At 9 p.m. on Wednesday evening, my life was taken from me. Every copy of my manuscript- the one that I have been working on for two years- was stolen. Gone. Disappeared. Taken.
'We're going to be late for dinner,' I had said to my two girlfriends, glancing at the time on the cell phone beside my empty spritz glass. 'Let's pay up and go.'
I'd stood up and pushed my stool away from the bar to reach down for my bag: a brown brushed leather man's satchel, with knots in the strap because it was too long for me, and a big oil stain on the bottom left-hand corner from where my pesto gnocchi leaked once. It's a bag that many people have joked, 'Jesus, what is in there (Insert cliche here: Bricks? The kitchen sink? Your ex-boyfriend's severed head?)' as they have moved it or passed it to me or walked into it and broken a toe.
And every time I reply the same thing. 'My life.'
I'm out of the house and on the move 14 to 16 hours a day. I carry my MacBook and editing notes to work on My Heart Beats Only For You (And a Few Dozen Other People) in a cafe by morning, with a back-up on the USB I keep in a zipped compartment in my bag should my laptop- God forbid- ever break. There's an iPod for the walk to work, lunch, my wallet with ID, bank cards, and normally about 50 euro in cash- because I operate only in cash here in Italy. I don't trust their banks. I carry my diary for all of my appointments and to keep track of the hours I've worked because I ain't gonna teach these kids for free. House keys. Often, I have my entire make-up bag with me because being out of the house for so long requires a mid-day touch-up. Especially if I am heading out someplace after work.
My house could burn down and if I already had my bag with me, I wouldn't miss a thing.
Everybody knows that feeling of, 'FUCK! MY BAG'S GONE!' which is quickly followed by, 'Except that it isn't. It's right here. Gosh, I'm so silly.' So when my heart leaped into my throat I was waiting for the second feeling to kick in. The relief. Any second now I'll be saying to myself, D'uh. Of course it isn't gone, I thought.
Except I didn't get to say that.
The only thing I could whisper to my friends was, 'But my book is in there.' Over and over again. 'My book. What about my book?' Screw the money, the computer, the iPod or the make-up. They can be replaced. But every draft of something I have worked on for TWO YEARS, the whole reason I moved to Rome in the first place, gone?
What about my book...?
'Take a minute,' my friend instructed, and I did. I walked outside and rested my head against the old Roman stone of the church opposite. I closed my eyes. I swore.
'You seem a bit too calm,' my friend observed when I came back in. 'You seem to be having a bit of a zen moment.'
'Well,' I said. 'What can I do? Tomorrow morning I will buy a new notebook and a pen that writes nicely, make a chronological list of every man I've ever had sex with, and then write the fucker again by longhand.'
I was all business. I filed a police report, bought new make-up, got a new diary and three leather-bound Moleskines. I was logical and systematic, and told my friend, 'If Shantaram can be written three times, I can write My Heart Beats Only For You a second time. It's a sex-memoir for Christ's sake- I know how the story goes.'
And then my friend replied, 'Shantaram? I know that guy! He is married to my friend!' which is just about the weirdest thing anybody can ever say to you when you reference a literary hero, and I had a moment of severe cognitive dissonance whereby my brain couldn't cope with, GONE. EVERYTHING YOU'VE WORKED FOR, GONE FOREVER. SO YOU MAY AS WELL JUST GO ON AHEAD AND DIE NOW BECAUSE WHAT IS THE POINT OF ANYTHING IN LIFE. And then, WOW! MAYBE YOU COULD ASK TO MEET HIM!
I went into to work the next day to all the sympathetic faces, and didn't have to tell a single one of the twenty people I see daily what had happened because they all knew, and they all knew how devastated I was. And so, when confronted with your best pregnant friend- the one who treats you like a sister- looking up from the table with the biggest saddest eyes to say, 'Laura. I am so, SO, sorry,' what is a girl gonna do but break down and cry?
I sat in that staff room and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed for four hours straight. Uncontrollable, heaving gulps of desperation until I couldn't breathe and I wanted to throw up. And I'm embarrassed to say I felt so pitiful for myself all I could think was, 'Why, Rome? Because I'm not having a shit enough time here? REALLY?'
And then I had to sort of splutter a snotty giggle as I noted to my pregnant friend, 'I moved to a city I hate to write a book, and now the city I hate has stolen the book.'
Oh, Universe. Your sense of humour is a bitch.
I cried some more and ate some chocolate and generally allowed myself to be loved and supported by all the people who genuinely seem to care, and then I went home because sleep was the only thing that would make a tomorrow where hard work counts for nothing a little more bearable.
I showered, arranged a Skype-date with Calum, and as I waited for him to come online looked in a box on my windowsill full of papers and my glasses and old batteries. I don't know why I did that. I just did. And there was my USB stick. The one that should have been in my stolen bag, where it lived. But it wasn't in the stolen bag, it was in my hand.
I have a copy of the book. An old, pre-edited copy, but all 75,000 words.
Because the Universe really does have one sick motherfucking sense of humour.