Sitting Next to a Thief


The police called and told me to come down to the station. They said they needed to ask a few more questions. This time I went there on my own.

They showed me my list of stolen items. They asked me to check the value of each thing. Then they told me to go into the next room.

I sat in the one available chair. Several police officers were there along with one man who said nothing and kept his head down. He didn’t look like a policeman, but I couldn’t imagine why else he would be there–except that the longer I sat next to him, less than three feet away, the more he looked like my thief.

The officers chatted with me, the only girl in a small room of six men. They didn’t speak English and they were amused by my Bulgarian. I kept looking at the man closest to me. It couldn’t be the man who’d stolen my backpack. I was imagining things. Getting paranoid.

After a while an officer stood and told me to follow him to another room. He shut the door behind us. “Was that him?” he asked me.

“Who?” I asked, knowing who he meant but very much wanting to be wrong.

“The man you sit next to. He is the man who took your bag?”

I bit the inside of my cheek. “Maybe,” I said. And now he knows I’ve turned him in…or I’m putting the wrong man in jail…or if I say it isn’t him they will arrest someone else…anyone else…I wish I hadn’t called the police…they all know where I live… “I think so. Yes.”

I was sent to one more room. My backpack was on the table in shreds. The man had taken a knife to it. My dirty clothes, my magazines, and my Christmas presents were gone. My makeup and clean clothes were there. The officer added up everything and asked if I thought the missing things and the backpack were worth more than $200. The total was close to $400. “No,” I said. “Just $100.”

The man, the officer said, was recently divorced and unemployed. He lived in the building next to mine. He had agreed to pay me back for my things–$20. a month. Lucky people in Bulgaria made $80 a month. My coworkers sometimes went 3 months without a paycheck.

“I’m going back to America in 6 months,” I said. Back to America. “I don’t want his money.”

“Look at your bag! No. You take money. He give us money. We call you. You come get money. Okay?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You like our country?” he said.

“Bulgaria is beautiful,” I said.

The police did call a few times with that money. Once in a while I saw my thief walking down the street, and I would cross to the other side.

I look at a scene in my novel and think–is that really what I think it is? Am I seeing my own writing accurately or has my imagination gone too far? Is a certain scene scary or ho-hum? Is this dialog funny or confusing? That scene made my stomach turn and that character made me laugh, but maybe I don’t know what I’m looking at.

How do you learn to trust yourself? Or does that come naturally to you?

9 thoughts on “Sitting Next to a Thief

  1. I once had to identify the guy who stole my purse and I had the same feeling of anxiety in case it was the wrong man.

    I wonder why he took your dirty clothes and not your clean ones. How awful to still see him around.

  2. Wow, that is a scary story. And a fascinating one.

    I just wrote and deleted a long piece of stupidity about trusting the work, but I’m a big fat liar. I have no idea while I’m writing how others will see it, or even how I see it. I often get so worked up about what I don’t know that I can’t write at all. It’s a huge issue for me.

    Looking back I’ve found that when I do write, no matter my state of mind, it turns out pretty much the same. That indicates what I need to do is get over it and write the crap. I’m working on that right now.

  3. This is fascinating on so many levels. That there wasn’t a lineup, which made you so vulnerable. That our perception changes which makes eye witness accounts extremely unreliable and inconsistent. And that I imagine the police kept the money and I wondered if you would take it and give it back to him. Not that I would. Now that would have set up a weird relationship. Enabling even.

  4. This story leave me with a multitude of questions. Why did he steal it in the first place. Why did he cut it up? Why were only the dirty clothes missing? Why did you feel guilty for accusing your thief? Why did you say it was worth less than it was?

    These aren’t questions that cause confusion, though. These are questions that lead to stories and point to character.

    Trusting myself does not come naturally to me. But I have been punished for not trusting my gut, listening to other people’s opinions. Punished in that life laughs at me, I mean.

    I’m trying to trust myself and my art. But I think what it comes down to is that I do the best I can and release the work out into the world. Imperfect as it may be, it’s who I am. Or it’s what I have done. I can learn from the things I may not have done to my liking, but even the flaws are valuable for the lesson and for the character they add.

    Although, I say this, and still don’t finish my novel to where I will show it to others. So maybe I have to say it again and again until I believe it. Maybe the etsy shop is part of it.

    I don’t know. I just keep trying, and shrug if I screw up, moving on.

  5. Trust is a fickle thing when it comes to our own emotions. I usually ask someone to proof what I’ve written, to see if what I was trying to say prevailed through my words. Sometimes the way we word things might not give the picture we’re going for. I know at times things play out far better in my head than what escapes to the page in front of me.

    As for the writing, I understood the fear, the whole backward outlook of the country. You did a great job leading us into the story, I was left thinking there was more to it. (Hugs)Indigo

  6. Can’t say that I do trust myself, actually. I’ve proved too much of a dunce (in real life and on the page) over the years.

    That said, I do go through the motions. Sometimes I almost believe in the gestures and poses of trusting myself: buy into the theater of it all. But then I come up against something to call the work into question — a couple of rejections or even just one from an audience I thought sure would love it — and am again reduced to second-guessing and wishing I were obsessed with something less heartbreaking than writing. Like, I don’t know… like housepainting or carpentry or something.

    (Loved this vignette, btw.)

  7. christy jean

    What a strange, strange situation. I know I would have been too frightened to continue living in the same vicinity as my mugger, and furious that he wasn’t in jail! Knowing you, I understand why you said your things were worth less than they really were.

    As for trusting myself, well, let’s just say I feel that most people know more than I do about practically everything, and even though I have been in the same line of work for more than six years, I still doubt myself just about every time I stand in front of my students. When it comes to writing, forget about it! I can’t even write a blog without feeling it’s trash! (As you can see from my whopping two posts!)

    My acting coach said something I found to be quite profound once. He said, “Creative people sign a contract with the world saying, ‘Judge me!'” He later went on to say that it’s none of our business what others think of us. I don’t know if that really goes along with your question, but I think it’s something we all need to keep in mind.

  8. Wow. What a story.

    I don’t feel like I can trust myself with my writing. Sometimes I think I’ve written something good but usually I have no idea what kind of quality my work is. I always wish I had someone I could really trust to tell me!

  9. fairyhedgehog, identifying anyone is bad–having those nifty one way mirrors would’ve been nice.

    sherri, I wish i could remember where I read this, but some study somewhere proved that a writer’s state of mind has nothing much to do with the quality of the work. So write no matter what!

    Squirrel, the police gave me some money, whether or not they gave me all of it, I’ll never know. And if they had made that guy give me the money himself, I wouldn’t have accepted it. I didn’t need it as badly as he did.

    rowena, it would take a long time to figure out answers to most of those questions, but you’re right on about moving on. I’m a believer in that. What else is there to do? Oh, and it is funny how when I see your art on your blog, I can’t imagine you not trusting yourself. I can see the trust there.

    Indigo, there is always more to it, but there is only so much space for it all.

    JES, when I was in college I called a house painting company about a job. The guy laughed at me–but I didn’t cry.

    christy jean, you come across as confident–but I know how you feel. Oh, I just felt so sorry for the guy. I don’t really think he was a criminal at heart–just desperate and taking a crazy chance. Love what your acting coach said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s