I stood outside my front door catching my breath. After a lazy Christmas holiday, I had to recover from climbing stairs with carry-on bags and a suitcase. Jet lag didn’t help. I looked up and blinked. Red tape crossed the door. I didn’t understand Hungarian, but the one English word said enough: “POLICE.”
Google Translate told me I would be arrested if I entered, so I didn’t. Instead, I stood staring in a haze. Finally, I called my rental agent. He came over right away. Then he called the police and learned there had been a burglary. He went to the police station for more details.
My mind shifted into overdrive. What was inside that mattered? I hadn’t brought much when I’d moved from Virginia to Budapest, Hungary, five months earlier. I had most of my jewelry with me, but had left a box of necklaces and bracelets in the apartment. Most weren’t worth much, but they had sentimental value. Personal files were in there, too.
My agent returned with authorization to enter. Time shifted into slow motion. The kitchen and bathroom looked untouched. I paused in the living room. Not only were my files undisturbed, but so were the TV and printer.
When I entered the bedroom, my stomach twisted. Closets and the bottom dresser drawer were open. Things were scattered on the floor.
The burglars had taken a few items from the top drawer as well as a small amount of foreign currency stashed in the bottom drawer. Somehow they hadn’t found the jewelry box in the third drawer.
I was in shock. My agent’s words were fuzzy. Something about fixing the locks tomorrow and making a list for the police. I must have responded appropriately, because he left.
I stayed in the flat that night, but I didn’t sleep well. The next morning I itemized what was missing. It was an odd list, but many items could be easily replaced. I sent the list to my agent, who gave it to the police.
But as the haze cleared, each day brought the realization that more items had been taken. Then one day, I decided to wear my onyx pendant. I couldn’t find it. That’s when I remembered that I’d left another jewelry box, a tiny but special box of pendants, in the flat. I hadn’t looked for it because I had assumed I had it with me.
My heart sank as I thought of another locket that had been in that box, a gold engraved one with a picture of my late Honey Grandma inside. I looked everywhere – in the third drawer where I’d kept it and in every nook and cranny of the apartment.
Nothing. I searched again. And again.
When I realized the box was missing, the whole experience seemed to crash down on me. I cried.
At the end of January, I received a registered letter from the police. The burglar hadn’t been found, and the case was closed. The matter was done for them, but not for me. I slept with my purse by my bed. I hid my laptop when I showered. A new lock and an iron security gate helped only so much.
And then another challenge arose. Work became toxic. Three colleagues were targeted by my boss and left. I became the next target. One summer day, my boss called me in – to discuss my project plans, I thought – and unexpectedly informed me that he was not renewing by contract next year and wanted me to leave right away.
Family and friends near and far rallied. Their support kept me sane through the tense process that ensued.
Then one July night, as I packed for a holiday to southern Hungary – a respite from the craziness – I reached into my third drawer, pulled out my jean shorts, and heard a small thud.
I looked down and blinked: It was the tiny jewelry box I thought had been stolen six months earlier.
Inside was the locket with Honey Grandma smiling at me, being there for me, telling me not to give up. I started to cry. I knew that things were going to be OK.