Not many people know this about me but I have a long-standing, abiding—some might say irrational—fear of home invasion.
My fear is not just the thought of someone breaking in and snatching my laptop and the Wii (They’d have to have the strength of Hercules to snatch the TV) and leaving the door open for my cats to get outside. Those are fears, certainly. But my fears are more graphic, violent, often involving bloody scenarios that lead to the death of my husband, sometimes even the cats, and leave me violated and alone.
Most of the time, in my daydreams and nightmares (there have been many of each), I’m at my most vulnerable: taking a shower in an empty house. This scenario has played itself out in my subconscious so many times that at various points I have had actually plans in place. For example, in my current apartment there is a wooden stand that holds our towels. If I tip it in front of the door this will slow the assailant down and leave me time to either cry for help or jump out of the bathroom window. Preferably both.
I have kept knives in the bathroom within reach so that if Norman Bates happens to appear I can at least stab back. I have also kept cell phones in the bathroom so I can call for help.
This is sounding insane even to me and I’m the nut who does it. I have come to understand that I misplace anxiety and turn it into fear. Once I realized that the fears subsided greatly. I stop myself in the midst of anxious thoughts for a moment and think things through. I tell myself crime statistics for my neighborhood. I remind myself that even if there is a break in the carnage that ensues in my dreams is a rare occurrence. So, at least I’m not that crazy, right?
In order to curb these imaginings, I put limits on things that escalate my paranoia. I don’t watch scary movies, generally speaking. I avoid most murder-of-the-week shows. Despite my love of science to solve crimes I no longer indulge in any of those crime TV shows that use the miracles of science to figure out who killed the girl (it’s almost always a girl).
And so my paranoid fears are still there but have greatly subsided. But still. They linger.
If there’s one thing I always liked about myself in my horrific visions it’s that I am usually calm in the face of terror. I am terrorized but I am fierce. My hands do not shake.
Turns out I’m not so cool in real life.
This morning I was in the shower. I was not thinking about break-ins or murderous lechers lurking in the hallway outside.
And then I heard it.
A rattling pound. A pounding door? It happened twice but after the first one I was in a panic. I scrambled out of the shower, grabbed my towel, tore open the bathroom door and demanded, “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT NOISE?”
Shaking. I ran to the front door—it seemed it had come from that direction, but had it? I listened but all I could hear was the pounding of my own hearts in my ears. I ran to the bedroom so I could look at the back porch. A light dusting of snow lay undisturbed.
I ran to the kitchen and grabbed the first knife I could and whipped around, ready to fight to the death while actually clutching my towel around me. Looking down I realized I had the bread knife. Bad idea. I turned back around and grabbed the smallest, sharpest knife. I could keep hold of it and make a stabbing motion, if needed.
I walked back into the hallway and headed toward the front door. Still no sound except the shower. The water from the shower sounded louder than anything. I looked down, ashamed to see that my hand was shaking so badly that I’d be lucky not to stab my own fool self.
I pulled my arm in tighter, hoping that would calm my hand, and walked the perimeter of the entire apartment.
When I got to the bedroom I saw that three or four books had been knocked off my nightstand. Suddenly I felt foolish. I was shaking like a frightened animal over a few books. Or was I? It had been a calamitous sound that seemed as if it were coming from another direction.
I couldn’t talk myself into it either way. I called my husband, looking to him to tell me I was overreacting. But, of course, he doesn’t understand the extent of my fears. He’s seen me wake up out of a dead sleep to double check locks on doors. But it’s not like I call him every time I get spooked, which is more often than I’d like to admit.
He chastised me for not calling the police. “There’s nothing I can do from work! Call the police and call me back!” And he was right. I should have trusted my instincts that something was wrong.
But, of course, in my innumerable dreams the police are never an option. It just hadn’t occurred to me to call them.
I did call the police, just to be safe. They checked the apartment hallway and found nothing. But there was a gouge in the wood next to my doorknob I don’t remember ever seeing before. And downstairs the neighbors’ lock had four gouges by it. Their door was locked. There were no chips on the floor so I have no way of knowing when those gouges occurred. Nobody answered the door when the officer knocked.
The police were polite. They found nothing but said they’d be on high alert and keep an eye on our block today.
I have no idea if there was an intruder but it felt like there was one. And sometimes I just need to trust what I feel instead of talking myself out of it. Instead, I found myself caught up in a drama that plays out in my head instead of dealing with what was really going on.
Now I find myself at Starbucks trying to shake the feeling of dread that settled in after the initial fight-or-flight response kicked in. I should be doing the dishes, the laundry and my homework.
But right now I just don’t know what to do.