Submitted by Leah Chaffins
Lawton purred from the other side of my moonlit window. The cars and horns, the thumping and gunshots, were all a part of living in one of the rougher neighborhoods.
It was the spring of 1996 and my husband, myself and our three month old daughter lived in a small, but cute, two bedroom house in the area of 17th and Smith. I remember how excited I was when we got a new door that had a peep hole that I could look out. This was a big deal because, at least weekly, a stranger would knock on the door and ask if we could spare money for their “kid’s prescriptions” or “gas” for their invisible car. I would be able to look out before unlocking my home.
This particular night, my husband and I had gotten the baby to sleep, and had gone to bed early. Around eleven o’clock, I was pulled from a deep sleep by banging on our front door. I tried to wake my husband, but due to an accident out by Medicine Park where he had broken his ankle two days before, he was on strong pain relievers and proved impossible to wake.
I walked to the front door and looked through the peephole. Even with the porch light, all I could see was a shadowy, large male figure. The person knocking was standing off to the side of the door and not in clear view of the peephole. I started to walk away and go back to bed when the person started banging again. This time the banging was so hard as to rattle the walls, shaking them with each blow. The person outside the door was breathing heavily enough that I could hear him from inside. He banged again with persistence. I heard my baby daughter rustle in her bed, disturbed by the banging but not woken.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
I ran to the bedroom and tried again to wake my husband, but it was useless. He snored away unaware of the dangerous situation that was developing around him.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
By this time, I had begun shaking. I was terrified and ever fiber of my being was on heightened alert. I looked in at my sleeping daughter. I grabbed the phone and tried dialing 911 but my hands were shaking so badly that I missed dialed three times before finally getting it right. 911’s number gave me a busy signal. I did not even know that could happen. I fumbled the numbers again. All the time, Bang! Bang! Bang!
The banging was bad enough, but being able to hear the persons breathing terrified me deep inside. In my head, I wondered what would make a person breathe so intensely that they could be heard through a wall. I thought it must be someone animalistic, feral, and dangerous, possibly from drugs or insanity. In my head, I kept thinking, “Please, just go away.”
I threw the phone down when 911 was still busy on the second call. I again thought of my daughter sleeping in her crib. The banging was getting louder, and more forceful. The breathing was heavier, more excited sounding.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
A picture fell off my wall. I ran to the bedroom where we kept a blue-steel Ruger .22. I called out to my husband twice, but he continued to sleep. I checked the safety and slid the clip in place, before running back into the living room.
I knew I was shaking too badly to have much aim and I needed to steady my hands. The only thing between the front door and my daughter’s bedroom was an over-sized blue chair. I dropped to my knees and rested my arms on the chair which helped steady my hands. With my back to my daughter’s room, I leveled the nose of the gun with the mid-section of the door. I ran through my head all the gun safety rules that I had been taught. Never point a gun at someone unless you intend on killing them. Always keep the safety on unless you intend on shooting. I slid the safety off. I shook out my shoulders and focused my aim. My daughter’s steady breathing told me she had resumed peaceful sleeping.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
I knew that I was shaking violently enough that I would probably miss a few shots, but if I unloaded the full clip I would at the very least injure the person enough to protect my child. I knew it was imperative to wait until whoever it was busted through the door before I fired. Oklahoma’s “Make My Day” law required that a person must be in my home before I could justifiably shoot them. Furthermore, I needed the visual for good aim and I wanted to see the person I was going to kill. I also considered that I was only about eight feet from the door, and that I would have to unload the clip quickly. I could still hear the banging, the breathing, but it all became a muffled sound. I could see the wall shake as if in slow motion. There was a feeling of imminent danger and resolve. All I could think was, “My baby,” while waiting on the person to break through my door.
There was no question as to whether I would fire the gun. My mind had grown cold, and calculating; my motherly instincts were reared back in full force. I was as cocked as the gun. I sat on my knees with my finger pressed back against the metal loop that encompassed the trigger so I would not accidentally fire too soon.
Suddenly, my neighbor from next door’s voice permeated the night, “Oh, God. Let me in. It’s Chris.” Nose down, safety on. Disengage. Reevaluate. I shook my head.
I raced to the door with the gun in my hand. He stood on the other side panting, holding his infant daughter to his chest and a non-descript handgun hung between the fingers of his other hand. He pushed in to the house and shut the door behind him. I knew him too well to be afraid; it was not in him to hurt another human. I took his baby, Makayla, from him and he clutched his chest trying to regain his breath. He was obviously shaken. I told him to sit down on the couch while I carried his daughter in and laid her next to mine in the crib. She felt warm and smelled of coco butter and baby power. I laid her in the crib and the babies snuggled against each other peacefully. Snores came from my bedroom where my husband still slept oblivious to the drama.
I returned to the living room where my neighbor sat with his elbows on his knees and the gun hanging between his clasped fingers.
“She pulled a gun on me. We were fighting and she pulled out the gun and was going to kill us,” he said, speaking about his wife as he looked across the room to the doorway where the babies slept.
He asked if he could leave Makayla and the gun with me for the night. I brought him a towel from the hall cabinet to wrap his gun in and I stashed it on the top shelf of the cabinet. After he left, I ejected the clip from my Ruger, double checked the safety, and put it back where it belonged. I looked in on the sleeping girls one last time and thought how differently the night could have gone and didn’t. When I finally went to bed, I lay awake for a long time looking at my bedroom ceiling unable to sleep, listening to the sound of Lawton purring outside my window.