Broken In

By Nicola Barrett 

No city is perfect, and Florence is no exception. The first three weeks in this country were like something out of a movie. I couldn't believe this was my life. The cobblestone streets, the accordion players serenading my walk to class, the gelato. It was dreamy. 

But like every story, something had to go wrong. 

Early Tuesday morning, as the six of us girls lay in our beds, we were rudely awoken by a massive bang. It jerked me out of a deep sleep, so I was anything but alert. I lifted my head to see if anyone else heard the same thing, and I was greeted by the open eyes of both of my roommates. They heard it too. 

My roommate nearest the door got up to investigate. She peered out of the doorway into the hallway, saw nothing, closed our door, and we all went back to sleep. 

I figured it was the front door to the building slamming shut as someone left for work - it was 5 in the morning at this point, so that thought wasn't too much of a stretch. 

Fast forward to 5:30 and we are yet again wrenched out of slumber. This time by a scream. 

Our other housemate rushes into our room, screaming that there was a man in her room. 

It wasn't the front door to the building. It was our front door that we heard slamming. 

Everyone whipped out their phones to call the police while I did a sweep of the apartment to confirm that he ran back out the way he came. 

He was gone. 

The police didn't answer our first phone call. Or our second. Or our third or fourth or fifth. We called the university's emergency number and finally got a response. The resident director was on her way. After multiple fruitless attempts, we finally got the police on the line; they said there was someone patrolling the area and we would have officers knocking on our door soon. 

It was chaos with everyone handling the crisis in different ways - one girl was shaking, the other was angry. One girl was crying, the other was silent. 

It was violating. 

Look at the timeline - he got into our apartment at 5am, but he didn't go into anyone's room until 5:30. What was he doing for those thirty minutes? Sitting in our living room? Perusing the apartment to see what he wanted to take? Watching us sleep? 

I called my parents and informed them of what had happened. They told me not to panic and check to see if the man had actually taken anything. They called the Marist security office in Poughkeepsie to bring them into the loop and see if there was anything they could do. 

It was around 5:50 now. Still no sign of the RD or the police. Everyone checked their belongings; he hadn't taken anything. He had been rifling through my roommates bag when he woke her up with his flashlight beam, but he wasn't there long enough to do any damage. 

The RD arrived, closely followed by the police. They spoke no English, so it was a miracle that the RD was fluent. 

What it came down to was that there was nothing the police could do for us. We couldn't identify the man, he hadn't taken anything, and there was no damage. All they could do was show us how to lock our door, pat us on the heads, and be on their way. 

Apparently our door wasn't actually locked. There are four metal cylinders that slide across to lock the door, but those only close with the key. The state of our door that night was not secure. Only the bottom metal cylinder was slid across, which meant that you needed a key to get in, but it wasn't locked. Since we have a double door, if one were to put enough force into slamming their body right in the center, the door would slam open. I tested that theory after the police left, and it's definitely how he got in. If he had a key, we wouldn't have heard that initial bang. But the landlords still changed the locks the next day. 

In hindsight, our situation could have been a lot worse. He could have had a gun, he could have assaulted one of us, he could have actually taken something. 

We are living in a city, not on a campus. Every city has a seedy, undesirable population. Every city has bad people. And further than that, we are vulnerable American students. They know we don't know how to lock our doors, our bikes, our buildings. They can pick us out of a crowd and follow us home; they target us. 

We are a cautionary tale. 

Lock your doors. Close the doors to your building behind you. 

Assimilate. Don't stand out. Don't wear the American flag on your chest. 

But you can't live in fear. If I were to give advice to someone in my situation it would be to not let it get you down. This is an isolated incident; that man is not going to come back to our apartment. Don't be afraid to sleep in your bed, don't be afraid to walk down the street. Stay smart, stay vigilant, stay strong. You will be fine. Whatever is going to happen will happen. 

We were broken into for a reason, and now we lock our doors. Simple as that.

Nicola Barrett