ONE SUMMER EVENING I returned from work to my modest Arlington apartment. I was surprised to find the door open.

Inside, the apartment looked much the way it usually did -- awful. But there were holes where there used to be things: a chunk of air where the television used to be; nothing where I had my stereo. It began to dawn on me that someone had been there before me.

I had a deep sense of something beyond belongings being lost, of outrage that nothing is sacred. not even the underwear drawer where you kept the title to your motorcycle.

For months afterward I came home to my apartment each evening with a new sense of dread. Would the door be open? Would someone be inside? Each time the bolt clicked open at the turn of my key, heaved a sigh of relief.

Some victims are traumatized by the experience. They have nightmares. They begin seeing a psychiatrist. They buy a guard dog.

But I did not buy a guard dog. did not install a burglar alarm. I did not have bars bolted over my windows.

Eventually my rage gave way to defiance. It came down to this: Would I succumb to some creep who has no respect for my privacy? Ultimately, there had to be a winner in the fear equation. And -- by God -- it wasn't going to be him.

I live in a ground-floor apartment, but there are no bars over my windows. I like to sit in the morning at a table by the window drinking coffee. Outside, the ground is covered with leaves and squirrels rustle through them, burying their treasures. Through a pane of glass I feel connected to this. I feel needn't drive two hours into the country to enjoy life. don't feel trapped inside by bars over the windows.

In a recent article atop the Metro section, The Washington Post concluded that maybe I should. "Victims Believed Robbed by Welch Took Inadequate Precautions," read the headline. Of 25 victims linked by police to accused master burgler Bernard C. Welch and surveyed by The Post, hardly any had bars over their windows, or burglar alarms, or guard dogs.

In The Post's eyes, we are simply inadequate.

In a way, being burglarized is like being burned by love. After a few unlucky experiences, many people decide it's not worth it. They swear off love, constructing around themselves a fortess of social barriers that keeps them out of harm's way. They usually succeed: Nobody falls in love with them, and they with nobody. They do not feel the hurt and the pain that lowering their defenses might bring. They are secure against emotional intruders. And they miss a lot.

The latter is what The Post missed: that something can be more valuable than a fur coat, a silver tea service, a coin collection or an expensive stereo. It is called freedom, the thing you lose when you hide yourself behind bars and electric eyes.

Can I be burglarized? Sure. He needn't even come through the window. He can simply take a crowbar to my door and smash it to smithereens. What would he get? Some things of great value to me, though probably not to very many other people. Would I be the fool? That, it seems, depends on whom you ask.

One thing, however, is sure. He would not get my pride, or my freedom. Because even in the age of ultimate security and in the presence of a compulsive menace, those are things no burlar alarm can ever protect, and no thief can ever take away.

Only I can do that.