It was a six and a half hour flight from Newark airport, not counting the twenty or so minutes sitting on the tarmac. Although United's service definitely lived up to it's "Friendly Skies" motto much more so than usual (Thank-you for the smiles, crew of flight 1647 from Newark on November 1st. Thumbs up!), I was still cranky from hunger when I deplaned (Not even a teeny tiny bag of pretzels in six and a half hours? Thumbs down, corporate headquarters! Smelling the bacon from first class breakfast = adding insult to injury.)
I'd been up since 2 am - nearly 12 hours - when I arrived in San Francisco. It was another two hours before I arrived at my friend's home. She had errands so I was happy to take a nap almost as soon as I arrived. I asked her to wake me up when she took her daily walk. Good to get some exercise after a long flight.
Now, when I travel, I never, ever bring valuable jewelry. I don't own any valuable jewelry that hasn't been ensconced in the recesses of a safety deposit box and hasn't seen the light of day for years. The only thing I ever wear is a gold chain with three gold charms on it - a puffed heart given to me by my parents when I was about thirteen, a mermaid charm from my niece, and a gold and crystal sailboat from my cousin. All three things are (spoiler alert - were) very precious to me because I love the people who gave them to me, and I love the ocean and mermaids. I viewed the necklace as somewhat iconic, and considered it a good luck charm of sorts.
Why I brought it with me is moot. Poor decision but not, of itself, negligent. I might have easily hidden it somewhere in my friend's home. Instead I went walking with it on the streets of Oakland, California. I know better. Why I wore it can only be explained by the fact that I was jet-lagged and out of sorts. It never even crossed my mind.
We'd walked about four blocks when my friend noticed a young man coming towards us on my left. She thought he looked suspicious but didn't mention it to me. I didn't even notice him because my head was turned towards her. Again, under normal circumstances, I'm much more aware of my surroundings. I knew I was walking in a city that ranks third in the nation for violent crime but somehow my groggy brain didn't correlate a gold necklace as an invitation. But there it was, glittering against a red turtle neck like a neon sign for thieves.
The young man passed us. As we neared the corner I heard three running steps behind me. Again, if I'd been alert, I could have tried to cross the street after the first two. But until he grabbed my left shoulder, yanked me back, and ran his hand down from my neck to my breasts, I wasn't aware of the danger in the sound. He broke the gold chain, carrying it and the charms along with him as he continued to run away from us.
For a few seconds I just stood there in surprise. I realized what he had done but I was in a sort of state of disbelief. It wasn't "What has happened to me?". It was more like, "Really? Not again."
I've been through a lot in life. I lived in an apartment that was robbed. Twice. I chased the guy who tried the third time. Years ago, my car was broken into in Manhattan. As a high school teacher, I was sometimes exposed to gang members and teenage offenders who came to class with ankle monitors. I was also exposed to slashed tires and ink spilled on my car. Even though I have a great deal of empathy for others, I can be a little thick-skinned when it comes to my own victimization. Been there, done that. What else is new? And I was fully aware that it could have been worse. The kid got a necklace and a little feel. I wasn't stabbed or shot. Just another day in Oakland.
After he tore off the necklace, he turned the corner. I ran after him for three steps (unwise move) until my friend stopped me (wise move.) I watched as he made his way towards a brand new red Toyota Corolla with dealer plates. I didn't yell any of the things I've been told to yell - Thief! or Fire! Instead, I yelled: "Oh, please! That was my mother's!" Not because of the sentimental value of the items, but because I wanted to leave that thief with some sense of my humanity. Not that my experience with people who commit crimes gives me any faith that they care about such things, but because it is my fervent hope that, someday, this young man might hear my voice in his ears and have changed into the sort of person who might.