The Chronicles of Panic

As I am approaching my 35th birthday and wondering about my place in the world, I am also trying to be better at accepting myself the way I am. I keep thinking, if I learn to do that, I will also go easier on others, especially those closest to me, and just be a kinder, less abrasive person. But one thing I would really like to change about myself is that Default Panic Setting that I have been programmed with. I am far from alone in this, but I am so, so quick to jump to the worst-case-scenario conclusions, and then proceed to act on them, that I inevitably make things worse. Two scenarios come to mind, as they were both recent.

530PM. I just got home from the gym,  and was looking forward to a quiet night in. My dinner date with a friend was canceled due to poor road conditions, and I was determined to do absolutely nothing while mourning the end of my weekend. So naturally, there was a loud, high-pitched, intermittent beeping from an unspecified location in my house. I followed the noise into the hallway, and looked up at the ancient smoke detector, and then cursed it out. Partly because I was hangry, but also because I knew, in my heart of hearts, that this was not going to be as simple to fix as it should be. The smoke detectors are all wired together, so if there is something wrong with one, they all beep to let you know, so that you either change them or kill yourself. I grabbed the step ladder, pulled the device down, and scrounged up a battery that may or may not have been good, and slammed it back into the detector. While I had the stupid thing beeping in my hand in the kitchen, I heard another beep in the hallway, or maybe the bedroom, I don’t know. I reinstalled the detector, hoping once everything was reconnected, the noise would stop. It did not. I continued being mad at my interrupted night while I showered, and dreaded going back out into the weather. I called Lee, and he didn’t remember if we ever changed the batteries in any of our alarms, and he thought it was worth getting the most super-duper batteries that Lowes carried, and replacing them in all four of the devices. I did that. I multi-tasked and changed out each one between turning my food over and restarting the microwave, which also really liked beeping at me.

After I changed the batteries in all four doohickeys, I thought I fixed them, but 10 seconds later I found out I was wrong. So I sat there and grumbled to myself while stuffing my face with cheesy and chicken-y goodness because I was going to have to run back out to Lowes and buy whole new doohickeys. While at Lowes, I was on the phone bitching to Lee because I didn’t like any of them, and the ones he wanted with the little light were battery-only instead of hardwired. I was annoyed that they dared to offer me smoke detectors that were also carbon monoxide detectors, since I already had a carbon monoxide detector. I finally settled on one that had a plug-in adapter (but no little light that Lee liked) so that hopefully I could, you know, just plug them in and not have to rewire (make Lee rewire). Well there was only one of those, and I needed four. So then I just picked some that looked like it might fit into at least two of the old plugs and went home.

I pulled a new detector out of its box, took down an old one, and tried to plug in the new one, and although the pattern was similar, it was not the same. All four would have to be rewired in order to be replaced. Meanwhile, the beeping persisted. I texted Lee to see if he had any last-ditch ideas about how to make them shut up before I just burned the house down. He suggested taking them out to the garage and blowing them out with compressed air. I did that, one by one, while the cat was chasing me back and forth through the house. He likes to help. As I replaced each one back onto their brackets, the beeping continued. I was defeated, resigned, and certain that the universe had conspired to not let me sleep ever again. As I sat there pouting and waiting for the next beep, I realized that I had a carbon monoxide detector! So I sat down next to it and willed it to beep at me one more time. It did. I had one super-duper battery left, so I replaced it, and the beeping stopped. For like more than 30 seconds, it actually stopped! I wasted three hours of my night and approximately $100, disassembling, reassembling, and buying smoke detectors while being extremely mad at the situation, and it was the damn carbon monoxide detector. Feeling both relieved and stupid, I sat back and wondered, “What does this remind me of?”

A couple months ago, a good friend of mine, asked me to take care of her kitties while she and her husband went away for a few days. I have looked in on them before, and knew the general routine…generally. This friend is very thorough, and on top of leaving notes for me on the counter, she texted me with the location of the house key. I showed up on the first evening to feed the cats, and grabbed the key out of the specified spot, the usual spot. I put the key in the lock, but the key didn’t turn. I tried that lock again, then tried the deadbolt. Nothing. I checked the perimeter for other doors, and tried the key in those locks. No dice. I did notice that all the locks looked new. I also saw the old locks sitting in the recycling bin on the deck. I tried the key in one of the old locks, and it worked. “They must have changed the locks, but gave me the old key!” I exclaimed in my head, amused at my keen detective skills. So I went around the house and tried each door about three more times, hoping that magically the key will work when the first few tries it didn’t. I then called my friend, but she was out of cell range by then, and our one mutual friend I also called, did not have a spare key to the house. I then knew that there is only one logical answer. I had to find a way to break into that house and feed those cats, because if they died under my care, I would never forgive myself.

I had to arrange a heist. But first, I texted my cop friend and asked him some hypotheticals about breaking-and-entering, and also whether to call the emergent or the non-emergent line to get some help breaking in. Apparently, they won’t do that since it is not my property and cats do not warrant that kind of drastic action. I then had called my partner-in-crime (PIC), who shall remain nameless. He agreed to help me at nightfall. Because it’s less conspicuous, but also because he was working until then. I waited outside for him, dressed in my ninja hoodie, and jumped into his truck before he barely even stopped. We got to the property, and I handed him the key to try the locks for himself, just in case I’m just really bad at using keys. Turns out, it wasn’t operator error. So we skulked around the house with his tactical flashlight looking for weaknesses in the defense. We saw an extendable ladder around the back that reached the second floor window that may have been left unlatched. We then noticed that a lower window leading into the tenant’s lock-off was also unlocked.  That is how we escalated to breaking into a stranger’s place, in addition to breaking into a friend’s place. Fabulous. I knew (pretty sure) that the tenant was also out of town, otherwise he would be the one tasked with feeding the cats. The window opened just enough for me to jelly on through, and I found myself in a dark, strange, storage space. I fumbled over ski gear and junk, and let my PIC in through the door.

As we were working our way through the lock-off and into the main house, I was thinking about how the only reason no one called the cops on us yet is because the house sits below street level. My PIC was thinking that we were setting ourselves up for getting shot. We approached the stairway that leads to my friend’s kitchen, it was separated by a locked door. So my PIC stuck a grocery card into the jamb, jiggled the lock, and we were through that door in less than 30 seconds. He refused to tell me where he learned that trick, but something about his past life of crime made me more attracted to him than ever. The cats gave me some nasty looks as I fed them and cleaned their boxes, but that was normal since they are cats. Meanwhile, my PIC sorted through the pile of loose keys on the table. He tried every one of them in the main door hoping that one of them fit the new locks. They did not. We also found out that the main deadbolt was not locked, and we could’ve carded our way into the lower lock, and skipped the window entry.

It gets better. After we left, I felt uneasy because I saw only one cat, not two, and we had the door open for a few seconds. Chances are, it was hiding somewhere in the house, as neither one is as ambitious to escape as my own punk-ass cat. But in my mind, he was out somewhere in the pitch black, being coyote bait. I went to work the next morning, and since I was still worried, my PIC went to feed them and confirm the presence of the second cat. We still didn’t have a working key, so when I stopped by after work, I called my PIC and he coached me by phone on how to use my own grocery card to unlock the door. It worked. I continued to break into the her house a couple more days after that. The night before my friend was due back, she was within cell range again and received the 20 panicky texts and status updates I sent her, including an apology for scratching up her door. She thanked me for being such a diligent friend, and would investigate the key situation when she got home the next morning.

I called her a couple days later, I wanted to know if she had any trouble getting into her own house. She said she had no trouble at all, and that the cats were fat and happy. The new key worked fine. It was just where she said it was going to be, in the new location. I misread her text, and found the old key, in the old location, completely mixing up my lefts and rights. Because I found one key, it didn’t occur to me to look for a second. At least I walked away from this a free woman, and with a new skill in my repertoire. Every time I pull out my Safeway card and glance at its little cracks and indentations, I fondly remember that time I committed crimes and totally didn’t have to.

Published by Veronika Hewitt

Writer. Cyclist. Cat Lady.

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