Five-minute memoir: The art of losing

The burglar took almost everything – even the bed sheets. But loss felt good to Andrew Porter.

When I was 26 and living in Houston, Texas, I came home from a friend's house one night to discover that my apartment had been robbed. Practically everything I owned had been stolen. In fact, the only things the burglars hadn't taken were my books and a few pieces of furniture. They'd even taken the sheets off my bed.

I can still remember sitting in my empty apartment that night, waiting for the police to arrive, and taking stock of everything I'd lost. There were the material things, of course, but what bothered me most were the personal things they'd taken: letters from friends, boxes filled with family photographs, journals I'd kept since college.

Most devastating of all was the knowledge that I'd lost my computer and backup disks, which contained all of the drafts of all of the stories I'd ever written, including the 12 that were to make up my first book. I'd been living off a fellowship that year and working tirelessly on that book and was, at the time of the burglary, about three weeks shy of finishing it and sending it off to my agent. That it was now gone, along with any hope of ever publishing it, was almost too much to digest. So instead I just sat there and waited for the police, who eventually showed up and explained that there wasn't a whole lot they could do.

Two months later, after my fellowship money ran out, I packed what was left of my life into the trunk of my car and headed out to Oakland, California, where a friend of mine from grad school helped me find a part-time teaching job and offered to put me up for a few weeks.

Even now, it's hard for me to describe my psychological state at the time. I know that on some level I had accepted what had happened, but, on the other hand, the enormity of the loss was so great I don't think I was truly able to wrap my mind around it. I couldn't process that, at 26, I had virtually nothing to my name, that everything I owned could now be fit neatly into the trunk of my car, and that even though I called myself a writer, I no longer had any evidence to prove this.

My friend in Oakland was also a writer, and I think he understood how devastated I was, though he never pressed me to talk about the burglary. Instead, he drove me around the city, helped me find leads on apartments, and listened patiently as I talked about starting over and how maybe losing all of my writing was actually a blessing, a chance for me to write a better book.

I have no idea what he must have thought of me at that time, but I remember very vividly the expression on his face when, a week or so after arriving, I came home one day to explain that my car appeared to be missing from the street outside his apartment. His eyes widened for a moment, as if in sympathy, or perhaps disbelief – disbelief that this could have now happened to me twice.

"It's gone?" he said. "Was anything in the trunk?"

"Yeah," I said, "you know, like everything I own was in the trunk."

He looked at me plaintively.

"I need to go for a walk," I said.

I didn't know Oakland very well and had no idea where I was going, but I walked for a very long time that day – down to the lake, then up through the hilly neighbourhoods that surrounded it. I knew that I'd have to go home at some point and call the police and file a report, but at that moment I didn't care about anything but moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other and not giving into hopelessness.

I wondered what I'd done to deserve this, whether it was some type of karmic payback for something I'd done years before. All I really knew was that I now owned little more than the shirt on my back, and though I probably should have broken down then and started sobbing, I didn't. Instead, I felt something strange. I felt what I can only describe as complete and utter numbness, a sort of cool and peaceful detachment. I remember thinking to myself, you've lost everything now, and there's nothing else that can be taken from you.

A week later the cops would call to tell me that my car had miraculously shown up at a metro station in Berkeley with the keys in the ignition and all of my possessions still in the trunk. But I didn't know that then. All I knew at that moment was that I had lost everything. I had lost everything I owned, and I was okay. I was still alive, still moving.

'In Between Days' by Andrew Porter is published by Jonathan Cape, £16.99 hardback

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments