A Lesson in Self-Defense: Lights! Camera! Action!

About one year after Mom and Dad’s divorce, during one of Stevie’s weekends with Dad and me, Dad set up his tripod, movie camera, and floodlights in the middle of the living room. Dad was a photography nut, and Stevie and I had grown up with a camera shoved in our faces, but this was the first time any of Dad’s cameras had seen daylight since the divorce.

“We’re going to make a movie about two kids being home alone at night and an intruder tries to break in,” Dad announced.

Whoa . . . this was way too close to the bone for me since I stayed home alone every night Dad was at work. But I recognized that creative glint in Dad’s eye and knew better than to argue. It was either play along or be cajoled senseless. Plus it was good having Dad somewhat back to himself again. He’d been but a shell of himself since Mom left with Stevie.

Dad slid open the utility closet door in the living room around the corner from the kitchen. “The scene will start with you two watching TV from the couch. Then you’re going to hear someone trying to break in the back door.” He paused for dramatic effect; his black eyes were round with suspense. “You then run in here to hide.” He pointed to the closet. “Close the door, leaving only a crack to peek through. Now—I’m the intruder, of course—I’m going to walk into the living room from the kitchen looking around for you kids, but I won’t notice the closet. When I get to this spot on the floor . . .” he walked to the center of the living room, “I want you, honey bun,” he pointed at me, “to run out and beat me over the head with a broom.”

“I can’t beat you over the head! Won’t that hurt?”

Dad waved dismissively. “Not the bristles.”

He walked over to the movie camera and peered into it again, making sure it was positioned and focused properly. Satisfied, he switched on the two floodlights. Instantly blinded, Stevie and I squinted until our eyes adjusted.

“Okay, honey bun. When I tap three times on the back door, turn the camera on.”

Having been Dad’s filming assistant over the years, I was familiar with the various buttons on his cameras as well as his stage cues. Dad raised his thick black eyebrows and fixed Stevie with a serious look.

“Now you listen to Diane, Son. Once she turns the camera on, we’re rolling, so you remember your part.”

Stevie giggled, nodding like a bobblehead.

Dad walked out the back door, shutting it tight behind him. Total silence filled the house. Then tap . . . tap . . . tap . . .

I switched the camera on and checked to make sure the red light on the top was lit, indicating that the camera was rolling. I made eye contact with Stevie, held my finger to my lips, and we took our places on the couch.

We pretended to be engrossed in the TV show. Within a couple of minutes, we heard strange sounds coming from the back door.

“What was that?” Stevie’s green eyes were wide in mock fear but his lips twitched from stifled laughter.

“I don’t know!”

We both feigned seriousness as we strained to listen.

“It sounds like someone is trying to get in the back door!” I said. My heart stopped as a terrifying thought popped into my head. What if Stevie realizes that this could really happen? My maternal instinct to protect my four-year-old brother kicked in, but I pushed it aside and stayed in character. “We’ll hide in here.” I ushered Stevie into the closet, squeezed in next to him, and shut the door.

The searing floodlights baking the living room made the cramped, two-by-two foot compartment in the closet feel like a rotisserie. A nervous giggle escaped from Stevie as we anxiously waited for the “intruder” to appear. I held my finger to my lips again while holding the broom in my other hand. Stevie clamped his hand tight over his mouth, shoulders heaving with laughter.

I peeked out the door. Nothing.

Time stopped as we continued to wait. Dead silence and stillness enveloped the house; my heart hammered in my ears as I strained to hear any movement. Stevie wiggled impatiently in the cramped space but straightened up when I shot him a stern look.

I peered out again. A black-haired man in a long black trench coat with the collar pulled up around his face skulked past the closet, his head swiveling slowly from side to side, scanning the living room.

When the intruder reached the spot in the middle of the living room, something inside me snapped. I exploded out of the closet, brandishing the broom with every ounce of strength I had, Stevie hot on my heels whooping war calls.

Thwopp!! I slammed the broom down hard on top of the intruder’s head. He staggered, trying to catch his balance, as he tried fleeing from me.

“GET HIM, DIANE! GET HIM!” Stevie hollered.

I swung the broom again—thwack!—planting another wallop alongside the intruder’s head.

“OW!” he yelped, ducking his head into his shoulders as he fled toward the front door, his arms flailing to ward off the blows.

“HARDER, DIANE! HARDER!” Stevie yelled.

Adrenaline surging, I swung again. Thud!


Hearing Dad’s voice saying my name snapped me back to my senses. I stopped in mid-swing, the broom poised over my head.

Dad ran to the camera and switched it off. Stevie and I looked at him, bewildered.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“What’s wrong?? You damned near killed me, that’s what’s wrong!”

“You told me to beat you over the head with the broom!”

“With the bristles, not the handle! Didn’t you hear me yell?”

“Yeah, but I thought that was part of the act. And I did not hit you with the handle!”

“Give me that.” Dad grabbed the broom out of my hands. “Here are the bristles.” He strummed his fingers through the straw. “You were hitting me with this!” He knocked on the wood where the bristles connected to the handle.

In my adrenaline rush, fanned by Stevie’s cheers, I’d forgotten that we were pretending. I was so in character and caught up in the scene—and the fact that this could really happen—all that mattered was protecting Stevie and myself. “Oh . . . sorry, Dad. I’ll remember next time.”

“There’s not going to be a next time.” Dad rubbed his head and turned to me, his black eyes wide. “I’ve got a goose egg on the top of my head! You damned near knocked me out! No more. That’s it.” He switched off the floodlights and started dismantling the camera from the tripod. “I don’t think we have to worry about you not being able to defend yourself!”

Nope, that was pretty clear. And poor Dad had the lumps to prove it.

But I still turned on the yard lights and triple-checked the locks every night, just in case.

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