It hasn’t been a great week. Let’s start from the beginning.
On Wednesday, I was meant to fly up to Canberra to spend some time with Nathan. The plan was that I would put the kittens into the pet resort on Tuesday, I would leave on Wednesday morning for my flight, leaving the puppies at home where they would remain until they would be picked up when Mum finished work. I was worried sick and dragging my feet on packing because I hate flying, and I hated being away from the kittens for the first time too. I was worried that Rupert would get sick again too. But Wednesday morning came around and my anxiety levels dropped. I was finally actually looking forward to the little trip.
We had plans. Nathan was going to take a day off work so we could visit the War Memorial together and he could fangirl over all the fighter planes, and we were going to see my all time favourite painting – The Lady of Shalott – in an exhibition of pre-Raphaelite art at the National Gallery. We had dinner plans with colleagues, and I was going to meet his work team for the first time. But best of all, I was going to get some respite from our house and the constancy of P+R+C+P needing care and attention all the time. I had set aside a morning in Canberra where I had big plans to sleep in, in the gigantic bed, eat breakfast in my pajamas, put on a face mask, and read a book in complete silence without anybody barking or needing anything. SO needed.
This is what ended up happening. I finished packing my bags, made sure the dogs and all their things were prepared for pick up, ordered my Uber and secured the house. There are a million things that you do, especially as a girl, to avoid dangerous situations – I always wait inside my house until my Uber is literally around the corner, to cut down the time that anybody could see me leaving. I don’t catch regular taxis anymore because it always gave me a bad feeling that it wasn’t app based (therefore, no digital trail) and my drivers would always be talking on the phone the whole time in foreign languages, and it always worried me that they could be telling their waiting criminal friends that my address was unoccupied, for all I knew.
But my strategy this time didn’t work. I took my suitcase out to the street when the Uber was less than thirty seconds away. Out of nowhere, this random guy was loitering on my street, right in front of my house. He looked shady as hell, shifting his weight from foot to foot in a fidgety kind of way. He came up to me and said, “hey pretty lady,” then tried to offer me a business card for tree lopping. I was immediately suspicious, because this isn’t the first time we’ve had criminals prowling around here posing as tree removalists.
The last few times, they have come to the front door. They offered me cards – different cards every time – and they would be looking over my shoulder into the house, checking out my dogs. They would ask if my husband was home, or what time he would come home. They would offer free quotes and really push me to let them around the sides and back of my house so that they could give quotes for tree lopping. It was always a bunch of guys crammed into a regular car – nobody wearing a uniform, no truck with a logo or equipment on it. One time, I quizzed them. I asked what they did to the stumps after they cut the trees down. The guy was taken aback and stumbled before answering: “we would just poison it”. Wrong answer. I know from when we had actual tree loppers here that they don’t poison stumps, they ‘grub’ or grind them, or they paint a sealant over the top of them so that they can’t grow again. As soon as the guy gave that answer, I knew he was bogus and I told him to go away.
I called the police that time and they said they were well aware of groups of criminals working together in the area as fake tree loppers, and that they couldn’t do anything without CCTV footage or a car number plate, but they would make a note of it. And that I should call 000 if they came back. I read on some neighbourhood watch groups that these guys would knock on people’s doors to first ascertain whether they were home, and if they were, they would offer quotes so that they could get a feel for access points and security at the rear of properties, so they could come back and break in later. There were also suggestions that these guys were looking for unsecured dogs in backyards for stealing as well. It is an ongoing problem in my town that dogs are stolen by dog fighting rings – big dogs for fighting, little ones for bait. Just that fact alone makes me want to throw up.
Anyway, back to Wednesday. I told myself I was being ridiculous, that I couldn’t live my life always being fearful or overthinking things, so I took the Uber to the airport bus and tried to shrug it off. I worried that people would be angry at me for wasting money if I missed my flight, or that people would be disappointed in me for letting my anxiety get the better of me. I got on the bus, and then my niggling bad feeling started growing into a full-blown panic. I called my dad and my sister to see if they could go to my house and see if everything was okay. I asked my sister to pick up my dogs early and take them to my mum’s house. But she didn’t have a key, and would have to drive all the way to my mum’s work to get it. I was on the verge of tears and knew it could already be too late, so I jumped off the bus ten minutes down the road, before it even left town and caught the next Uber straight home.
When we arrived in the street, the guy was still there. In a car sitting in front of my house, with another guy. I made eye contact with him and they immediately drove off in a hurry. And then I knew that I wasn’t being ridiculous. I was so full of adrenaline that I didn’t even see what the car looked like, and I didn’t have my glasses on to read the number plate.
As I came up the driveway, P+R were hysterical just from the sound of my footsteps. I deal with a lot of barking on a daily basis, so I have a pretty good handle on when barking means hungry and bratty, or when it means seriously threatened. This barking was genuinely scared. I have no doubt that those guys had walked around the outside of my house, looked in windows, maybe tried the doors. Both dogs were so frantic when I came inside, so much more than their usual ‘we missed you!’ routine.
So, I missed my flight. I considered buying another flight up later in the day once I’d gotten the dogs safely to Mum’s house, but in the end, I was too rattled. Once I was inside and the dogs were safe and I’d told Nathan what had happened, I just cried. For the huge tsunami of cortisol and adrenaline, for the idea that I could have lost P+R if I’d been ten minutes later, for how close I was to not getting off the bus and what could have happened, for the fact that safety was not something I could count on, not even in my own home. And the longer I left it, the less time we would have had together in Canberra, and the less it was worth it to actually go. Nathan assured me that it would have spooked those guys that I was onto them enough to come back, despite obviously leaving with luggage. He said they wouldn’t be coming back in a hurry… I really hope so.
I just feel like this latest incident has just been the final straw of living in this suburb. It has changed so much in the decade we have been here, and we are accumulating quite a list of near misses, suspicious stuff, or uncomfortable encounters. The tree lopping guys have now tried our house four times, coming to the front door even despite signs up saying ‘no canvassing’. We returned home one night and found a random man in our backyard who ran away when spotted. There is a lovely domestic violence situation unfolding in one of our nearby neighbour’s houses, and it’s not pleasant at all having to call the police a few times a year and tell them that it sounds like somebody is being murdered. And then there was the time when two big men broke into our kitchen when they thought the house was empty but I was actually asleep in bed, and I had to chase them down the street in my underwear. I just don’t feel safe here anymore.
So, a few things are happening, long and short term. Short term, we are seriously upping security measures on the house as soon as we can. This weekend, next week kind of soon. We are also rethinking our Easter plans, or any plans, that involve both of us being out of the house for long periods. I’m not going to feel comfortable leaving the house for appointments unless I know Nathan is working from home on those days, which is going to require a bit of scheduling. Longer term, we are looking at our options for somewhere else to live. I’m not sure how long this will take, but I just hope I will be able to sleep at night or go away for the weekend or even just out for a date with Nathan without fearing about what’s happening at home and whether our most treasured little family members are safe.