Update: I’m no longer at home alone. In fact, as you’re reading this, whenever it is, I’m surrounded by my loyal Dobermans and protected my advanced security system that uses facial recognition software to identify you from a mile away.
Who doesn’t love Forensic Files?
I’ve watched it, in one iteration or another, on one channel or another, for most of my life. Sometimes I forget it’s there, specifically in the era of Netflix and the ID Channel and My Favorite Murder and endless reruns of Law & Order: SVU. But then, flipping channels idly on a Friday night when my husband is out of town and all my friends have better, more interesting things to do (that presumably don’t include watching decades-old, sometimes cheesy reenactments of crimes)—I discovered it again.
It might not be the best idea to watch true crime when alone at night—a thought I’ve had remarkably often throughout the years when I find myself doing just that.
And yet, I’ve set the house alarm. My 8-lb. rat terrier with the surprisingly vicious bark is at the window, surveying the street for me. I’m wearing comfortable clothes and—even though I’m lounging on the chaise—a pair of running shoes, because should something happen, I’m going to be ready. My phone is charged and within arm’s reach. I know what I would use as a weapon should someone appear in the window.
And, honestly? I probably have Forensic Files to thank for all this preparation.
I complain a lot about being alone at night, even though it happens rarely. I don’t sleep well, I don’t like being the sole person responsible for letting the beagle with the small bladder out one last time late at night, I don’t like that I have to sleep with the light in the other room on just in case.
But still, there’s something nice about doing one’s own thing, whatever that is. Stretching out just one more day between showers. Wearing the same sweatpants as yesterday. Getting up and dancing during commercials (which conveniently happen every four minutes or so on FF.)
So I’ve decided to spend the night toggling between books. (Surprise!) I’m reading Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, which is somewhat blowing my mind, and rereading Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, a book I’m teaching this spring—both of which are arguably true crime. And in the background is the calm narration of Forensic Files, where no matter how badly things are going, voices are never raised.
You see, there’s always a person in control of the narrative—sometimes a detective in a suitcoat and tie, sometimes a lab technician, talking about the science.
It’s very relaxing.
When I’m home alone, I’m more annoyed by the presence of my neighbors. Or maybe it’s just that I’m more aware of them, three houses away, gathered on their porch at the tail end of one of the warmest days in months. They don’t so much talk to each other as stand very close and yell things at each other. In all the years they’ve lived there—five? No, it must be more—I’ve never had a single conversation with them. I’ve called Animal Control on their dogs, which occasionally escape, run loose, and try to bite people biking past. I’ve called the police department about their weapons-grade fireworks, which are deployed randomly anytime between the middle of June and the end of July, and then again in the week surrounding New Year’s Eve.
Once, the female resident took a tire iron to her boyfriend’s Camaro, smashing the windows and denting the doors and hood. I was sorry to have missed that (it was reported to me excitedly by another neighbor), but the evidence was there for weeks—the crumpled and sad-looking Camaro parked at their curb, before it (and apparently the relationship) could be patched up.
So now I wonder, Forensic Files on mute, the neighbors’ voices rising to the level of what could be an argument, whether I should fear these neighbors who don’t even make eye contact me when I pass a few times each day, or whether I should thank them—is it possible their volatility is somehow keeping other criminals at bay?
There was a time, years ago, when our house was broken into—two doors busted through, two laptops stolen (one containing sixty pages of novel-writing that had not been backed up…), one beagle left cowering under the table when the alarm began to shriek.
Worse, in my mind at least, was realizing that I’d talked to the thieves the day before, when they were in the backyard of the house next to mine, a house that was currently on the market and was frequently trafficked by realtors and prospective buyers. My beagle, hearing their voices, bayed at the fence. I got him by the collar and dragged him inside, apologizing to the soon-to-be-thieves, and then I got in my car and drove away. The next day, at exactly the same time, our house was broken into.
The beauty of Forensic Files—which is also the beauty of the ID Channel, and true crime blogs—is that you don’t get to be naïve. You don’t get to sit comfortably in your home at night. You don’t walk casually down the street even in broad daylight, even on your own street. Instead, you’re a hawk. What was that sound? Just the neighbors yelling or something else? Why did the motion sensor light in the backyard go off—a cat, a Peeping Tom? Why is that dude sitting in his car across the street? And--shit--did he see me looking out the window at him?
I have friends who are very dear and lovely people who don’t get it at all, this true crime obsession. They are relatively unimpressed with my knowledge of forensic science--yo, let’s get his DNA from that cup he tossed in the trash, I literally think every time I’m at Starbucks—and are puzzled by what might look like paranoia, but feels quite reassuring to me.
It’s better to know what’s out there, isn’t it? Or at least, it’s better on nights like these.
Eventually, the neighbors go inside to yell at each other, the dude in the car across the street drives away, and a new episode of Forensic Files starts—this time the woman appears to have poisoned (I suspect the husband from the second sentence), and look, now there’s a whole other thing to worry about.
Paula Treick DeBoard