Even though my husband worked shifts and was gone overnight many nights throughout our almost-25-year marriage, I was never actually worried or fearful of my or the children’s safety. We lived in average, middle-class neighborhoods where, I know, crime can and does occur. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t totally alone even when he was at work; both children were right down the hall (or upstairs, in a more recent home), and even though they wouldn’t have been any more able to disarm or fight off an intruder, I simply felt at peace and secure when other people were in the house. It might be because the neighborhoods we lived in throughout our marriage had little to no crime. Whatever the reason, I always felt safe in my home and, in fact, in the communities we lived in.

I continued to feel quite safe even after my husband passed away and both of my children returned to college/med school the week after his funeral. I didn’t feel at all vulnerable, even though I was living alone on 65 acres in the middle of a very rural county and even though it was common knowledge that I was a middle-aged woman living alone. Perhaps I was still too numb to feel any fear, or even any unrest.

That changed the first time I travelled on my own. On the first night of a work-related trip to Minneapolis, I relaxed in my room with television and a book. Within about 30 minutes, I decided a soft drink and some junk food sounded heavenly, so I picked up my room key card and some dollar bills and headed out to find some vending machines. It wasn’t until I got about 15′ down the padded hallway that I realized how vulnerable I was. Anyone — well, anyone looking for a middle-aged woman in fuzzy slippers, sweat pants, and an over-sized t-shirt — could grab me, whisk me into a room, and do goodness-knows-what to me. As that fact sank in, I walked faster, keeping to the middle of the hall. I realized I had nothing with which to defend myself other than my lungs and not-very-muscled arms and legs. I’d learned years ago in some workshop or another that when walking to my car at the mall, for example, I should grip my keys in a way that would allow me to gouge out the eyes of an attacker; that wouldn’t work with the door lock swipe card I clutched in my hand. I’d watched enough Law & Order and Criminal Minds (big mistake) to know I could disappear and never be seen again.

The rest of the week, I actually checked in at the desk (either in person or by phone) any time I left or returned to my room. I don’t know what the front desk clerks thought of that, but they were very pleasant about my calls and visits to the desk. I also carried my cell phone with me everywhere, my finger poised to push 911 if necessary; I made sure that when I met people in the quiet hallways that I gestured “hello” with the hand holding my cell; I wanted them to see that I could summon help (or snap their picture) quickly if need be. I knew, though, that I needed to come up with a better plan.

I’d like to be able to say that I prudently addressed the matter of personal safety as soon as I returned from my trip. I didn’t. In fact, I went on more than a few more trips — work related and personal, flying to my destinations and driving alone across the country — without doing a thing. Each time, the moment would come when I’d mentally kick myself for not addressing the issue of personal safety.

Early this past summer, after a cross-country drive to North Carolina and back again, with a late-night stop at a less-than upscale gas station on the outskirts of Nashville, I decided I needed to give serious thought to my personal safety both at home and when away from home. I already had a dog; Dazey may not be very big (she’s a 16 lb Norwich Terrier), but her bark is pretty fierce and not at all yappy. A burglar hearing her bark would not know she’s a small dog; on the other hand, they wouldn’t mistake her bark for that of, say, a German Shepherd. However, I’ve read in numerous articles on the subject that just the sound of a barking dog inside the house will deter most intruders because they realize the element of surprise has been lost. However, I’m not sure if Dazey would hear an intruder in the middle of the night; other than having someone break in to see what she would do, I don’t know how to find out.

I began researching various personal security options, not realizing how complicated this decision would be. I’ll share more about what I learned and about the choice I finally made when I post again.

What about you? Have you shared my concerns for personal safety? If so, I hope you’ll share your experience through the comments below.