When Alan and I had been living in our first house for just over a year, it was broken into. We were home at the time.
It was after midnight on a hot July night. We had been downtown to see the big fireworks display that Windsor and Detroit puts on every year for the International Freedom Festival. A million people crowd the along the river to see show. This, of course, leaves lots and lots of houses alone and undefended. It’s a break and enter dream. Or nightmare, depending on which team you’re on.
Because it was so hot, our little window air conditioner was chugging away, trying to keep us cool. It was an old unit, and loud. Loud enough that the first inkling we had that we weren’t alone in the house was when the bedroom door opened and the hall light shone in my face, waking me from a very deep sleep.
I thought is was Alan getting ready to go to work until I heard his voice next to me mutter confusedly, “Who’s that?”
At that point, realizing we had an intruder, my fight or flight instincts kicked in. I threw the covers over my head and held my breath.
The bedroom door quickly shut and I heard the sound of scrambling from out in the hall and then a couple of thumps as whoever it was ran down the stairs.
Alan was taking a little longer to put the pieces together.
“Who has a key to our house?” he asked.
“Nobody,” I replied.
He tugged the covers away from my face. “What did you say?”
“Nobody has a key to our house.”
“Then who was that?”
“Somebody broke in.”
“Are you sure?”
“No. Maybe you should go check.”
He got up and started getting dressed.
Realizing that that would leave me alone in the bedroom, I scrambled to do the same. We opened the bedroom door and with me solidly behind him, proceeded down the stairs. I grabbed a shoe on my way out of the bedroom because no harm can come to someone armed with an old track shoe. Am I right?
“What the hell were you going to do with that?” Alan asked when he saw it.
There were sweat streaks on the walls. Whoever it was had clearly had a fright and gone down the stairs mostly in mid-air.
When we got to the bathroom at the bottom of the stairs, we could see the evidence of the break-in. Our front door was ajar. The person was gone. There was still a stream of people walking past the house, returning from the fireworks. Whoever it was would have just blended in to the crowd. Shaking, we locked the front door and called the police.
Two very large men showed up, had a look around and said they’d send the fingerprint unit in the morning. They gave us a few safety tips and prepared to leave.
“Um…..” I said in a shaking voice. “If it’s not too much trouble, could you please check the basement? Just to be sure he’s gone?”
He didn’t pat me on the head or call me little lady, but I’m pretty sure he wanted to.
After they left, we went back to bed where Alan somehow managed to fall asleep as I lay beside him, rigid with terror.
There’s something about a brush with disaster that seems to bring out the ghoul in people. As we told of our adventure over the coming days and weeks, we heard all kinds of stories of break-ins that didn’t end as peacefully as ours. Entire families slaughtered in their beds. Stories that ended “and they never found the bodies….”
And honestly, “You’re lucky you weren’t killed!” is never a good thing to say to anyone, no matter what they’ve been through. “I’m glad you’re OK!” is the phrase you’ll want to use.
It was a particularly bad thing to say to me. I was young and frightened of my own shadow. Anxiety was an issue. “Did you lock the doors and close all the windows downstairs?” I would say to Alan night after night. And after he assured me that, yes, indeed he had, I’d get up and check them all myself.
Any least noise would wake me out of a sound sleep, sweaty with fear. Well and because I refused to sleep with the air conditioner on ever again.
Finally one day, Alan said to me, “You know….. We’ve really beat the odds here.”
“What’re you talking about?” I said, checking the lock on the front door for the second or third time.
“Well, most people live their entire lives without ever having their house broken into.”
“Lucky them,” I muttered, giving the door one last shake and making absolutely sure the front porch light was as on as it could be.
“And we’ve had ours broken into and lived. What are the odds it’ll ever happen again?”
“Ridiculously in our favour. Nobody ever has their house broken into twice. We got it out of the way early. I mean, statistically, it will never happen again.”
I don’t know if it’s because I was so tired or that I hadn’t yet learned that statistics can be manipulated or I was just dazzled by his charm, but I let myself be persuaded that we were safe. I even eventually consented to turning on the air conditioner.