It was a Saturday night in December more years ago than I care to admit that I was meeting a large group of friends at a little dive place called Mamma Mia’s for cheap Italian food and a good deal of correspondingly cheap wine. My college days were coming to an end, and I’m not sure now whether the gathering was some kind of official Christmas event associated with one of the fraternities or just a “let’s all meet at Mamma Mia’s around 7:30” kind of thing.
I had moved off campus at the beginning of my junior year, and the duplex I was living in was just a few blocks from the restaurant. After getting my fill of spaghetti, I knew I would be separating from the group and going to the local gay bar for the rest of the evening.
Leaving the restaurant, I decided to head home for a few minutes to do a Duco job on my face. But after unlocking the front door and walking into the living room, I saw that the television stand in the corner was missing its television. I rushed from room to room, only to discover that nothing obvious was missing and no intruder was still lurking about.
By the time the police arrived, I had discovered that whoever was there had selectively stolen from me. A brand new winter coat was missing, as well as every belt I owned. This, of course, was back in the days of albums (I think the young’uns call them vinyl), and the thief seemingly went through my collection and only took the ones that appealed to a criminal musical sensibility.
When the police arrived, they looked around and asked what was missing. I told them and showed them that entrance had been gained by cutting through the screen in the back door and flipping open the hook and eye latch. They asked questions about where I was and what plans I had.
It didn’t take long for them to process the crime scene. The policeman said whoever was there was in no hurry and must have been surprised when I came home before heading out for the rest of the evening. And, the fact that the cut on the back door screen was short and precisely where the latch was indicated that the person knew exactly where to cut, particularly since that latch was located much lower on the door frame than where it would be attached normally.
The officer told me that it was unlikely that the burglar would be found but that he felt sure that it was someone who knew me, someone who had been in the place, and someone who was familiar with my Saturday night habits. That was when I went from feeling robbed to feeling violated.
It would be decades before I would feel quite that way again, although on September 11, 2001, it was more than a personal violation. It was collective. A friend had called me after the first tower was hit, so I was watching when the plane went into the second one. The swift realization that what appeared at first to be a tragic accident was, in fact, a deliberate attack rushed over me, leading me to obsess on the story, sitting in front of the television, until Karl told me to shut it off and come to bed in the early morning hours of the next day.
What happened in Washington this week seems an unholy marriage of those emotions. Being violated, being attacked, being robbed. But unlike the shadowy burglar from years ago and the foreign terrorists of 9/11, this time we know exactly who did this, who incited this, and who primed the pump. No doubt more details will emerge in the coming days, and the reader is likely to know things not yet revealed to me at this writing on Thursday afternoon.
Insurrection. Sedition. Fascism. Coup d’etat. Treason. Many Americans don’t even know what these words mean, as evidenced by them being on the list of top lookups on the Merriam-Webster website today. Over the years, they have been tossed around, usually as verbal hyperbole to highlight something more benign. Now we’ve emerged from the bubble of privilege that had never provided the context to use these words in their truest and most malignant meaning. We should know exactly what they mean and have at least some passing understanding of the potential criminality implied.
I am an American. Usually proud, sometimes not so much. Having been fortunate to travel a bit in my life, it pleases me that I’ve always been recognized as an American everywhere I’ve been, except for that one time in Hong Kong when someone thought I was Australian. Not that there’s anything wrong with being Australian, but surely my voice is more Scarlett O’Hara than Crocodile Dundee.
While there are many questions yet to be answered and parts of the story to be played out, I do know this much. My hackles went up when I saw those images of what happened at and in the U. S. Capitol this week, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. And they need to stay up until every question is answered and every person responsible is held accountable.