Yesterday, the locksmith installed the security gate on my bedroom window, and I had the first good night’s sleep I’d had in a month.
You see, I live in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan. It’s actually a pretty good neighborhood…well, West of Broadway it is, anyway. East of Broadway, in many ways it’s just an extension of Washington Heights. But that’s neither here nor there. As is so often the case in New York, there is a gulf fixed between and never the twain shall meet.
When I first moved in, I wasn’t best pleased to see that the fire escape opened directly into our bedroom. I’d lived in a situation like that before – a basement apartment in Astoria with a “private entrance” directly into the bedroom – and I hadn’t really slept well the entire time.
(That wasn’t my only, or even biggest problem with the place, though. It was built by Nico Down The Block Discount Construction [No, not literally] and water dripped from the light fixtures in heavy rains.)
The previous resident had nice little devices that screwed onto the window frame and made the lower pane impossible to open. So for the first few months, I was fine. Then one night, I saw lights outside the windows.
What was it? I don’t know to this day. It was unusual. My bedroom windows face a confluence of alleys (gated and fenced, so it’s cleaner than you’re probably picturing), so you don’t get your standard New York City street lights. There was a lightning storm that night. Or maybe one of the other buildings’ lights just happened to hit the curtains right. I don’t know. But at the time, groggy from sleep and just escaped from a nightmare, I was convinced – Con. Vinced. – that there was someone out on the fire escape, trying to case the place.
I was terrified. I didn’t even have an axe handle or a baseball bat like my folks keep under the bed.
As the lightning storm picked up and a more reasonable explanation presented itself, I stopped being convinced. If nothing else, logic reasserted itself enough to remind me that a burglar was the last person who would want light out on that fire escape.
I was able to get back to sleep, but the next day, the fear was still there in the back of my mind. Well, not fear. Anxiety. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The front door of my apartment is a huge metal fire door with three locks, one of which is a deadbolt. Close it up at night and you’ve effectively got another wall. But there is a ladder to the place where I sleep, and the only thing between me and it is glass.
I looked around outside; the bottom of the fire escape ladder is some 9 feet off the ground. It would be most difficult to get there from the outside. The alley itself is fenced off and locked. Surely that was enough. I decided to comfort myself by checking to see if fire escapes were a common method of ingress for burglaries.
Still, some of the other articles I read said that burglars preferred to sneak in through unlocked windows. They can’t actually pick locks and they don’t like to smash windows (too much noise) the article said. So I hurried home and checked my fire escape window, to confirm that it locked properly.
Bottom pane, impossible to move as always. Top pane…
I didn’t sleep at all that night. When the super fixed the window the next day, I could finally take a breath.
There was a ladder to the place where I sleep, and for more than two months, the window that was its only protection didn’t even lock. I’d been sleeping with an open door into my bedroom for months.
After that, there was no peace. I was now exactly as well-protected as I thought I had been for all those months. But now that wasn’t enough. The slightest sound set my heart pounding…and New York is never quiet. I would lie awake for hours until I drifted into a fitful doze, then lie awake for more hours when something woke me up. I would count the minutes until morning. Every third day or so, I would be so exhausted that I would essentially collapse for five or six hours, which was as close as I came to a good night’s sleep.
Before long, it got to the point where I started to get worked up before it was even time to go to bed – I was anxious about the anxiety!
I know this makes me sound like a thorough coward, but understand: I wasn’t picturing some sneak-thief who would probably move on to another apartment if he even knew that my girlfriend and I were in that room. I kept imagining waking up to find a dark and shadowy figure pounding at the window – or worse, standing over us. What defense was there against that?
The purchase of the security gate was a prudent thing. It made us and our property safer. Burglars really do use fire escapes. Half of the people in my building have one – but then, half of the people don’t. Prudence wasn’t the reason I bought it. There was no weighing of risk against expense. It was the fear. My own imagination. I needed to sleep again.
As I get ready to sleep again tonight, I’m nothing but glad. But this isn’t the first time my imagination has turned on me, and it won’t be the last.