Daisy Alioto | Longreads | February 2020 | 16 minutes (3,903 words)
“A house is the physical manifestation of the ego”
– Aline Kominsky-Crumb, “My Very Own Dream House”
I have always harbored suspicions about fire escape windows. When my mother was living in Boston in the 80s, her TV set sat across from the window that opened onto her fire escape. One night she woke up to a hairy leg entering the window and screamed loudly enough to wake her neighbors and scare away the television thief. An acquaintance who lives in Park Slope listened to an intruder pop the glass out of her fire escape window and watched their iPhone light sweep closer to the bedroom as she silently tried to shake her boyfriend awake. After an eternity, he sprung up and chased the intruder out with a hockey stick.
My boyfriend does not harbor suspicions about fire escape windows, so when he moved to a one bedroom apartment, security considerations became my own research project. The acquaintance in Park Slope sent a link to a $20 window alarm on Amazon. I watched a short video about the installation process and began to read the reviews. The top review was 5/5 stars, written by Mary in Florida and it broke my heart more than any thief ever could.
She writes that she debated buying a door alarm but never did, despite the fact that the rest of the house was baby proofed for two children under two years old. One day, after feeding a bird outside, the younger one slipped back out without her noticing — probably to chase the bird, she says. In a few minutes she sensed the lack of noise in the house, the too quietness. She found him in the pond across the street and he died the next day.
The review continues. “I am a good mom,” she writes, listing the other ways she baby-proofed the home. “I am a good mom.” I’ve forgotten why I’ve come to Amazon. Maybe this is someone’s idea of a sick joke, a manufacturer’s enthusiastic review of their own product gone too far but no… with a little Googling, I find Mary and the local reporting on the tragedy.
I want to reach through my screen and hold Mary. To tell her yes, you are a good mom. It’s not your fault that doors open and babies look at birds. Of course you are a good mother, there’s just so much that can go wrong with a home.
According to Robert Lee’s A Treatise On Hysteria (1871), Greek physician Aretaeus was one of the first thinkers to link hysteria to the female body. “In the middle of the flanks of a woman lies the womb, a female viscus closely resembling an animal.” The womb wanders the body, leaving a slew of undesirable symptoms in its wake. “On the whole it is like an animal within an animal,” Aretaeus writes.