There was a knock at the door.
I think I had been –we had been — in that new apartment for about a month. My wife was not at home. I think she was working, although to suggest there were ever a time that she was working, now seems like something almost too impossible to believe.
While I know there are those rules about opening up doors to strangers, the knocking continued.
Plus, the guy through the peep hole didn’t look that big. Having rarely used peep holes, I didn’t realize until a second later how that’s what peep holes do to people. Make them seem a lot smaller than they actually are.
I opened the door.
One much-bigger-than-I-am man stood towering. No, not just one, there were two more, both hiding on either side of the door, where the peep hole’s viewpoint failed to expose them.
They pushed their way into the apartment looking for drugs and money.
I had heard stories of women who had been raped in their cars, not because they tried to run away, but because they tried to protect their cars. Ironically, I would stop a rape about three months later. A woman, in her car.
So, as these three guys pushed their way into my apartment, I pushed my way through them, out into the hall. Two of the three followed me out into the hall.
“Just come in. We just want the drugs and money you owe us. We’re not going to hurt you.” Their size and purpose suggested otherwise.
Clearly, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. They thought I was someone else. I had never even smoked.
I told the two guys that I wouldn’t go in the apartment with them, that I didn’t really have a lot of money. But there was a stereo in there. It was a wedding present, but it was not a very good marriage, so they could have that.
One of the two guys asked me what my name was. I told him “Jim”. He said “No, it’s Bill.” I explained to him that it was Jim and that in the bedroom, there was a wallet, and my ID was in that wallet.
The second of the three told me to go get it. I reminded him that I’d already told him that I wasn’t going to do what he told me. I wasn’t going to go in the apartment where he can close and lock the door behind me.
The second looked at the third, then back to me.
“You better do what we say because he has a gun.”
“Then let me see it.”
The third guy pulled out a semi-automatic.
Now it was the guy with the gun on me out in the hall. The second had entered the apartment and was, I assume, searching for what he didn’t, couldn’t get from me.
So there I was in the hall. Someone holding a gun on me. And he was getting frustrated because I kept saying no. It’s not like I’m so brave; I’m not. It just seemed the right thing, the only thing for self preservation. Until the gun, of course.
The first thing that entered my mind was that God was somehow answering my wife’s prayers. No, really, about six months before this moment, about three months into our marriage, she had come to me crying, telling me that she had been praying to God that God himself would kill me in a car accident.
Now here I was. It wasn’t a car. It was a gun.
I had done everything right, I had lived a conservative Beaver Cleaver childhood, tried my best to become a NICE person, sought to seek ways to help other people, and I was still trapped in a bad marriage destined to become a bad family. And Death, despite all attempts to live a safe life, had still come to my door.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes. But sometimes I wonder if a lot of us believers, in those foxholes, aren’t hoping we really are believers, and it’s not just something we were raised in. These crucible-like moments aren’t just meant, I think, for a few, but for all.
At that moment, I don’t know if I believed in anything. My only hope was that if there were a God, that God would have mercy on me despite my years of maybe only pretending to have faith in him. And that I’d get to go to Heaven.
I looked at the gun and the guy holding it. Took a breath and said “I’m really afraid you’re going to shoot me and I’m going to die. Before you do that, you need to know that God loves you, Jesus loves you.”
The guy dropped his gun to his side, shook his head and said, “Shit”.
He ran down the hall and out the lobby doors. I ran down a different hall, not sure where the guys were inside my apartment. Finally, another tenant let me into his apartment to call the police.
His name was Bill.
I begin with this story because In so many ways it is my beginning, the beginning of growing up, the beginning of thinking and considering how big life is, how ironic it is, and how much it requires each and every one of us to change if we’re going to enjoy it.
This includes our opinions and attitudes towards family.
Little did I know so many of my views of life, love, God, sex, family and so much more would change. And had to change.
Jim Krueger, the Jim Krueger that had his head in the sand the first 25 years of his life, that Jim Krueger had to die.
I had taken my first bullet.