58: My Room With a View

58: My Room With a View

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

My Room With a View

Home is a shelter from storms — all sorts of storms.

~William J. Bennett

I stood by the open window, heart thudding as an October breeze sailed into the house. A shiver shook my body. How could something like this happen to me? It seemed surreal. This was my house, my favorite window, and my favorite room.

I had spent hours converting the dining room into a library and filled it with shelf after shelf of books. Glorious, happy books. Lazy Sunday afternoons were for lounging on the sofa, reading or daydreaming while I watched squirrels and birds play outside the window. Most of all, I loved listening to my mom’s old records on my grandmother’s record player that I proudly displayed on the library coffee table. My grandmother passed away two years before, and listening to records connected me to three generations of mothers and daughters. But at that particular moment, the window in front of me had changed — it held none of the magic and good feelings it always had before.

This window — my window — had been violated and hacked open with a crowbar. The sunny, little corner of books and happiness had been my sanctuary, and now it would never feel the same again.

On my way into the house that afternoon, I had turned the burglar alarm off before I even opened the door, using a remote fob while juggling the mail and my oversized workday bag. I couldn’t wait to change into my comfortable sweatpants and maybe listen to a few records in the library before dinner. But even though I’d turned off the alarm, it beeped, alerting me that something had tripped the alarm at the same moment I was walking in.

Once I connected the beeping to an open window straight ahead, terror struck. I ran to my car and locked the door, unable to think clearly. Were the burglars still in the house?

I frantically tried to verbalize to the police what happened. Although I was relieved to see two kind faces, their search through the house was another type of invasion. They clomped up the wooden stairs in heavy thick-soled shoes with guns drawn, as if danger was imminent.

After a thorough search, they decided the burglars had opened the window, set off the alarm, and run away. I breathed a sigh of relief, although I couldn’t stop wondering what would have happened if I’d come home a few seconds earlier and met them face-to-face.

One of the officers handed me his card and said, “Please call us if you need anything. We’ll increase patrols in your neighborhood.” His smile was comforting. It filled the entire house like a protective shield. By then, my mom was there too, and she made me feel supported. I would be okay.

My mom and I added advanced security after a run to the home improvement store. Her strength encouraged me as she drilled holes with power tools and proved that we could take care of ourselves. My grandmother had been exactly the same, living through the Great Depression and World War II. The women in my family knew how to survive.

But when it was time for bed, I didn’t feel strong. Rationally, I knew I was safe. Yet, the image of the forced-open window played in a loop in my head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that my warm, familiar home had become an unfamiliar dwelling where I was forced to sleep.

“They know you have an alarm now, so they won’t be back,” a friend said, reassuring me the next day.

I knew she was right, but I was still uneasy.

After days stretched into weeks, I learned to sleep with less panic. Eventually, I stopped jumping every time fresh ice cubes clinked from the icemaker or tree branches tapped against the side of the house. But I still couldn’t handle lingering in the library, let alone sitting by the window to listen to my favorite records. This had once been a ritual that helped me feel connected and strong. It was ruined now. The burglar hadn’t stolen a physical object, but he had stolen my sense of peace in the very room that comforted me most when I was down.

I tried to find moments of bravery. I went into the library to grab a book, but then convinced myself I’d enjoy it more if I lounged upstairs in bed. Another time, I pulled up the blinds, but I was unable to appreciate the view. Each time I tried to remain in the room images of the invader flashed into my imagination. I had created a monster in my mind worse than any hairy, grotesque boogieman hiding under a three-year-old’s bed. I wasn’t brave enough to fight my imagination or the memory of what happened.

Months after the break-in, I decided to journal in my favorite pink glitter notebook. But for me, reflecting on the significant and insignificant details of my life wasn’t possible without a soundtrack. And I needed something more alive than an MP3 on a computer so I could feel connected to my mom and my grandmother. I needed the sound of my mom’s old records that had comforted me while we had listened to them together when I was a child. I needed the shine of the wooden finish on the old-fashioned player that my grandmother kept in perfect condition. The record player still sat on the coffee table in front of the library window, heavy and awkward. Moving it to another room wasn’t an option.

I selected a Cream album and placed it carefully on the player. The needle dropped with a hint of static before “Sunshine Of Your Love” filled the library. My tense shoulders relaxed as my mom’s music surrounded me with childhood memories that felt safe, then and now. I ran a few fingers along the wooden edges of the player, remembering how happy my grandmother had been listening to her polka records through these speakers.

I cautiously raised the blinds to see magnolia and cherry blossoms swaying in the breeze. Squirrels and birds darted through the branches — the transformation from fall to spring that I had missed in the past few months while I was bound by fear. I had felt as if I hadn’t lived up to the standards of the strong women in my family. They didn’t flinch when faced with a hardship. This musical reminder of those women who had come before me was what I had needed all along to face my own fears. Unexpectedly, the house felt like my home again. Nothing could take that away.

~Ann Thurber

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