A sophomore slump in its truest sense, punctuated by a night of absolute terror, but as it turned out it was also a night that opened the eyes of a wandering second year high school student.
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My heart raced inside my chest as the adrenaline set in, my mind struggling to gauge whether thoughts of survival or the smiles of loved ones were more beneficial in these last moments on Earth.
Up to this critical moment in my life, very little held importance between procrastinated homework assignments and sports as a sophomore in high school. Instead of adequately preparing for college level learning, my top priority was simply a girl.
A closet riddled with American Eagle and Hollister clothing hinted to the measure of the man I was, or rather, was not.
Little direction and little accomplished, my “high school sweetheart” and long-time friends split the remaining time I had left in my days.
My planned-out weeks rolled on one after another with no distinction, hardly different, rarely a monumental moment that stood out from the rest.
Rather than soaking in memories with a family that wanted nothing more than to see me succeed, I was buying time until my college career began, unsure as to what I would become, and where I was headed.
These thoughts raced through my mind as I drove my beat-up 2006 Malibu down Interstate 70 one fall evening back in 2011.
After a grueling double at work with little coin in my pocket to show for it, my headlights guided me home as I eagerly anticipated my head hitting the pillow, to wake up and begin the routine once again.
But sleeping soundly would be a luxury I couldn’t afford that night.
I pulled into the driveway, put my car in park, turned the key and removed it from the dash, unlocked the door and swung it open, as whistling wind tossed autumn leaves down the walkway toward me.
Seconds later, the bushes themselves began to stir, except the wind wasn’t the culprit causing the disturbance this time.
A tall figure dressed in black rushed out of the bushes parallel to my garage and grabbed me as I jumped out of my car.
My initial reaction was disbelief. Thinking my younger brother was the hooded bandit, I laughed and said, “Real funny, Caleb.”
It was in that moment I pieced together the clues my eyes failed to compile at first glance.
The man who held onto my arm was far larger than my eighth-grade brother was at the time.
My eyes widened, chest tightened, stomach sank as I came to grips with the severity of the situation. I was being attacked.
Understanding my family was inside, but unable to safely reach the front door and get help, I screamed and tossed my keys toward the house, praying they’d hit a glass window, making a loud enough noise that someone would come out and help me.
My keys sailed high, hitting the roof instead of the front door, making hardly a sound.
I was alone outside with the man in black.
I fought back, wrestling the kidnapper to the ground.
My fist clenched, held high above the assailant’s pantyhose-covered face, ready to strike, when I looked up and saw two more dark figures rushing toward me.
I panicked, my body now completely numb, unable to move an inch.
I was outnumbered and afraid — afraid the dreams and aspirations in store for me would never come to fruition, dreams of a family and career, of a life lived to the fullest.
These next few seconds ticked on in slow motion as I pushed the memories of family and friends to the forefront of my mind, clouding out the situation around me, accepting the looming fate in store for me at the end of my virtual photo album.
But when I picked my head up the second time, the story changed entirely.
Instead of a group of men dressed in black, I saw a familiar face standing before me, muttering the words, “Guys, I can’t do this.”
Dazed and confused, my mood altered from a state of fear and helplessness to both anger and relief all at the same time.
The three other figures removed their masks as well, revealing to me that I was but an unwitting victim in a prank gone horribly wrong.
I sat in the grass in my front lawn in shock as to what exactly just happened as the four individuals I each called “friend” walked past me back to their car and drove off.
My shaky legs barely allowed me to stand as I slowly walked into my house to digest the twisted kidnapping plot that happened outside my front door.
As twisted as my kidnapping plot was, I was able to do some self-evaluation after the bitterness subsided in the weeks to come.
I saw firsthand the faces of the loved ones I had hurt, the dreams I had put on the back burner, the shell of the man I was and the one I wished to become, the shoes I hoped to fill.
I had the chance to change it, to set the score right, to grow as a person and love with a fuller heart, dream with a freer mind, walk with purposeful strides instead of apathetic shuffles.
I opened my eyes for the first time that night, the night I almost lost it all.