catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 2 :: 2008.01.25 — 2008.02.08


Security for sale

“Did I set the alarm?” I’m tooling down the snowy road in the morning darkness, with no time to turn back. Need to get my daughter to school. With a minor scowl, I heave a cold sigh, and turn on the radio, trying to find something other than a yuk-yuk morning show. Music, say? Minutes later, returning home, the grim evil gremlins are lurking again at the edge of my mind. I up the volume on the radio. Once home, coming in from the garage, I find Andrew in the big green chair, dog at his side, cereal in his bowl, master of the TV remote. As I knew he would be.

It’s been a while since personal security has been a top concern. As a child in Detroit, the 1968 riots brought a National Guard tank down our street, and my mother, brother and I were housebound for days, buckets of water by the windows lest something incendiary come crashing through. Working second shift in Chicago one summer—well, youthful bravado and a city that doesn’t sleep took care of me.

Mostly, it’s emotional security that drives my bus. I have a small coterie of fears nipping at my heels. Annoying at times, but fairly easily managed. There’s daily life to tend to, and shopping and movies when the mundane fails to distract. Some of my fears are silly little aliens, gabbling about the improbable. Others are old basset hounds. Been around a while, not going anywhere soon. I know them well, and hope that, with enough therapy, they’ll die off some year soon. 

These days, though, my home’s three doors beep-beep when they’re opened—and offer a crazy screaming noise if done while the alarm system is on—and I put up with my terrier’s undisciplined toilet habits, in part because he foiled an intruder six months ago.  

Sometimes Andrew’s up when I get back, sometimes still asleep. Nora’s fall routine had her leaving the house at 6:30 a.m. to catch a school bus. But near to Christmas, as they had last year, the mornings got a little tougher, so I started to drive her to school every day. It bought us both an extra half hour of sleep, but it meant leaving Andrew, age nine, home alone for twenty-five minutes. Sure, I could rouse and bundle him and drag him along, but getting two out of the house was plenty chaotic. Besides, he likes being master of the house, or so he says. (Though when I tuck him in at night, after reading, he wants me to stay upstairs until he falls asleep, or better yet, read my own book right next to him. Nice.) So, is it okay to leave him home alone? Dangerous? 

This question has taken on a particular edge this year. One July morning, when the kids were at camp, my five-pound dog set up a barking racket at 5:30 a.m. Skipper barks only when there’s something of interest outside. A single bark gets the door opened so he can pursue a squirrel or a neighbor’s pooch. A sustained effort means someone is approaching the house. Awakened from a deep sleep, I shuffle downstairs, turn on lights, peer outside, open the door to the garage. ‘Good boy,’ and a treat reward Skipper, and I go back to bed.

A week later, a neighbor calls—a minor surprise. I’d lived in my home a year, but other than a few waves, nothing had been exchanged between my family and neighbors in our nice neighborhood in our nice Midwestern city. It was kind of this Kevin to call, though unsettling. There’d been a slew of break-ins in the neighborhood, at all hours, with people home, and he advised me to leave my lights on and be diligent about locking up.

“What did he want?” The children were curious, having heard me make snarky remarks about the friendliness of the neighborhood. I’m usually quick when a maternal deception is called for, but this took me a few seconds. “He’s organizing a neighborhood watch,” I said. This covered the ensuing community meeting, where I actually met Kevin and his wife Julie: “You’re never home—I’ve tried to bring over cookies a couple of times!”

So Skipper had clearly protected me from a predawn intruder the previous week. Soon after, in an insightful marketing effort, someone selling alarm systems at reduced rates—free equipment for a multi-year contract and monthly monitoring fee—came to my door. And made a quick sale.

A widow for six years, it hasn’t always been easy to feel safe. Right after my husband died, the serious quiet after the kids were asleep made it hard to catch my breath some nights. The bone-tired solitude combined with the silent darkness made for some serious jitters. One night I heard a rhythmic noise coming from the first floor of my 75-year-old house. With a clutch in my gut, I set my book down, got out of bed and ventured out into the hallway. I quickly decided I could cower in a corner, vibrating with adrenaline, or call 911.

When a pair of our small town’s finest showed up, I cautioned them not to break an ankle on the strewn toys, and sat on the arm of the sofa to wait, an arm across my midsection, a hand clutching the robe at my throat, a classic dame in despair in my own noir-ish tale. The cops checked the basement and yard and came back to assure me no one was there. 

Feeling secure is a state of mind—an emulsion of perception, attitude, perhaps a little delusion. The children accepted the security system without much inquiry. They seem to like it, actually, Andrew in particular. Andrew who is left home alone for a bit on weekday mornings, with the alarm set. The evening of the nonexistent intruder had been my pinnacle of fear about being the lone adult in the house. For me, life has enough challenges without worrying about home invasion, and I am grateful to have the resources to stave off the worry. Some fears you have to wrestle with. Some of them can be bought off.

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