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My Carjacking Nightmare Still Haunts Me

When someone sticks a gun in your face, the trauma gets replayed in your head every night

Painted scene of man laying on ground in his driveway next to tire tracks
Leland Foster

The moment he shows me the gun, I spring into action. 

My first blow lands square on his larynx, causing him to stagger backward.

Since my would-be carjacker is wearing a dark mask and hoodie, I can’t see anything but his eyes, which I directly gouge. 

As he raises his hands to attend to his now-bloodied eyeballs, I snatch the pistol from his waistband, discharging a round into his groin. 

I wish I could say that’s what happened, but it’s not. Not even close.

I went 50 years of my life without any Death Wish fantasies, and now I'm up every day at 3 a.m., fantasizing about being Charles Bronson. 

Here’s what actually happened.

I live in Evanston, a supposedly safe suburb just north of Chicago. The day was perfect—70 degrees and sunny—ideal for Little League baseball. It was my first season as head coach. 

I was in the driveway in my car, waiting for my youngest son, Henry, so we could drive to the ballpark. 

I was absorbed in my phone, adjusting the lineup for the game, and I could see Henry out of the corner of my eye, finally emerging from the house. That’s when the car door flew open, and there was a guy in my face, yelling at me to “Get the f**k out of the car!”

He lifted his shirt to reveal the waist of his jeans so that I could see the handle of his gun.

Henry’s instincts served him well—he ran inside and, through tears, told my wife that there was a guy who was trying to take Dad’s car. She immediately called 911. 

Not knowing what other choice I had, I got out and let him take my car. 

I felt powerless and pissed off. Pissed that I could allow myself to be so vulnerable and defenseless. Pissed that this could happen in front of my own home, within sight of my 9-year-old. 

The car was recovered four hours later, 25 miles south, abandoned and undrivable, after having been in an accident. The carjacker, as of this writing, is still at large.

I attended virtual town hall meetings, read articles written by crime victims and shared my story with family, friends and neighbors, as a cautionary tale.

But none of this stopped me from replaying the incident in my head, berating myself for never learning how to disable an attacker at close range. 

It’s amazing how elaborate revenge fantasies can get, and surprising how much influence action movies have had on my subconscious: Chuck Norris, Jason Statham, Charles Bronson and Bruce Lee became my midnight mentors. 

Could I have dropped the car into reverse and pinned him under the front wheel? I’m pretty sure “throat jab” is a thing.

It felt deeply unhealthy. I needed to make peace with what happened. Sometimes, the answer is so stupidly simple it just takes the right moment to sink in and resonate.

For me that moment came from Henry, after he overheard me lamenting to a friend that I’d done nothing to stop the carjacking.

“Papi,” Henry told me later as I was tucking him in for the night, “you doing nothing means we still have a dad.” 

That’s all it took.

A real hero isn't the guy who takes out a bad guy with a karate chop to the solar plexus. He’s the guy who’s around to coach baseball and attend graduations. 

I still love movies with Bronson, but I’m sleeping more soundly with the realization that there's bravery in doing nothing.