Monday, October 20, 2008


by Ben Small

It was the last days of winter, 1997, and I was sprawled out on the couch, just a month away from the back surgery that would once again make me whole. Deadened by heavy doses of Vicodin and Naproxin, I could walk, but just barely. My pain was constant, like that from a knife wedged in my lower lumbar vertebrae slowly twisting, sending off currents of agony down my legs. Sleep came in spurts and in strange positions, usually curled around or on top of pillows, with my legs flopped over or around one of those large sitting pillows with arms.

At my feet sat my wife, watching me carefully, hurting from watching me suffer, helping by comforting me and periodically refreshing my ice pack.

We were watching a movie… or trying to.

My twenty—one year old son walked in with a date trailing behind him. Three large young men followed them in. I turned from the movie and waved.

“Dad,” my son said. “I think we have a problem.” My son was still walking, and was beginning to look like he and his date were being chased.

Somehow, I twisted around and sat up. You forget pain when you have to. My wife scooted over to give me room, and so she could see what was happening.

“Dad,” my son said, his tone more urgent. “We got a problem.”

The lead man, a youth in his early twenties, huge, probably my size but bigger ala a steroidal Charles Atlas, stayed hot on my son’s trail. My son was hurrying into the living room, trying to shield his date from the onrushing Bluto.

I saw fear in my son’s face, something I’d not seen before. I started to rise.

“Sit down, old man,” said the brute. His tone was deep, threatening. And for effect, he stopped and gave me a hard stare. Meanwhile, his two buddies closed the gap behind him.

Instinct, anger and the need to protect my wife and firstborn drove me up, through the fog of pain, fully to my feet. Adrenalin pumped through my system, flushing me with attitude and action.

Time moves in slow motion during an adrenalin flush. Alternatives flashed through my head. Our only conventional weapons were some knives in the kitchen, more in a bedroom drawer, my father’s unloaded snub-nose .38 under the bedroom laundry basket, and an unloaded shotgun in the mudroom closet. I could fashion a make-shift weapon, perhaps, from maybe a piece of steel artwork or a busted up chair, but I’d never be able to overcome all three of these guys. The two companions of the lead brute didn’t have his size ― few people do ― but they looked as if they may have played high school football some years ago.

All three goons were drunk. They were shouting slurred curses and threats against my son and me, and their movements were wobbly.

I got between my son and Bluto where the living room met the kitchen, and as I moved forward, Bluto had a choice: stand still and take me on when I got too close, or move backwards into the kitchen. I closed to where I could smell the stale beer on Bluto’s breath before he budged.

But he moved backward.

I followed Bluto and his buddies into the kitchen, and motioned my wife to take care of my son’s date and to grab our two monstrous dogs. Two hundred pound Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, the hardiest and strongest of the Retriever family. Strangely, the dogs hadn’t sensed a threat. But I worried they soon would. Snarling, barking monster dogs wouldn’t ease raw tensions.

As my wife rushed to corral the date and the dogs, I whispered to my son to stay behind me, and when he saw an opportunity, to grab the phone and dial 911. As my son tucked behind me, I pushed forward, driving Bluto and his buddies back, issuing a steady stream of threats as I moved. “You know I’m a lawyer, don’t you?” I said. “I know criminal law, a lot better than you idiots do. Lemme see, you’re currently guilty of trespass, assault and home invasion, misdemeanors, which means you may not go to jail for much beyond six months. But you or your buddies touch one hair on my head or anybody else in this house, and battery is added to the offenses, they all become felonies, and you will spend ten to twenty years in jail being raped by your cellmates.”

One of Bluto’s buddies grabbed him by the shoulder, but Bluto shrugged him off. He took a swing at my son, who’d picked up the phone and was dialing, but I managed to shove him and throw off his aim. He caught air. Once more, I moved between Bluto and my son.

I repeated my message over and over, adding to it that the police had just been notified and were now on their way. “Time’s running out,” I said. “Get on it, or get out. But remember, you touch one hair, and it’s felonies all round. Most of your lives in jail.”

I stepped forward, my movement something of a dare. I wanted them on defense.

“Hey, man,” one of Bluto’s pals said. “Come on, we didn’t bargain for this. Let’s go back to her place. C’mon, this isn’t worth it. She’s hot; we’ll have more fun there.

I didn’t know who “her” was and didn’t particularly care, except that any diversion was certainly welcome.

“Yeah, tough guy,” I said. “The cops will be here any second. Maybe you better go back and tell your girlfriend how tough you were to break into a stranger’s house and threaten him, his wife and his son.”

Bluto was still talking tough, pointing his finger at my son, threatening him, pointing at me, threatening, starting forward like to charge, then stepping back. But his progress was backward, a retreat into the mudroom and then the garage.

I followed them, repeating the trouble they were in, their need to get away quickly.

And my son followed me, ignoring my hand signals to get back, to shut the mud room door and lock it. He wasn’t going to leave me alone with three drunken brutes.

As I passed the mud room closet, I reached inside and pulled my shotgun. Empty, but our invaders didn’t know that. And besides, even without shells, the Browning made a good club.

The invaders’ eyes went wide, and Bluto’s two buddies tugged harder on him, one of them grabbing him by the belt, one by the shoulders.

They passed into the garage, and that’s when I saw someone I knew: my son’s former girlfriend. They’d broken up two weeks prior. Sally looked a bit worse for wear, rumpled, like from a rollicking sexual marathon, drunk, so bombed she could barely stand. And she was bawling.

“Sally,” I said. “What have you done?”

She was so upset she couldn’t talk.

Bluto had been trying to climb into the front seat of Sally’s car, but when he saw me talking to her, he charged out and ran at me. CIack, clack, I racked the shotgun’s slide, and pointed the gun at him. Bluto tried to slap the barrel away, and as he did, I swung the butt around and drove it toward his head.

Both of us missed.

Bluto’s two buddies managed to grab him and pull him back to the car. He resisted, but they succeeded in pushing him into the back seat. My son handed me a couple twelve gauge shells, but I slipped them into my pocket rather than up the tube.

One of Bluto’s pals held up his hands. “Look,” he said, “we’re sorry. Sally got us drunk and promised us sex if we hurt your son. We’re leaving now, and we won’t be back. Just let us go.”

I lowered the shotgun, and Sally, still bawling, managed to slip behind the wheel. Her engine roared, and her tires spun. She fish-tailed as she turned the corner. I heard the car rocket down the street.

About an hour later, a sheriff’s deputy showed up. They’d caught the invaders and arrested them. He wanted statements from all of us.

As he readied himself to leave, the deputy turned to me. “Oh, one more thing...”

“Yes, officer,” I said.

“The kids said you pulled a shotgun on them, racked the slide and pointed it at them. They remember that shotgun very well.”

“Yes. It wasn’t loaded, but they didn’t know that.”

The deputy stared at me.

“Officer, what would you do if three guys that size invaded your house and said they wanted to hurt your family?”

“I’d have loaded the shotgun,” he said.

Years have gone by since that incident, but it still looms large in my memory. An event like a home invasion is a shock to the system, an unsettling cause for great reflection. There’s the vulnerability, the parental and spousal protection instincts, the male ego… Over the years, I’ve broken down this event second by second, wondering if there was anything else I should have done, or could have done. This time, everybody survived, and the matter ended well. Nobody was hurt, and the bad guys were caught.

But what about next time?

We no longer leave our doors open. We once felt safe in the wilderness boonies of rural Wisconsin, yet we were victims, at the mercy of three drunk guys with an agenda. Now we live in Tucson, with an illegals problem so bad, our city is among the leaders in home invasions.

I vowed that Wisconsin night that we would never again suffer a home invasion. And we haven’t. We hear about them on the news every night, and they’re on the increase, but we’re better prepared now. We now have complex security systems, and I’ve got small finger-pad gun safes in the rooms we usually occupy. I read recently in a police magazine that a victim of a typical home invasion has approximately eight to twenty seconds to react. I can open my safes in three seconds. The magazine also said that if the victims aren’t immediately killed, they’re often stashed in the master bedroom closet. So I’ve got a shotgun hidden there, and shells nearby. There are no kids in my house, so I don’t worry about them finding the shotgun. Besides, when children do visit, the shotgun goes into the master safe, the one bolted to the floor in my garage.

Call me paranoid if you want, but my wife and I have lived through a home invasion.

We refuse to be anybody’s victim.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Good for you, Ben. My husband feels the same way. It's going to get worse as the economic situation continues to slide into the cellar.

Ben Small said...

I agree, Jean. Baby Boomers, especially Baby Boomers with gray hair (like me) make good assault targets.

Beth Terrell said...

What a terrifying experience, Ben. It seems like things are getting more dangerous every day. A few weeks ago, I was downtown and had some time to kill, so I drove around for about thirty minute. It was unreal how little of the city I would actually feel safe walking around alone in.

Unreal and very, very sad.