How a lone burglar can steal our priceless peace of mind...
She can replace the cash and jewellery, but not the most treasured possession she lost that night, her peace of mind.
Weeks on, the abiding sensation, the one that simply won’t go away, is the paralysing dead-of-night terror, the recollection of that awful, eternal moment she woke to the realisation that intruders were downstairs, violating her safe place.
Never in her 40-plus years on earth had she felt so alone, so helpless, so frozen with fear.
She remembers the panic that washed over her like a giant wave, her blood running cold, that awful suffocating sense of being entombed in a sarcophagus of dread.
The darkest reel played in her mind, thoughts of the violence they might inflict.
She says “they”, but, really, she is uncertain of their number. It might have been a lone burglar, but it felt like a malevolent army had invaded her territory armed with the worst intent.
At 4am, amid the lightless pre-dawn hush, there is only intense alarm.
She lay in the bed, a deafening drumbeat of blood pulsing in her ears, unable to move, unable to think.
Her husband had taken their teenage son to a Premier League game in Manchester; they were hundreds of miles away.
It was just her and whomever at that moment was 15 feet below her, rifling through her possessions.
She’s no idea how long she slumped there motionless, awaiting the moment when her bedroom door would creak open and the world as she knew it would end.
They never came upstairs. She doesn’t know whether they were disturbed or distracted, she is clueless as to when exactly they disappeared back into the night.
It was brightening, the witching hour was surrendering to the first dimly lit strands of dawn, before her body finally escaped the immobilising shackles in which it had clamped itself.
She inched toward the edge of the bed. But she couldn’t take the first step, she just couldn’t.
Even if the bedroom floor had been home to a million serpents, the idea of movement could not have been any more daunting.
She can only recall the next hour as if peering through a thick blanket of fog. Calls to the Guards, to her husband, to her brother, the sense of inhabiting a dream, of being outside of time.
They took her purse, a designer handbag she had been gifted for a landmark birthday; pendants and bracelets. She couldn’t care less.
There was huge consolation in their not finding the few of her late mother’s trinkets – an old watch, a wedding ring – that to her are worth a million times their market value.
But it is the psychological pillaging of her spirit that continues to rattle her almost two months later.
They stole who she used to be.
That initial scraping sound – a drawer being opened, she thinks – that informed her that she was in danger will not go away. It reverberates in her head, growing in volume.
Any late-at-night noise, a fox in the garden, a car door opening, jolts her upright, her heart palpitating wildly.
Sleep is no longer as eager to wrap her in its embrace.
She still pictures them, or him (she is certain of the gender), masked she imagines, surely in possession of a blade or some other weapon.
She can smell them. They have taken up residence in both her home and her mind, monsters of the dark.
The Guards were kind, bursting with humanity.
She knows the perpetrators are highly unlikely to be caught and, in truth, she is not sure she wants them to be.
The locks on the doors and windows have been upgraded. The house alarm which they frequently left switched off is now on 24/7 duty. Porch and hall lights burn through the night.
Electricity prices can rise another ten times and still they will not be switched off.
She is not sure she would be able to spend a night alone in her own home any time soon.
She has had counselling and it helps, but she is surprised how deeply unsettling the experience has proven.
Of course, she knows there are so many who have suffered infinitely more traumatising nights. She counts her blessings that there was no physical harm or threat.
A naturally positive person, her confidence is shaken but not, she hopes, terminally damaged.
But she continues to hear that noise, a scraping in the night, and it hammers home to her the fragility of our carefree lives.