As you may have read in one of my previous articles, had it not been for the gun, and a man knowing when to apply judicious use, I would most certainly not be here today. My very life was made possible because a good man was able to stop a pair of bad men, and the knowledge of that has never been lost to me or diminished with the passage of time. I am the living embodiment of knowing when to rise and fight. However, I have also been taught an equally important lesson…I had to Learn To Be Still.
Try as I might, I cannot recall the very first time I was handed a firearm and shown what to do. It’s almost as if it was learned by osmosis given the home, and people I grew up with. My father, a Marine, a police officer, and an all-around “tough guy” was always my principal educator when it came to firearms…and every day was a test. Days spent at the range, excursions into the woods, field trips to distant plots of land, whatever excuse could be mustered…there was my father, gun in hand, and lessons to be taught.
The intention of my father was never to teach me how to kill, but rather, how not to be killed. He was able to render unto me a litany of examples where force was not the only, or wisest remedy to the situation at hand. Having been through his share of armed confrontations, and having been forced to take lives in order to save others, my father knew all too well what it was like to lay his head on a pillow and replay those events in his mind. This was an experience that he was strong enough to deal with, but one that he did not wish others would have to endure…least of all his son.
My father would always tell me that “Once it leaves the barrel, it’s too late to take it back”.
This would be a lesson that would prove to be fortuitous, not only for me but for another man, a man that I hold dear. To this day, the thought of what COULD have happened chills me to the core.
I was 12 years old, and my family lived on the second floor of a two-family house in Brooklyn NY. The folks that lived downstairs were not just neighbors, they were family. Having lived there for nearly a decade, we didn’t lock the doors to our respective apartments, nor did we knock when one of us needed a cup of sugar. The family downstairs was as much my blood as if we were all sprouted from the same tree.
Like a family will do sometimes, the adults will need a night away from their offspring…my parents and the folks downstairs were no different.
It was a Friday in October, and my parents arranged a weekend getaway to Atlantic City for them and our neighbors downstairs. My mom, being a “big wheel” on her waitress’s salary was able to secure 2 hotel rooms and 4 tickets to a show. Within a few minutes of me returning from school, they were off….leaving me in the care of my sister, 6 years my senior.
“We will be home tomorrow night”, my dad said as they walked out the front door of the house. After they left, it was all the fun and games as you would expect from a 12-year-old boy and his 18-year-old sister…meaning, I was told to sit down, shut up, stay off the phone, leave the TV alone, don’t touch the radio, go in your room and stay there. Yeah…my sister was like a warden to a pre-teen prisoner.
The evening was mostly uneventful, my sister snoring, me eating cookies and reading a comic book. After finally shutting my eyes and falling asleep, I was awakened by my sister. She had a look of fear in her eyes that I had never seen before. She tells me in a shaking whisper…
“Someone just came in the front door…I think it’s a burglar”.
I immediately slide from the top bunk and quietly go to the apartment door to make sure it’s locked and listen for any telltale sounds of an intruder. A minute goes by and then I hear it…the second step on the downstairs landing…it had a most peculiar, and identifiable sound when stepped on. I know in that moment that We Were Not Alone.
My parents and the neighbors are 80 miles away, and my brothers moved out years before, so I know it cannot possibly be them. Hell, the landlord doesn’t ever come around unless it’s to pick up the rent…so this is assuredly an intruder….and as God is My Witness…There is no way he, or they are getting into this apartment.
I listen for another minute while my sister slinks off into the kitchen to call the police. I hear another footstep, but this time, it’s halfway up the stringers. I run into my parent’s bedroom and grab the High Standard Pump Shotgun from behind the headboard, and I get myself into a defensive position. I slide a chair into the hallway and level the shotgun at the door.
(Mind you, I am one second from losing bladder control, and my sister is in the kitchen, still on hold with the operator….both of us are scared out of our own skins.)
Fear, anxiety, and an unknown threat…ALL OF IT being processed by the senses of a 12-year-old boy at 3 a.m. This is not a situation that an adult should have to contend with, let alone a boy and his frightened sister.
With the apartment only lit by the nightlight mounted in the breakfront, at least I have a tactical advantage. I will be able to see whoever comes barging through that door long before they have the time to see me crouched down behind the chair.
Then I see that old glass-faceted doorknob start turning…first to the left….then to the right…
Then I hear this intruder the pull on the door…
I’m expecting someone to try to force their way in….and yet…
As if he was in the room with me, I hear my fathers voice…
All of the lessons he taught me, all of those trips to the range, all of the times I saw him with his head in his hands, thinking about the times he was called on to use deadly force…all of it played a part at that moment in time.
Rather than laying in wait for someone looking to do me harm, I’m going to give a warning…
“YOU COME THROUGH THAT DOOR, AND I AM GOING TO BLOW YOUR M*&*%R [email protected]&$^&G HEAD OFF!!!!”
Without nary a second passing, I hear a plea from the other side of the door…
“FRANK, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!! DON’T SHOOT!!! IT’S ME JOHN!!!!”
John is my downstairs neighbor…the very same neighbor that went to Atlantic City with my parents. It seems that John felt sick and decided to cut his trip short, leaving his wife with my parents. Unbeknownst to us, John decided to drive home, and upon his arrival, he thought it would be a good idea to make sure that my sister and I were home and safe. John, who must have forgotten that that we had firearms in the house…John, who must have forgotten that we were taught how to use them…decided to show up at the house in the middle of the night, not bothering to ringing the doorbell, or phone
John…who almost wound up dead….had I not Learned To Be Still.
I look back at this time and sometimes I laugh, mostly to occupy my own mind, because I cannot stand the thought of how easily it all could have gone south, and how I would have been responsible for killing a man…a man who I have come to regard as my second father. A man that walked me to school when my parents couldn’t, or made me a “Cowboy Lunch” every Friday…a good and decent man.
It all could have turned out so much worse…and I am eternally grateful for being taught, so many valuable lessons so early on in life, because had I not been, an innocent man could have been taken away from his own family. Had I not listened to the voice planted in my head, I have no idea how could I have lived with myself or how much blame my father would have carried all the days of his own life.
The thought of all that COULD have happened that night, thankfully, is shuttered by the more pleasant reality of what DID happen…especially the colorful list of words I screamed at John that night.
Looking back I understand how tragic things may have turned out, but the most important thing that it confirms for me is the need to make sure that we, those who choose to defend ourselves, get as much training as we possibly can. It’s not enough that we know when to squeeze the trigger, is knowing when NOT to.
That sound you hear at 3 a.m might not always be a violent threat…it may not be any threat at all.
That bump in the night could be a million things that are all perfectly innocuous and harmless….and the LAST thing you want to do is live with the knowledge that you could have, or should have Learned To Be Still.
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