Like many people I know who live in the country, I've long been lax about locking my doors, particularly in the daytime.
I nearly always lock them at night, and my wife is pretty good about locking the doors when I'm away from the house for even a little while.
Yesterday all that changed.
It was almost 5 p.m. and I was in my office here at the house. My wife had come home early and was napping on the couch in the living room. Almost subconsciously I heard the side door open and assumed she was going out to her car or something.
Suddenly she rushed into my office and as I was turning to look at her she said, "Someone is in the house."
My response was incredulity. In a split second I wondered what she was really trying to tell me and was doubtful that anyone would be in our house. Then my eyes met hers. I don't really remember seeing fear, but there was something in there that told me her words meant exactly what she said.
I stuffed a pistol in my waistband and rushed into the front room where a man was standing, wearing a hoodie.
"What are you doing in here?" I demanded, pulling up short of him. I remember my hand was touching the firearm but not quite on the grip. The world was very small right then. My wife was behind me and he was in front of me and everything else was blurred.
He started muttering something about his friend had told him something and I immediately said, "You need to get out ... NOW." I pointed to the door around the corner where he had come in.
He muttered, "All right." He started shuffling through the corner of the kitchen toward the entryway door.
I edged closer, sensing he was more confused than dangerous and also wanting to watch him exit.
He paused at the door to pick up his shoes and started to speak again.
I immediately growled: "Get out NOW."
"Alright," he said again, somewhat sheepishly, and he opened the door and walked out.
He stood on the driveway pad, looking confused.
Debi had been trailing behind me and when I glanced back and saw her close by I remember telling her to call the sheriff's office quickly. As I watched the man he wandered out the driveway and I thought he was going toward the neighbor's house 200 yards south of us. I closed and locked the main door and told Debi to watch him through the window while I fetched my cell phone. She was already talking to the sheriff's dispatcher, describing the situation, and I reminded her to tell them I thought the man was either stoned or mentally troubled. I called the neighbor, who wasn't home. Instead, the man turned left and went into my shop building, which was open, and stayed there until the sheriff's deputy arrived and arrested him.
When the deputy came to the house to talk to us, he said the man claimed to be schizophrenic and was looking for his friend's house. He said he thought his friend told him this was it. I suggested it might be his "imaginary friend" talking to him, and the deputy chuckled.
The young deputy also told us about another mental patient he picked up who said voices had told him to wake up the hoard of sleep walkers who lived all over town. When the deputy asked him how he planned to do that, he said he would have to kill them. The deputy said he told him "Wrong answer." That fellow went away somewhere, at least for awhile.
We did not press charges on this fellow, hoping he has someone who cares about him and will get him home and look after home. Naive perhaps, but we're hoping and praying for that.
So I tell you this story to emphasize this point: Lock your doors!
We are almost two miles off the main highway, with no good reason for a man on foot to come to our house. This is a rural area, and my neighbors say they've never had a problem in 20 years and more, even though there was a small rash of rural break-ins and theft in this area last spring.
I believe the problem is there are no mental facilities where troubled people are locked away. Some of the statistics suggest the majority of homeless are seriously ill mental patients. Further, there are few communities that take care of their mentally ill as kind of an annoyed but tolerant community project like they did when I was young. And honestly, the world is getting worse. People are getting worse, despite the legions of good ones.
I also feel I need to emphasize one more point. It took the sheriff about 10 minutes to get here, which isn't bad response time. But if our unwelcome visitor had been violent, or if he had kicked in a locked door, we would have had to defend ourselves. No one can do this mean task for you. There is never time to get help, only to create your own.
Living in the country doesn't mean you're safe.