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Business Casual: Security and Insecurities

The first time a house I lived in was broken into, I was outraged, incredulous and indignant. When it happened again, earlier this year – different house, different neighborhood, different time of life, I was annoyed. Grumpy, actually. Was it really my turn again?

The two break-ins were separated by a number of years, but the basic process was the same: Assess the damage, call the police and make a few security upgrades.

The first time around, my husband and I had just moved into a house in a slowly-getting-there pocket of a gentrifying Atlanta neighborhood. After a month of non-stop painting and sprucing up, we had gone away for the weekend.

My mom discovered the break-in when she came by to feed our cat. The police officer who responded to our call commiserated with us: He had recently had a robbery at his house.

A pair of floor pillows, a painting we liked and a small houseplant were among the items taken. My husband wondered if someone was decorating an apartment at our expense.

This recent break-in occurred in the quiet DeKalb County neighborhood where I’ve lived for 30 years. I made the discovery on a weekday when I returned from a round of errands and noticed that a couple of kitchen drawers were open, then noticed that a lot of other things were amiss.

This time the losses included jars of coins I was saving for my grandson to count and wrap (so he could finance a Lego purchase) and some old jewelry – the kind of stuff you stash in a dresser drawer because you don’t wear it and don’t quite know what to do with it.

The two items I most hated to lose were my mother’s wedding ring and the Bronze Star my father was awarded for his Army service. The intruders also helped themselves to a fake-leather tote bag, presumably to carry away what they had stolen.

After the first break-in, I was halfway expecting the return of my stuff; this time it never occurred to me I’d see any of the missing items again. I was advised by a few people to check nearby pawnshops, but I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for that.

I pretty much skipped the outrage stage and went straight to grumpy, where I’ve been ever since. I didn’t feel so much violated, which is a term people often use to describe a burglary or intrusion into their home, as put-upon.

I am grateful that I wasn’t home (Or am I? If I’d been home, would the bad guys have found another target?) and that my animals were not harmed and that no serious damage was done to the house. But I am also peeved that I am expected to be grateful.

And I truly am glad that no other neighbors were burglarized – one reported a break-in the same day as mine but nothing was taken. That might have had something to do with her German shepherd.

The police officer who answered my call was professional, even sympathetic; but we both knew this was not the crime of the century.

I got busy arranging for those security measures I probably should have attended to earlier, even though I understand that they are deterrents, not guarantees.

So I guess the question is, what do we need to feel safe? And is feeling safe the same as being safe?

I’m paying a lot more attention to double-checking than I used to – lights, windows, doors, deadbolts. That’s probably not a bad thing.

But what I really don’t like is the attention I have been paying to people casually walking up and down my street and trying to figure out if they “belong” here.

It’s a public street. Anyone has a right to use it without conforming to my expectations of what’s a good reason or a not-good reason to be here – with the exception of criminal activity.

I do not intend to become one of those zealously wary citizens, peering fearfully from behind the curtains, suspicious of everything and everybody.

On the other hand, somebody did break into my house.

So while I’m wrestling with that dilemma, I can only hope that any threatening person who approaches my door after dark finds the new motion-sensitive exterior lights as startling as I do. I still jump every time they come on.

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