"That happens to other people!" is how I've been thinking.
Publish date:
June 14, 2013
crime, safety

When I lived in St. Louis I had a whole routine when I came back to my apartment late at night.

I would park my car in front of my apartment, an old converted house from the turn of the century, and take a look around up and down my street. I lived on a cute little street that was friendly, but right between a relatively safe neighborhood and one that was decidedly "rougher".

I worked late nights at a restaurant, so by the time I came home things would be relatively quiet, save for the little dive bar up on the next block.

After I would give the street a quick glance I'd head to my front door, keys ready. I'd open the front door, lock it behind me and go up my the long dark staircase to the door that opened into my apartment.

After getting through that door I'd quickly flip on all the lights and check all the closets, the bathroom, under my bed, and both the front and back balconies. It was St. Louis in the early 2000's, so I had a huge apartment, in an "okay" neighborhood, for almost nothing.

You see, at that time, living in that city, I was always wary of home invasion.

I had a fear, probably from watching too many horror movies or reading too much about the Villisca Axe Murders, that I would come home and a marauder would be hiding in my big, old apartment waiting for me to drop my guard.

A home invasion where a woman had been held hostage in her own apartment for days, had happened in an apartment building not far from my old place, and I was hyper-paranoid that it would happen to me.

In those days, I would go about my business, in a city I loved, carefully, but I never felt really in danger. I'm sure I was foolish sometimes, and I'm sure I was obsessive at others, but I feel like I got by pretty well.

Well, of course life carried on. I left St. Louis, I lived in better neighborhoods at times, I lived with boyfriends and roommates, and then eventually my husband, here in Hawai'i.

Over time, that "guard" that was always part of how I moved through life, dropped down more and more.

Even in LA when I lived in a neighborhood that some of my friends hated coming to, I started getting bolder and bolder. I'd go for my late night insomnia walks or sometimes forget to lock my front door. I know it's stupid and I should have been more careful, but because of the people around me and the positive way my life was going, I started getting sloppy.

I'm so lucky nothing really bad -- aside from a car break-in and a stolen bike -- ever happened.

And now, being in Hawai'i, lulled by the safety of living in a "paradise" with such a strong sense of community, I realize now that I've sort of been walking around like I'm invincible. Even close-knit communities have unsavory characters.

The other day my husband and I came home to our apartment late in the afternoon. We had escaped our building for the day because our neighbors were having a garage sale that was becoming a party. Nothing wrong with that, but we felt like getting away from the noise.

As I unlocked the front door, I noticed that the lock turned easily, like I hadn't turned it all the way, but I didn't think much of it. Like I said, I'd gotten kind of lazy about checking the locks on my door.

When I entered my apartment I immediately noticed what looked like sawdust all over the bookshelf that sits under our front window. There were also little chunks of wood on the floor below the bookshelf.

"What is all this?", I asked my husband, honestly fearing termites at first.

As we inspected the mess, we both noticed the window screen. The screen had been forcibly pushed in and bent, thus causing all the wood carnage from the window frame.

"I think somebody tried to break in", my husband said.

My heart raced for a moment. I had thought of this before, but never seriously.

You see, our apartment was (I've since reinforced the window and screen) very easy to break into. If your arm was slim enough, you could easily reach in and unlock the front door from the outside.

With all the commotion of the party/garage sale out front, I'm sure it was easy for someone to slip upstairs in our open air building, and jam their arm through our window. Luckily, they probably couldn't completely get a grasp on the lock.

While my first thoughts were of that old familiar fear of home invasion (you couldn't PAY me to see "The Strangers" again) my second thoughts were of how cocky I'd been.

I knew full well that I'd been lackadaisical about keeping myself and my home safe, and yet I just kept skipping along on my merry way. I realize now that "that happens to other people!" is how I've been thinking.

Now I'm not saying a person should walk around in constant fear, waiting for the next evil doer to jump out at them. That's how people overreact, that's how terrible violence can happen.

But what I am saying is that I wonder how many other women out there are like me? Whether you live alone or with a partner or roommate, do we, as privileged, comfortable women, take our safety for granted?

Look, I know I was lucky. Nothing terrible happened, my cats and home are largely undisturbed. But I can't help but feel like a dummy for not locking BOTH the locks on my door and fixing my window screen when I knew breaking in could be so easy.

And PLEASE don't get me wrong, bad things happen for no reason sometimes, and nobody ever asks for a violence or a break-in to happen to them. You can do everything right, but you can't stop all the bad things.

But there are ways you can be smart, and I will fully admit that I haven't always been smart. Whether it's been chatting on my cell phone at 2am in an almost empty parking garage in Chinatown, or when in a rush, only locking the turn-lock on my front door knob, I've been slacking off on keeping myself safe.

So now I'm reevaluating my awareness. I'm still feeling a little freaked out from the attempted break-in, so I know I'm being hyper vigilant -- I get up a couple times from bed every night to double check the locks and deadbolt on our door, I keep making sure the screen on the window is still firmly fixed in place, I notice the new or different cars parked in our lot. I'm trying to find that old way of being on my toes but not paranoid.

I know full well that I am a naturally neurotic person. If I let the boogeyman get the best of me, I'll just end up being a ball of nerves all the time. But right now, I'm kind of okay with the worry.

In the immortal words of Kevin McCallister from the magnum opus, "Home Alone", "This is my house, I have to defend it".

How do you keep yourself safe? Have you ever been the victim of a home invasion? Do you find yourself slacking off on your personal safety?