Monday, August 15, 2011

Beloved Betsy: The Infamous Midnight Raid (Revised)

When Matthew read this piece, he realized right away I had made some errors. He was very kind about it, but I laughed at the obvious mistakes I'd made. First of all, I had semi-quoted the policeman as saying thieves wanted Acuras for their hubcaps. Well I grinned at the stupidity of that once I realized what I'd said. It's the rims, of course! Hubcaps? Why, my siblings and I used to use hubcaps to slide down the big hill in Tennessee on a snowy afternoon!

Lastly, Matthew could not lower Betsy off the jack until the tow driver came, because there was nothing to lower her onto. That was a very touching respectful thing for him to do, I felt, but as My Man pointed out, the brutes had taken her rims and tires; she would have been resting on her axels. Well, well, I've corrected these foolish details in the telling, and its a much better story. May it now pay proper tribute to the memory of Betsy the Acura.

The night was perfect for what was about to transpire. A fine mist fell and would not let up, and a dense fog steamed up from the pavement, spread and pressed against the windows like a Christmas Eve ghost trying to impart a warning before morning.

Christmas was still a few days away, and I was up by myself wrapping presents to ship to family. The small apartment living room was dark except for the eerie blinking of the Christmas tree lights as I wrangled so ungracefully with the wrapping paper. The gifts were going to look like junk, not because they were or because of my bad eyesight, but because I had and have no sense of proper presentation.

It was after midnight when I became aware of the noise. It startled me, and I feel sure it had been going on for some time before my weary brain sounded the alarm. Ding, ding, ding! my brain was saying, Pay attention, Dopey! That's coming from outside, and something's not right... 

I crawled, yes crawled to the window (I'm no hero, sadly), and I inched up the blinds, stuck my eyeballs in the gap over the windowpane, and tried with all my might to pierce the thick fog.

Eventually I could perceive two shapes out by the curb where residents' cars were parked. One was moving around and indistinct. The other was kneeling by a car's front left tire, working to pry it off or put it back on. Which I could not tell, but I was struck by the guy's nice slacks or corduroys and his striped sweater - certainly not suitable attire for working on a vehicle.

I eased the window covering down, moved away from the window, and started pacing by the partially wrapped presents. Why were there two men out working on a car after midnight? Should I wake Matthew and let him know about the odd scene? What if they were the brothers or friends of the young college girl upstairs and were there because her car had broken down? Maybe she needed it to go home for Christmas break, and that was why they had come at such a weird hour. But what if they were thieves, and I should call the police? But if I did, and it was all innocent?

I paced and I stopped, scooted to the window, wondered at the proceedings outside and the cacophony of strange noises, and paced again. After staring out through the fog and the mist one last time and finding that the well-dressed boy had gone, but the vibrations of strange activity remained to taunt my ears, I finally fled to the bedroom and shook My Man forcibly.

"Honey, I don't know what it is, " I puffed when he finally turned blurry eyes on me. "It could be nothing, but there's something going on outside the window. Can you come look?"

He tumbled out of the bed and thumped out to the living room.

"What?" was all he muttered as he stumbled to the front window blinds and forced them aside. I wanted to yell, "No, we'll be seen!" but I answered instead:

"There were two guys out there by a vehicle. One was kneeling by a tire. I wasn't sure if they were working on it or know, like for the girl upstairs or something..."

"There's no one out there now," said Matthew unconcernedly, moving the blind this way and that to cast his gaze around. "I'm going back to bed."

"Oh, al-alright," I stuttered stupidly as I went to look more boldly out the window and found that, as he had said, all was quiet.

My sense of unease didn't evaporate with the noise, however, but unlike certain brave creatures I know, I was not tempted to go outside and make sure all was right.

I unplugged the Christmas lights and went to bed. But despite the quiet that then reigned as I stared at the ceiling, I knew I had ignored the toll of warning in my brain, the plea of the pressing fog, the tightening in my gut that is the instinctive reaction to danger, and the evidence of my eyes on a dark night before Christmas.

I didn't know that I had failed to save Betsy.


My Man kissed me goodbye on his way to work, opened the front door and walked around the corner. Then he said something I had never heard him say before, not one time.

"Oh, f--k!"

My heart constricted. I knew what it meant, and I met him at the door.

"They stripped it!" he said, his eyes wild. "Somebody stripped my car. Call 911."

It wasn't until the police came that I truly examined the damage to Betsy. Matthew had been pacing around her continually, unable to settle his anger. We both shook the policeman's hand rather jerkily as he stepped up to where Betsy rested in the undignified state the thieves had left her.

The thugs had broken into her cab and trunk, had utilized Matthew's own jack to lift her, had stripped her of all four tires and rims, had stolen all of Matthew's CDs, had made off with his tool box, and they had dismantled the steering column. The steering wheel looked like a broken bone as it lay separated from its column; its wires hung out in a mangled mess. The bare fact that they had used his own tools against his car infuriated Matthew. I was surprised he could speak so clearly with the policeman about it. For me it was a bizarre and sad spectacle to see Betsy's dark green body propped up at a funny angle by Matthew's car jack, her opposite side resting on the spare tire where the thieves had laid it flat on the ground. 

Matthew circled Betsy with the policeman, talking to him in a strange high-pitched voice and gesturing passionately at all the damage the thieves had inflicted on his car.

"You're lucky," said the policeman kindly but calmly. "They tried to steal it." He casually pointed inside Betsy's window. "That's why your steering column's busted up. If they hadn't bungled it, it'd have been very unlikely we'd find it. At least for a while. They'd take it somewhere else to strip it of its parts. Maybe leave it by the side of a road somewhere."

That made me cold. The idea that Betsy could have been carted off to heaven knows where, all her valuable parts chopped up to be sold, strangers to her history passing her on a secluded country road somewhere, wondering at the skeletal remains of her frame.

Matthew and I both became aware of a truck in the next block of apartments. Its driver was pulling out slowly from the parking area, gazing on our scene with a curiosity, or smugness even, that was indecent. I gave him a hard unfriendly stare, and Matthew and I both glared after him as he finally increased his speed and moved away.

"I saw them," I spoke up then to the policeman. "I mean, at least one of them. I didn't know what they were doing. I could kick myself for not calling you guys like I should have. But I couldn't see what they were up to. It was so foggy..."

"Yep, it was a perfect night for it," the officer interrupted. "Thieves love nights like last night. Bad weather helps conceal their activity."

That makes sense," I said, and I thought about how I could not even see Betsy's dark green exterior when I'd looked out the window. "I couldn't see exactly what they were doing. I didn't know it was our car. I thought it was the girl's from upstairs. Like somebody was changing a tire for her. Just the way the guy was dressed..."

The officer's eyes moved from Betsy back to a clipboard in his hand on which he was writing a detailed report. He didn't ask me to elaborate.

"I know what the guy looked like," I said a little desperately. "Do you want me to describe him?"

"Sure," he said, flipping a page. I got the feeling he was humoring me.

"Okay, well...he had blond hair and looked like a college-aged guy. He had on light colored pants like khakis, maybe, or corduroys. Oh, and a red-striped sweater. The clothes he was wearing were too nice to be working on a car, you know?"

The policeman nodded as he finished putting down my description. A few minutes later he handed Matthew a sheet of paper.

"You'll need a copy of my report for the insurance," he said.

"Thank you," said Matthew as he stared at the paper detailing all that was missing or damaged on Betsy.

"You know," I began again, doggedly. "I think that young guy really was wearing khakis. And he seemed tall. Thinnish. Not too skinny, but not big, either. Medium build, I guess, and his hair was definitely blond. And for some reason I feel like he lives in this complex. Do you think that's likely?"

"It's possible," said the officer. "Or he knows someone who lives here. Acura Integras are popular cars with thieves. Believe it or not, for their rims too, actually. They've obviously seen it parked here before and knew where to find it."

"How likely is it that you'll get them?" inquired Matthew, his voice strained.

The officer looked back at us for a moment, and we could read in his eyes what he soon said in words.

"It's not likely," he said flatly. "If we had caught them red handed..." he shrugged. "But even then, they could have fled before we got here. We mainly fill out the reports for insurance purposes for the victim."

There wasn't much to say after that. The officer kindly wished us well, we thanked him, and then he left. We turned away from Betsy in her awkward, exposed state, and Matthew called his work and our automobile insurance provider. But once those necessary tasks were completed, there was nothing left to do but think about what had happened, and Matthew was forced to confront his feelings beneath the anger.

I won't disrespect my husband by attempting to describe what he felt then or how he worked through it. My part was simple. I sat by him and listened to what he had to say and tried to commiserate as best I could, and I felt myself sadly lacking. He didn't want to hear that it was my fault, that I should have called the police the night before, that I was so very sorry. What was done was done.

Now we simply had to get past it and move on - "It is what it is," my husband would say. There was still a future for Matthew, Betsy, and me. And many better experiences to come.

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