has its own place, and if it's not in that place I'm likely to feel a little like the world might end, that it might just crack in two and dissolve in a hot wave of volcanic ash and magma. I like my things. I like my things where I put them.

And last Saturday night I went to a party, and where I put my things was upstairs, on a chair in the kitchen, out of everyone's way. Most people--me included--were in the basement, after all, because there was a game of beer pong going on and that game of beer pong would soon turn into a string of flip cup challenges that would occupy everyone for a good long time. After that--after I'd played games I hadn't played since college, after I enjoyed the thrill of feeling again like I did when I was in college--and after I'd consumed an awful lot of beer, more beer than I've drunk in two years (because I hate it), I realized I had to go to the bathroom.

This was unfortunate news since, as is inevitable at a party where there are twenty or so drunk boys, boys who like beer, boys who like to show off how much beer they can drink in a short span of time, there was one boy who had taken up permanent residence in the only bathroom. His head was hung over the lip of the toilet bowl, and it was clear he wasn't going to be summoning the strength to move any time soon.

So I tried to wait him out. I figured someone would move him eventually--not me, but someone--and then all would be well. But, again, this was a party populated mostly by boys who didn't so much care about trotting out into the woods to take care of business. And since I didn't know most of these boys, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of picking through the backyard to find my own spot.

This probably won't come as a surprise, but I'm not the type of girl who enjoys dropping her pants to pee in the wilderness. It's not that I haven't done it--I have, many times; I grew up in the country, after all, and we had a cabin, and instead of a bathroom that cabin had a roll of toilet paper near the door and you tucked it into your back pocket before clomping out into the ferns--but I didn't want to do that now. I was the new girl at the party, and I was wearing a cute outfit, and the only shoes I had with me were my tall boots with the spiked heels. None of that was the right gear with which to pee in the woods.

And so I held it as long as I possibly could, but when one of the other girls at the party came over to where I was sitting, wedged into a recliner with a boy who was talking to me about writing and how much he loved to write, and told me that she'd waited as long as she could and that we should go out there together, as a united front. She had a wad of paper towel in her hands.

"Okay," I said. I reluctantly squeezed out of the chair. I got my own paper towels and headed for the door. There was a small group of boys gathered in the kitchen. They were discussing beer and what beer was gross and what beer was best. They were slightly older, slightly drunker versions of my brother.

I tucked my paper towels into my pocket and bent to start the process of putting on my boots.

"Woah," one of the boys said.

They are some serious boots.

"I know," I said. "Not exactly going-into-the-woods material, huh?"

Another of the boys shook his head. "No," he said. "Hang on. Wait. Don't go yet. I'll go move him for you. I'll get him out of the bathroom."

"It's a pretty serious situation now," I said, "and it might take you a bit to get him into his room without him throwing up all over everything."

"True," the boy agreed. "I'll still try, though. So you guys can use the bathroom later."

I nodded, smiled, said thanks. I zipped my boots up and followed the other girl--who was wearing sneakers, like a normal human being--into the night.

"Anywhere?" I asked. She wasn't new, and I figured she might know the girls-peeing-outside protocol.

"I guess," she said. "I'm sticking close to the house."

I went around to the other side and tried to determine if I was hidden enough by trees and bushes that a passing car wouldn't shine its headlights on me as it passed, giving its passengers a fine look at a New York girl who was, for the first time, peeing outside in Maine.

I squatted and prayed. When I was a little girl, there was nothing I hated more than being made to pee outside when we were camping or back at the cabin. For one thing, it seemed fraught with disaster. You could step in or on something unpleasant. You could brush against the wrong leaf and get a rash. For another thing, I wasn't very good at it. I often ended up peeing on my pants. So I prayed and prayed and prayed that in the years since I'd last tried it, I'd somehow mastered it, learned the techniques by silent osmosis, become a pro.

And, luckily, I had.

When I went back inside and scraped the mud off my heels and washed my hands, I went immediately for my purse, which was still out of the way, on a chair in the corner of the kitchen. I checked my phone to see if anyone had called or texted. I considered texting Amy or Katy or Diana to tell them, Hey. Guess what I just did! because I figured they'd get a kick out of imagining me struggling through the muddy backyard in my Nine West boots with a few sheets of Bounty clutched in my palm. But I didn't. I thought better of it. I had other things on my mind at that point, so I slid my phone back in my purse and went back into the living room.

An hour later, when I wanted to check what time it was, I went back into the kitchen for my purse, for my phone. That's when I realized it was missing.

At first I thought someone was playing a joke on me. I thought one of the boys I'd just met had been thinking, Let's have some fun with this girl. I thought maybe they were doing it to put the cherry on top after the whole peeing outside incident. But after a few minutes it became incredibly clear that no one knew where my purse was. No one remembered seeing it, no one remembered anyone else touching it, no one remembered anything.

And so I began rooting around the house. I looked everywhere. Under sofas. In bags of dog food. In cabinets. In breadboxes. In the fridge and freezer. In the basement. In the trash. In the bathroom closet. In the shower. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

That's when the panic set in. My entire world was in that purse. I mean entire world. Everything good that I love was inside: iPod Touch, camera, car keys, spare car keys, phone, cash, credit cards, glasses, and some really good makeup.

With all that missing, I was stranded. Extremely stranded. Everyone around me was drunk, so there was no way I was getting a ride home--and even if anyone had been sober and able to drive me back home, it would be pointless because my house keys were gone. I could've spent the night slumped outside my apartment door, listening to Abbey cry inside.

So I spent the night there, but "spent the night" implies there was sleeping done, and if there was--at least on my part--there was very little of it because there were still a lot of boys downstairs blaring Rage Against the Machine and, eventually, after the sun had come up and the radio had gone off, I kept jolting awake thinking I heard someone outside the room, maybe hanging my found purse on the doorknob. I was hallucinating. I was on the edge of insanity. I don't lose things. Ever. I wasn't used to the unpleasant feeling of having lost things that were essential to my existence.

The next day we tore the house apart again. Several times. It was a group effort--everyone pitched in, even the feet-dragging, head-hanging hungover boys--but there was nothing anyone could do. My purse was gone.

It wasn't--and still isn't--easy to get things back together after you've lost, well, everything. I had to make a million panicked calls while I was around a phone because once I went back home later that night, I would no longer have a way to contact anyone. In addition to the panicked phone calls, I wrote several panicked e-mails, one to my office-mate--SUBJECT: HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!--that explained the situation and asked if he could come get me and take me to school the next morning because my car was going to have to stay where it was, half an hour away from my town.

Being a Virgo requires that, in addition to being anal and obsessive, you are certain that you are in control at all times and that is the best way to make it through the day. Well, it is considerably more difficult to be in control when you don't have money, a car, a phone, or keys to all the places that can give you shelter.

And now, a full week later, I'm still finding it difficult. Slowly, things are starting to come back together. I'm making lists of things, big and small, that were in my purse, and I'm trying to get them back. The big things were the easiest--getting my car towed to a dealership that could make me a new set of keys for my car; replacing my apartment keys; canceling my credit cards--but it's the small things now that are waking me up in the middle of the night. Jesus! I'll think as I bolt up in bed. I'll need to replace my library card! My faculty card! My VIP sponge candy buyer's card!

There are a million things in my wallet that I took for granted, and, yes, I realize that those aren't important and they're very small and silly, but it makes me feel raw and exposed to know that someone picked through that purse and saw all those things, gained some small insight into the type of girl I am. It bothers me that that person will see the pictures and videos on my camera, the music I love on my iPod, the texts I'd been sending before I went to the party that night. It bothers me that this person will form some sort of opinion about me and then take only the things he wants--the camera, the iPod, the phone, anything worth a good chunk of money--and then throw all the rest away like it doesn't matter in the slightest.

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