I don’t care how tough a guy you fancy yourself, there comes a time in everyone’s day when you let your guard down, take your boots off, and relax. Whether you live in a two-hundred-square-foot apartment or a sprawling manor, it isn’t a home until you’re able to power down all of those concerns you have about the outside world and just unwind. For some of us, it takes a while to get that comfortable after a stressful day. Anxiety about work, stress over money, concerns about personal relationships; they can all delay the onset of that beautiful moment of peace we all long for when we prop our feet up on the coffee table, take a deep breath, and exhale the day away.
For me last Saturday night, it took until just about 1AM to get there.
As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I had a break-in while we lived in Army housing in Massachusetts just about seven years ago. In the years since, I’ve tended to take the noises I hear downstairs in the middle of the night a bit more seriously, and I’ve become increasingly conscious of the security I employ around the house. I now lock all my doors and windows (as a Vermont boy, that was a hard transition to make), use an alarm system, and keep a firearm close to my bed while I’m sleeping.
I don’t, however, tend to pay much attention to things that go on outside – there are plenty of animals around where I live, and although I’ve chosen a house that’s pretty far out of the way, there are other like-minded families around that also moved to the area to avoid the types of interactions you get to have as a member of a homeowner’s association. In short, I don’t complain about you playing music I can hear in my yard a few hundred yards away because you don’t complain about me shooting my Glock at the target in mine.
My wife (who is 20 weeks pregnant and loves sleep) had been asleep for a few hours before I decided to just rack out on the couch instead of waking her up by climbing into bed. I powered down my Playstation and had just begun watching some old clips from Saturday Night Live when I noticed what appeared to be a flashlight sweep across my front windows. Knowing no car’s headlights could reach my window from the road, I stood up and approached the front door with my pistol, not entirely sure who to expect in the woods around my house so late at night. When I opened the door, I found a gas can that had been lit on fire, pressed up against the side of my house.
My wife reacted quickly as I woke her up, and she was able to get the fire department on the line and to our house fast enough to keep it from burning down as I frantically sprayed the exterior walls with a garden hose to keep the fire from spreading. When the fire department arrived, I was standing in a bush to get the hose to reach my house, wearing nothing but my boxers, half drunk and desperate. I was embarrassed, I was afraid that whoever lit the fire was still nearby, and although it never crossed my mind that I might be hurt, I was terrified for the safety of my wife and unborn child as I tried to split my attention between her and the fire I was working to slow.
At this point, you probably have a list of questions: why would someone try to burn my house down? What kinds of people must this Alex guy be involved with that would lead to such a situation? How does something like this even happen?
That’s the worst of it: I have all those same questions. I tend to keep to myself, and in the year or so that I’ve lived here, I’ve managed to establish a pretty good reputation with police and first responders in our community. When asked to list the names of anyone that might have a motive to do such a thing, I couldn’t muster a single name that made sense – in fact, I would argue that anyone that knows me well enough to have a motive would likely also know that sneaking around my house in the middle of the night is a great way to get yourself shot. And if you’re lucky, Alex will be the one shooting, because his wife will empty her whole magazine into you.
In the week that followed, I’ve had arson investigators, police officers, and fire fighters come through my house, offer suggestions on how best to ensure my family’s safety, and try to find anything that points toward a suspect. The first responders in my community have done an incredible job at making us feel as safe and secure as we can in these circumstances – but my wife and I are left with an uncomfortable reality to face: we moved here because it’s out of the way, but that means we’re on our own for much longer than one might hope in an emergency.
Thanks to my wife’s ability to convey directions over the phone, the fire department was able to arrive in time to save my house, but if I hadn’t been awake at 1AM to notice movement on my porch, we may not have survived. The fire would have had to burn all the way through the exterior of my house and filled the high ceilings of my living room with smoke before our fire alarm would even go off – and by then, the primary exit points of my house would have already been engulfed in flames. In every regard, things worked out the best they could have for us, but I refuse to count on luck in the future.
With that in mind, I’ll be posting a follow-up to this story based on effective, but economical, ways to increase the security and emergency preparedness of your home. Just like many Americans, we’re working on a fixed budget and can’t afford to throw thousands of dollars at the problem, but we can be proactive, creative, and unrelenting in our effort to make our house a home again – somewhere you can put your feet up, power down your concerns about the outside world, and actually unwind.
It’s going to take a little time and a lot of effort, but we’ll get there, and we’ll share our findings with you as we do.
Author’s note: I didn’t take any pictures while everything was going on. The image above is not a depiction of the fire that took place at my house.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons