The three day headache

I have had a nasty headache for the past three days. Probably has something to do with the fact that I was involved in an armed robbery at my home on Tuesday. Even as I type those words, it still doesn’t seem real. It’s a headache unlike any other headache that I’ve ever had. It’s kind of a dull throb on the inside of my head, just behind my eyes. Stress induced no doubt. I won’t Google it though, that would just make me even more paranoid.

I am still trying to figure out how I let it happen. The armed robbery that is, not the headache. The irony that we have been talking about “this sort of thing” ever since we came back from Mauritius in April is not lost on me. These things happen to other people, obviously. But the reality is that we don’t “let it happen”. It just happens, and when it happens to you, it’s actually just bad luck. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, that old pearler!

I fetched the kids from school, and we headed straight home. I opened the gate as I usually do, while noticing a white Landrover / Range rover (I am never sure of the models) backing out of my neighbour’s driveway. My kids have the habit of jumping out of the car as soon as I open the gate, as they like to fetch the post and say hi to Willow who is usually waiting in the driveway for us. I briefly looked in my rear view mirror to see if they were inside so I could close the gate, and the white Landrover was now inside my gate and three men with guns were running towards me.

I assumed I was being hijacked, so I literally jumped out of my car, shouted to the kids to come in and ran inside screaming, hoping to alert my staff and get them to call for help. One of the men followed me inside, cornered me at the kitchen door, pushed me down and held a gun to my head. He hit me on the head with his other hand, and told me: “Shut up, stop screaming, you are traumatizing your kids”. He then took my wedding and engagement rings, quickly checked my wrists for other jewellery (he did not bother to take my “low-value” bracelets or watch) and then disappeared. The whole ordeal lasted less that a minute. I then heard the kids screaming.

One of my staff, Promise, had the presence of mind to run out of the back door and into the street, when she saw me at the kitchen door. She had alerted our neighbour’s security guard who pressed the panic button and phoned the police. In the minutes that followed, I managed to phone the police, my husband and ADT. The kids were crying and screaming, mainly because I was crying and screaming, and Alex told me the man had taken my phone from him (He was holding it when we got out of the car.) I honestly have no idea how much they did or didn’t see. They have both however, asked me why the bad men came into our house, and why they had guns.

Within less than ten minutes I had Gary, 2 police cars and 4 security companies in my driveway.

We live in a boomed off area, and pretty much assume that we are safe. There hasn’t been an incident of any significance (only one attempted break in, due to a breech at the boom) since they put the booms in place a few years ago. And in the last 13 years we have been living in this house we have never had an incident, barring some guys running through our garden in the middle of the night when we first moved in, but they did nothing (we saw the footprints on the lawn the next morning). The reality is that we are under a false sense of security. But even now, after this horrendous thing that happened to me, I am going to continue to assume that I am safe, if I don’t, I will not be able to continue living in this country. (Although we have discussed it, we have no real intention of leaving.)

The CCTV footage at the boom shows that the Landrover tailgated me. (The guard at the boom immediately pressed his panic button when this happened.) I was horrified when I learned this, as they were in my neighbour’s driveway when I pulled into our cul-de-sac. I have no idea when they overtook me. In a way we are all desensitized to people driving like assholes around us, everyone is always in such a hurry. That, and let’s face it, as moms we are distracted when our kids are in the car. At the time I was actually having an argument / discussion with Alex about why I can’t download games on the phone for him while I am driving! I had no idea that they had tailgated me. I have asked a few people, since this happened, if they could tell me the colour of the car that was behind them in traffic today, and no one could answer me. We can’t possibly notice every little thing around us all the time. I am usually very vigilant and aware of what is going on around me, but I had clearly let my guard down within a zone that I consider to be safe.

The footage shows a car in front of me, me, and then the Landrover all enter within 20 seconds of each other at 14:36. We assume that the Landrover was following the first car, as he came from the same direction, I got in between and then he tailgated me. The car in front drove into a complex, so the Landrover continued past into our road. Then I kindly opened my gate for them, as a car in my neighbour’s driveway is not an unusual occurrence, and the rest is history.

The footage also shows the Landrover exiting the area at 14:39. The whole ordeal lasted 3 minutes. We live about 500m from the boom, so the 3 minutes includes the time it took them to drive a fair distance in and out. The man was probably inside my house with his gun against my head for less than a minute.

I have been racking my brain to figure out what I could have done differently; the answer is: nothing. No matter how many “how to prevent a hijacking” articles you’ve read, or how many advanced driving courses you have attended can prepare you for the reality of it actually happening to you. The reality is that the car in my neighbour’s driveway was in no way unusual. They have visitors all the time. I couldn’t see into the car to see who was in it, and quite frankly even if I could have seen into it, it wouldn’t have made any difference.

I thought I was being hijacked, so my instinct was to get out of the car as quickly as possible (My kids were already out). The man following me into the house was completely and utterly unexpected, and nothing I could have done would have stopped that from happening at that moment. Thank God they just wanted my jewellery. He left as soon as he had what he wanted, and perhaps realized that the security guy at the boom had already alerted someone. They had limited time and got in and out as quickly as possible. They didn’t even take my car, which was still running in the garage. I have heard “thank goodness you weren’t hurt” a million times in the last few days, and whilst I appreciate and echo the sentiment, it is completely unacceptable that we are so used to violent crime in this country that we brush it off with “Well at least no-one got hurt.”

We also get over these incidents far too quickly than what is normal, as we are already so desensitized to violent crime. We hear of something similar on the news or from people we know just about every other day. This is also unacceptable; it’s not normal. Not that I am already over it mind you.

I am angry that I was attacked. I am beyond pissed off that my children were witness to this despicable occurrence. I am sad that my sense of safety has been compromised. I have (mostly) stopped crying when I think or talk about it. I am shocked at the brazenness of these criminals: attacking me in my home, in broad daylight with no less than four security guards within walking distance of my house. With my children right there. I feel helpless: If they had tried to do something to them, or to me or one of my staff, I would not have been able to do a damn thing. I did what I could: I screamed, I called for help, I pressed the panic button… I don’t even want to go there in my head in terms of what actually could have happened.

I had my first nightmare last night. In the first part of the dream I was in a meeting with a customer, and the guy who attacked me was there. He was wearing my diamond ring on his pinkie finger, and smiling at me with a “there’s fuck-all you can do” look on his face. Then later in the dream, Gary and I are driving, there are some street kids swinging a rock on a piece of string at the traffic lights. Next second, the rock hits the window and it smashes, which wakes me up with my heart pounding. It’s probably not the last bad dream I’m going to have.

I have been reliving what happened in my head, over and over, non-stop since it happened. I am still trying to process the enormity of what happened here. How lucky I am that no-one got hurt. It’s going to take time to get past this, and I know that it will live with me forever. I know I will be more observant (the last car driving behind me was a maroon Hyundai station-wagon) and my kids will never jump out of the car again when I open the gate. My neighbours’ visitors will be regarded with suspicion, and in fact I will wait in the road that leads into the cul-de-sac from now on if I see a car I don’t recognise. I also know that this headache will eventually go away.

They have taken one of my most valuable and sentimental possessions, but I will not let them take my happiness.

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