I was sitting on my sofa sometime after 10 p.m. one night this week, watching still another episode of House Hunters International on HGTV, my currently preferred mode of getting to know other countries up close (or as close as I care to be, what with all the world's mayhem), when the doorbell dinged.
My heart thumped. A doorbell ring at that time of night can't be good. "Home invaders" was my first thought. But then I thought, "Home invaders don't ring the doorbell first."
Bad news about a family member, maybe. Or perhaps a serial killer loose in the neighborhood. But I didn't see the flashing red and blue lights that law enforcement officers use when they're coming to deliver news of a tragedy or a danger.
Should I switch off the lights and ignore the ding? Nah. Too obvious.
I clicked on the porch and driveway lights and looked out the window by the door. I could see a tall man standing in the shadows at the end of my walkway, about 25 feet from my front door, and I could hear muffled hollering. (I've had hurricane windows installed in my house, so it's nearly soundproof.)
Someone in trouble, calling for help? Neighborhood watch? Or neighborhood watch target?
Then I saw a frisky black and white dog bounding around his feet and sniffing my sidewalk. I don't think hit men or burglars bring along their playful dogs.
After making sure no one was hiding just outside the door, I decided to remain unarmed and crack the door open. If the man rushed me, I could slam and lock it before he reached me.
"Barbara," he called. Oh, he knows me. "Your garage door is open. Thought you'd want to close it." I didn't recognize the voice and couldn't see the speaker, but if he knew my name and had a friendly dog, he must be okay.
I thanked him profusely and went to close the garage door.
Then I remembered. Sometime around 7 p.m., I'd taken out the garbage and gone back into the house to make sure all the waste baskets were empty. Then the phone rang. Then I spied a pile of unfolded laundry. Then I noticed a pair of shoes lying in the floor that should be in the closet. Then the cat meowed for food. Then the oven buzzer went off signifying dinner was ready. Then I plopped down on the sofa to catch a little TV.
Thus the open door.
But I had to wonder how I would have reacted if I hadn't had the hurricane windows and heavily bolted doors that would keep out what some call evil-doers and others call suspicious-looking people.
What if the concerned dog-walker hadn't retreated to a safe distance before he called out to me? What if the porch light had been burned out so I couldn't see anything out there? What if there hadn't been an amiable-looking dog bounding about?
Worse, what if he'd decided to knock on the door from my garage to the house to let me know my garage door was open? There's no window in that door to see who's knocking or if there are flashing red and blue lights. What then?
Let me say that I'm eternally grateful to my concerned neighbor, and I've made a solemn vow to make sure that garage door is securely down if I'm not actually inside the garage or at least within sight of the door while watering plants, pulling weeds, getting the mail or chatting with a neighbor.
But then, what if the phone rings? And I spy some unfolded laundry or a pair of shoes out of place or an insistent cat begs for food. And, late that night, someone who doesn't know my name or doesn't have a cute dog dings the doorbell?
I've thought about it a lot lately, and I'm pretty sure I'd dial 911, holler that I'm armed and ready, and duck behind the sofa until the cops arrived. I know for sure I wouldn't go outdoors toting my gun or follow him down the street or into my back yard or over to the tennis courts. That's a job for the cops, and I'm happy to let them do it.
Unless someone is breaking down my door or a total stranger is standing in the middle of my living room, I've no business nor any right to shoot anyone.
And I really don't give a flip that Florida lawmakers say I can.