The Cost of Getting My Stolen Computer Back

by Andrea Laurion

The creepiest part about getting robbed was how everything in my room was exactly as I had left it. I was at work when I found out what had happened, and it was hours before I could get home, so I had plenty of time to imagine the worst. In my head, the place was torn inside out, completely ransacked. Instead, just one thing was missing: my year-old MacBook Air.

I was lucky. My housemate, Karen, lost her work laptop, an old iMac that she no longer used, and all of her jewelry. No one was hurt, not even my cat. There wasn’t even any broken glass to clean up. The thief climbed in through a closed, but unlocked window and used the back door to get out. I usually stop home in the afternoons before my closing shift and that day I didn’t get a chance. I couldn’t help but speculate if my presence would have made a difference, but the what ifs weren’t going to change anything.

A couple days after the robbery, the detective on the case contacted Karen with an update. Items matching the description of our stuff were found in a downtown Pittsburgh pawn shop. I was using one of the computers at the public library when I saw she posted the good news to Facebook. I assumed my MacBook would be waiting for me when I got home. Not quite.

It took a while to get more information from the detective, but a week or so later, we were told the serial numbers matched, so they were indeed our electronics. The catch: In order to get my computer back, I would have to purchase it from the pawn shop for the same amount of money that they paid for it: $225. If the police seized it, it would be considered evidence and I wouldn’t get it back until after the trial, which could take months to resolve. Since it had been recovered, my renters insurance wouldn’t cover the costs for a new computer. Even if I had to use my insurance, the deductible was $250, twenty-five bucks more than I had to pay to get it back anyway.

Living without my computer was annoying, but doable. I used the library computers and racked up my phone’s data plan. But trying to be a writer in 2014 requires a computer, so this wouldn’t be sustainable, although it wasn’t as difficult as I would have thought before the robbery. In fact, the hardest part was something much smaller: Admitting and accepting that I needed help.

Humility and I have had issues for years. I take pride in my independence, sometimes to my detriment. When I moved last fall, I turned down offers to pack up my apartment, and ended up in over my head. Accepting offers for assistance can feel the same to me as asking for help, and that makes me feel as if I’m giving into defeat.

I didn’t know it, but one of my improv friends had rallied our community together to help us. Friends chipped in money so I could buy back my MacBook. They gave Karen some of their own jewelry to make up for what she lost. She came home from an improv jam one night with a wad of bills. I stuck it in a drawer for a few days, not looking at it.

My pride wanted me to turn it down. My bank account said otherwise. I didn’t ask for help, but here it was anyway. It was hard — much harder than I thought it could be. I was immensely touched and humbled by the gesture, though at the same time sporting an ego bruised by the need for help in the first place. I sent a message to the friend who organized everything. I thanked her and admitted that I had a hard time accepting their help.

“One thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that the strongest thing you can do is to open yourself up to accept help when it’s offered, whether it’s something as gauche as cash or something as invaluable as a good friend’s ear and shoulder,” she wrote. “You’ve been an ear and a shoulder for me more times than I can count. It’s the same thing, just a different form.” As much as I hate being vulnerable, I thank her for helping me see it as a strength.

The day I went down to get my MacBook, I walked into the pawn shop in a salty mood. I told the guy behind the counter why I was there, unable to hide my annoyance, and he unlocked a drawer and pulled out a silver MacBook. Mine.

“I’m guessing you cleared the computer,” I said, assuming everything inside it was long gone.

“Actually no.” He said no one touched our computers after the police got involved.

I was skeptical but surprised to hear that. “You didn’t even turn it off?” I said.

“We didn’t touch it,” he said.

I opened the lid. The morning of the robbery, I had been working on a document in the Writer’s Room app and forgot to save it. Someone, I assume the person who stole it, tried to shut down my computer and the grey Save As box had stopped it. The items on my desktop had been deleted (mostly screenshots and photos I had saved from Facebook) but other than that, my MacBook was just as I had left it. Even the last song I had been listening to on Spotify was still paused, waiting for me to press play again.

I leaned on the counter and laughed, loud and honking like a goose. It was all I could do. I paid for my MacBook to go on a two-week vacation, longer than any I had ever taken myself.

As I walked toward the door, one of the employees called out to me, “Wait!”

I turned around, expecting more bad news, maybe another fee. “What?”

“Take a free DVD from the wall over there. Any one you want, on us! For your trouble. For having to come down and everything.”

I glanced at a shelf with about two dozen used DVDs. The only two stood out to me: Hope Floats and Singles.

“That’s okay. Thanks anyway.”

“No, really, please take one!” he said. His coworker chimed in. “Seriously, just take one. We feel bad you had to do all this. You should get something out of it.”

“I don’t have a way to play it, I’m sorry,” I said, laughing out of nervousness and immediately regretting that unnecessary apology. “This Air doesn’t have a CD drive and I don’t have a working DVD player.” I shrugged. “I stream everything.”

“Ah, okay,” the coworker said, satisfied with that reason. I waved one more time and kept on walking.

I almost wish I had taken one of those free DVDs just to destroy it in my backyard. I was angry over so many things: getting robbed and the anxiety that came with it, the money spent getting my own computer back, accepting help even though it killed me, the time lost going to the creepy pawn shop, feeling the need to explain myself to those guys. In the end, it’s okay. I got my computer back. All my information was even still on it. Plus, Singles is a good movie. It deserves a better fate than that.

Sixteen days, eight emails, three phone calls, and one arrest later, my computer was back.

• Pawn shop price for my year-old MacBook Air: -225.00
• Monetary gift from my improv friends: +110.00
• 12-pack of PBR to drown my sorrows: -12.00

Total: 127.00

Andrea Laurion is a writer from Pittsburgh.

Photo: Antti T. Nissinen

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