Keeping safe has become a topic of conversation at our house in midwestern suburbia lately. Having lived in rural Virginia the first 18 years of my life, and in rural Utah the next 37 years, I'd never given much thought to personal safety.
Most of my life, we only locked our house when we left town on vacation. Our cars sat in the driveway, unlocked, containing our car and house keys, wallets, and our complete music collection. I knew if I needed to drop something off at a friend's house, and they weren't home, I could just put things inside their front door. Everyone's house was unlocked. Stranger danger? What's that? I knew everybody; there were no strangers. When I went walking, I traveled on familiar roads, and waved to everyone who passed by. I have always lived in safe, rural neighborhoods, except when I was in college, and then I lived in Provo, Utah, and I felt pretty safe there, too.
Well, I'm not in Utah anymore. I moved to the suburbs of Chicago when I married Chuck. I have watched with curiosity my husband's routines each morning and night. While I'm Mrs. Carefree, Chuck is Mr. Careful. My husband double-checks our garage and house doors at night before we go to sleep. He makes sure all the downstairs windows are closed and locked. There is a baseball bat upstairs, just in case. I don't have to worry about a thing because he does the worrying for us both.
When Chuck and I are at our home in rural Utah together, I invariably get flummoxed when I run out to the car to grab something (probably my wallet), and discover the doors are locked. Chuck is flabbergasted that I'm flummoxed about that. He always locks the car, and even encourages me to lock my car in our closed garage. "Don't make things easy for criminals," he tells me.
Ever since I've moved to Chicagoland, I have heard, "You're not in Utah anymore. Things are different here. You need to be careful." Yeah, yeah, yeah. I would nod in agreement, and wonder how I could ever successfully transition from carefree rural girl to careful suburban woman.
Last week, Chuck insisted I buy some pepper spray and a whistle, to make him worry a little less when I go out alone on my walks. I felt a little sheepish asking the guy about it at our Chicagoland Walmart. He didn't seem surprised at all. They carry it in the sporting goods AND automotive departments, in three different displays. It must be a hot commodity. The packages are locked up, and have to be removed from the display rack with a key. Hm. Who knew?
When I asked the associate which canister contained the most ounces, I laughed at myself. Like, how many times do I even think I will ever use it? Did I hope for an industrial-sized container to lug around on my morning walks? In actuality, I wanted the smallest canister available. After all, I would be carrying it around my neck, and needed it to be as light as possible. I bought the cutest one in the smallest size. The package even says, "So cute, it hurts." By this time, I just decided to have fun with it. It was the 20-use size. Honestly, a single-use spritzer would be perfect because if I ever have reason to use it, I'll probably feel compelled to work out indoors from then on.
My second purchase that day was a whistle. Yes, I might not be able to outrun a criminal, but I can try to deafen a prospective attacker, or at least scare him off with the extra attention. I was thinking about that today. If I heard a loud, persistent whistle outside, I'd chalk it up to the neighbors' kids playing. What if someone were in trouble? Perhaps I should be more curious.
This morning I went walking in our nice, suburban neighborhood with my extra accessories for the first time. I had my little purse ("It was only a dollah!"), my pepper spray, and my whistle. Since it looked like it could rain again, I made Chuck extra proud by carrying a plastic baggy for my iPhone in my purse. Look how careful I was being! Thankfully, the weight of those items is barely noticeable, and complying with Chuck's wishes makes me happy because it makes him happy.
I refuse to live my life in fear, but I don't suppose there's anything wrong with using extra caution in an area that is unfamiliar to me. The country mouse is trying to adapt to life in the city. It's time to cultivate some street smarts. I'm not in Utah anymore.