I have posted nothing here since Wednesday, which is unusual. But much has been happening.
Early Thursday, on the feast of St Nicholas, at around 2:30 am, I woke from a deep sleep into instant alertness. My bedroom door had opened, and there in the doorway was the silhouette of a heavyset man. I am pretty sure it was not St Nicholas, but my first thought was that it was my oldest son’s friend Kyle, who sometimes stays overnight.
“What the hell!” I said.
A voice came back “Whoa, bro’. Wrong house.”
Then he vanished.
I scrambled out of bed, down the hall and down the stairs, but by the time I got to the kitchen there was only an open door to the basement, where the intruder had exited from the same unlocked door he had entered. I looked out the window and saw three police cars next door. I was in my underwear, so I hurried upstairs, pulled on some clothes and went outside.
Later I pieced together what had happened. The man had come to my next door neighbor Aaron’s house and knocked on the door. His stepdaughter, who is in her twenties, had answered the door. The man had pushed past her into the house. He showed her some crack cocaine, offered it to her and propositioned her. When she refused, he wandered downstairs to where her sister was sleeping and approached her. The girl, Nickie, had awakened Aaron, who grabbed a baseball bat and chased the man from the house. Aaron then called the police.
I figure the guy must have wandered around for a while in our back yards. He then either mistook our house for Aaron’s- both have walkout basements- or intentionally entered our home.
The police found him sitting on the stairs by the side of Aaron’s house. Aaron and Nickie had recognized the man; he is a barber who works for the barbershop at the corner, and who lives a few doors down from the shop. He told the police that he was drunk, that he and Nickie were in a relationship, and that he had spent the day there. Although Nickie told them that he had crack in his pocket, they did not search him. Nor did they, in an act of stunning negligence, arrest him, even though they knew he had entered both of our homes uninvited and solicited sex from two young women. The cops just said that he was really drunk and needed to go home. Aaron said the man did not appear intoxicated but stoned on drugs; indeed it is inconceivable that he could have run down two flights of stairs in the dark so quickly, without stumbling, if he was drunk.
This is not the first time we had trouble with the man. While I was in Michigan with my dying mother and Michelle was home alone with the small children he had knocked on our door late one night and tried to convince my bride to come out of the house, supposedly to help him break into his house, saying he had locked his keys inside. Nickie said that he had tried the same tale on her.
It was only a couple of hours until I had to wake for work; I slept, and everyone else stayed awake, shaken. I sometimes under-react to things at first, probably a subconscious tactic to avoid panic.
When I came home from work it was to a house in turmoil. My oldest sons were very agitated. Luke, who is 18 and has always been a worst-case-scenario sort and prone to paranoid conspiracies, was certain that this man was a drug dealer and that he would return with a gun to kill us all. I thought this unlikely; he had fled, he had not threatened anyone, though I fear what he would have done if he had found Michelle alone in the bedroom. Luke and his brother Patric, who is 15 urged us to buy a gun. I balked at the idea. My younger children are mischievous and always into things. Art materials and tools disappear, always taken by that scoundrel Not Me, as in “Who took my pencil sharpener?” “Not me.” “Not me.” “Not me.”
The boys were getting increasingly strident and angry, which made my efforts to be calm and rational difficult. They had a point: it may be unlikely that he would return, but it is not impossible, given his erratic behavior.
But my efforts to reason were cut short when I looked at my daughter’s face. Maria is not quite 10 and she was terrified.
“Come on Luke”, I said, “We are going to buy a gun.”
We drove to two big box stores in town, but neither sold firearms. We were told that the only places to buy guns in the area were at the sporting goods stores near the mall, some fifteen minutes away. It was 9:30 at night; those stores were closed.
Though we came home empty-handed my effort to buy a gun had calmed everyone enough that they were able to sleep. I slept on the (very comfortable) couch with my sword at my side.
The next day after work I bought a 12 gauge shotgun. That night, I slept on the couch again, gun beside me, shells on the end table. I will be doing this for the forseeable future. Our longtime desire to move out of this town has taken on a new urgency.
I grew up with guns in the house. My dad had a rifle and a shotgun, and as a kid I had a shotgun, too. I hunted with my dad and my uncles; not a lot, but occasionally. When I was a twenty year old vegetarian pacifist I gave my gun to my sister. Later, still in my twenties, no longer a vegetarian, I went deer hunting with my dad and brother. I didn’t see a deer or discharge the rifle I had borrowed, just sat in the snowy woods, silent except for distant gunfire, and watched as a fox passed in the valley below me, unaware of my presence. That was the last time I handled a gun, and I don’t think I have shot one since my early teens.
Both of my sisters and my brothers and most of my friends own firearms. I never think of it when in their homes, but I can’t say I am not a bit unnerved by this change in my life. I certainly never foresaw sleeping with a gun. The gun has a trigger lock. There are two keys, one on my keychain, the other out of reach of the small children in a place known only to Michelle and me. I bought a small safe for the shells, but it turned out to have a keyed lock, not the combination one that the clerk had described, so I need to exchange that. The thing is as safe as such a thing can be.
I am a longtime opponent of war and an advocate of nonviolence in the struggle for justice, but I have never called myself an absolute pacifist. I have always said that I would defend the innocent from an aggressor.
When I saw the fear on my daughter’s face I experienced a primal recognition that a fundamental duty for a husband and father is to defend those in his care from harm. This is not something that many who are not poor encounter in the modern world, at least not in this country. I did not choose this; it has been thrust upon me. But I will protect my family.
While I greet this duty with reluctance, I am glad that my children can sleep securely, knowing that Daddy is downstairs, ready to defend them, gun at his side.
I just pray that I never have to use it.