What Would You Do?

Something strange happened to me the other night that really got me thinking.  It was late, about 9:30.  I had just said goodnight to my dh and ds (Yes, I am a baby.  Either that, or it’s beauty sleep I need.) and was heading toward the stairs when our front doorbell rang.  I flipped on the outside light to see a young man, I’m thinking eighteen to twenty, standing on the stoop.

Mind you, it was freezing outside at the time.  I think it was only 2 or 3 degrees out that night with 10-15 below wind chills.  Bitterly cold. I also have a “no solicitors” sign on the side window.  When you work from home the last thing you need it getting interrupted every day by steak and magazine salesmen, and my neighbor kids know that sign isn’t referring to them and their Girl Scout Cookie sales or sports fundraisers.

But no sales person in their right mind would come to someone’s house this late, right?  So I figured there had to be something seriously wrong.

My dogs were going crazy barking when I noticed a second young man behind the first on the sidewalk. He was wearing a letter jacket from the high school my daughter graduated from several years ago. Letter jacket.  Good kid.  Without thinking past that, I opened the door.  My dogs will protect me, right?

As the guys were shivering like crazy, they explained that they had a flat tire – the car was stuck down the road – and could they use my phone?

I couldn’t see the car.  And as he was talking all kinds of thoughts were zipping through my mind.  You idiot, why did you open the door?  Just because one of them is wearing a letter jacket doesn’t mean he’s a good kid.  You can’t let these strangers into your house.  What about these crimes where families have been held hostage while the mom goes to the bank to get money?

But it was freezing outside.  And they’re kids.

Something like this happened during daytime hours years ago, and I actually let the stranger into my house.  Afterward, I realized that had been insane. I had little kids.  I had a cordless phone.  Next time take the phone outside.

So I told them I’d get the phone and bring it to them.

But it was freezing outside. And they’re kids.

I told them I’d open the garage door, so they could get out of the wind.  I brought the phone out into the garage and stood there while one of the boys called  a couple of numbers.  No one answered.  At this point, I was thinking this was bulltweedy, and I should not have opened the door.  Didn’t they have a cell phone?

Then he got hold of his girlfriend who apparently lived nearby and talked to the girlfriend’s dad who said he’d come to get them.  I gave them our address and directions, but I was still feeling vulnerable.

He hung up from his call and we started talking.  They were seniors at the high school and football players (big boys, no wonder I had second thoughts) and their cell phone had died.  They’d gone to three other houses down the street and, although lights were on and people were inside, doors remained closed.

Honestly, I do not blame my neighbors for one second for being cautious.  I think I was extremely foolish for not being more suspicious. I should have called my husband to the door.  I should have asked these boys about a cell phone before I offered to bring my house phone to the garage.  I probably should not have opened the door.

Everything turned out okay, but what if it hadn’t?  There are all kinds of stories in the news about good Samaritans getting hurt by the people they’re trying to help.  And there are many other stories about people standing by doing nothing while someone is being victimized.

What do you think?  Is there something I should have done differently?  And what had this world come to that we have to second guess helping strangers?



About Helen Brenna

Helen Brenna is the RITA award winning author of romances for Harlequin's Superromance line. Three more books in her popular Mirabelle Island series will be release in July, August and September of 2011. For more information, check out her website at www.helenbrenna.com.
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15 Responses to What Would You Do?

  1. leannebanks says:

    You were a wonderful person to do what you did. I probably would have called my husband to the door, and I hate to say it, but if I’d been by myself, I may have been one of those people who didn’t answer… unless I yelled through the door!lol

  2. Helen Brenna says:

    Yeah, if I’d been by myself, Leanne, I don’t think I would’ve opened the door either. The whole thing just bugs me. Years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about helping someone, but the older I’ve gotten the more jaded I’ve become. I guess.

  3. Keri Ford says:

    I would have called my husband to the door if he’d been home. Luckily we live a bit far out from any neighbors, so if someone’s knocking on our door with a flat tire–they got it from trespassing on our land 🙂

    It’s scary and sad all the way around. It sucks to not help, but at the time, what if? *Trying* to be a good Samaritan doesn’t get you anything if you or your family is hurt in the end.

    In your case in a neighborhood, if I had been home alone, I probably wouldn’t have answered the door. Instead I would have called the police, given a description and let them know the boys could need help but you didn’t open the door for safety reasons to find out.

  4. michele says:

    I would have been the neighbor who didn’t answer the door. But for different reasons. I’d be saying to myself “Who knocks on doors so late? How rude.” And then I’d ignore it. Wouldn’t occur to me that it would be an evil doer. 🙂

  5. Ooh yeah, that’s a tough one. Because kids… well, even kids an be problematic. Turns out you did the right thing. I probably would have doen almost what you did. I’d have told them go to into the garage and *I* would call whoever they liked. Just give me the number. Glad it turned out ok.
    (Yikes 2-3 degrees. THAT is cold!)

  6. debradixon says:

    Helen– I’m so glad this turned out well because home invasion often begins with getting the people to open the door. Having a husband at home doesn’t necessarily prevent home invasion. Teens can and do terrible things.

    My take on this is that you could have helped them *without* opening the door. It would have required some yelling back and forth, but you could have stayed safe and helped.

    I wish I didn’t think like that, but I do. So, while I do help people, I do it in as safe a way as possible.

    It was a really tough judgment call and it’s much easier after the fact to be all “safety girl” like I am being. Still, I’m trying not to do the stupid thing anymore, even if it’s the morally “good” choice. I have a son and husband and sister and mother and nieces and company who all need me to make choices that keep me safe.

    Traveling is probably want has really heightened my radar of stupid choices. I had one significantly scary incident while traveling and I think it was hubby’s constant carping on how I should behave when alone that made my early warning radar go off and actually got me to safety. Since then I’m actively listening to my safety radar.

  7. What a sad world we live in. I just remarked to Clyde the other night about the demise of hitchhiking. Never did it myself, but he did (although he hated it) and one of his brothers was “king of the road.” You go a little farther west and people have to help each other. Which is why, having lived in ND for 20 years, I tend to be too trusting. There were at least 3 times that I broke down on the road in the middle of nowhere. Nowadays, not only do you worry about stopping to help someone, but about who’s stopping to help you. Not that there weren’t incidents in the olden days. Guess I was lucky.

    I wouldn’t have thought of the garage. That was smart. I would’ve had the dog right there barking. (My Aussie would have killed for me.) But I know I would’ve gone to the door. This is really a thought-provoking post, Helen. I’m way too reliant on having men and dogs in the house.

  8. kylie brant says:

    I wouldn’t have thought twice about it if my dh was home, and because he was home I’d have let them in. BUT…we’re a very small town. Not that bad things can’t happen here but I’m someone who leaves my keys in my car outside school every day 🙂 But if I’d been home alone I would have been afraid to even unlock the storm door. I probably would have told them I’d get the phone and stand there and dial it for them and speak to whoever they wanted…passed along the message. The good Samaritan in me often gets the better of common sense, however! I once engaged in a long conversation/lecture with someone who had come to the door to beat my oldest son up, LOL. He wasn’t home at the time, and I actually stood out on the porch and discussed with this young man if violence was truly the best solution he could come up with. You can’t separate the teacher from the mom.

  9. lois greiman says:

    So sad that we even have to worry about it. I had a very similar situation just a few weeks ago. Two young men, smelling like cigarettes came to our door. But it was daytime and I could see their truck. It was stuck on the road outside our house, and the weather was hideous. No one should have been driving. They were chattering with cold. I never even considered not letting them in, but I wasn’t alone and the elements were deadly. Still, I’m with Kathy…too much time in ND…I rarely think of the safety element.

  10. Helen Brenna says:

    Yeah, I grew up in a small town. Back when I was growing up, we’d leave on vacation and never lock up our house. I’m sure that’s why I tend to be so trusting. But I totally get, Deb, the safety factor. I put myself as well as everyone in the house at risk when I opened the door.

    Keri, calling the police would’ve been a good thing to do. They could’ve gotten there probably as quickly as a family member.

    Kylie, I can’t believe you leave your keys in your car all day!

  11. catslady says:

    This is a hard one. I know I’ve answered the door at times when I shouldn’t have. I use to always answer the phone too but finally got call waiting. It being cold made the decision harder. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have just let them in but maybe I would have. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have let them in at night if my husband wasn’t home but then again if they were up to no good, that probably wouldn’t have helped anyway. Maybe I would have tried to help by calling for them. Hard call and, yes, very sad that that is what our world has now become. Glad it did work out and you did a nice deed.

  12. Helen, I had an article around here somewhere with a pro’s list of things to watch out for–pro thief, that is–but do you think I can find it? He said the real pros usually come to the door on some business pretense, wearing something like a hard hat or reflective vest, clip board, like that. If you have a noisy dog, they usually go looking for an easier target.

    Don’t open the door for the pizza delivery guy who looks like a giant termite!

  13. Helen Brenna says:

    Catslady, it is a tough call and the cold is what made it tougher.

    Kathy, that doesn’t surprise me at all that pros use a business pretense. Oddly enough, I tend to be so much more skeptical about those kind of things. The dogs make a big diff. I don’t think many people would want to mess with them.

  14. Jacinta says:

    I live in Australia and it doesnt get quite that cold here, yet that would have been the decider for me. I cant stant to see people cold, it makes me cold and feel bad for them. Being young myself (25 is still quite young i feel) i would have asked them the problem through the door first, than called my boyfriend down to stand with me whilst they used the phone at the door, possibly with a mug of tea or my hot water bottle. Never inside the house, so i agree wih you on that one. I have also been the person on the other side of the door when i was younger and cell phones werent as popular. Some bullies were following us and we were knocking on doors asking to come in for a bit until they got bored and went away. We are two girls, aged about 10, and no one would let us in or even stand at the door with us. Most just slammed the door in our faces even though the bullies were just out on the steet in plain view. So, kindness of strangers i agree with, but with in reason.

  15. Helen Brenna says:

    Jacinta, see that’s just crazy! You were only 10, 2 girls and people wouldn’t help? I guess people worry about the bait and switch thing – send someone innocent looking to the door and as soon as they open it, bam – but I won’t think I would’ve hesitated for a second if 2 kids were at the door. Thanks for weighing in!

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