I have a confession to make. Actually, I have a few.
First off, I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in over 20 years.
My average routine consists of a series of quick catnaps interrupted by nightmares, screaming and waking up in a cold sweat.
This is probably one of the reasons I can’t seem to keep a girlfriend. Because honestly, who the hell would want to put up with that?
I’ve woken up to find I’ve pushed girls right off the bed onto the floor while I slept, so violent is the turmoil going on inside my own head.
When I start dating someone new, I try to avoid us sharing a bed for as long as possible. I once told a girl I pooped my pants to avoid the truth, which I actually find more embarassing.
You don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to trace the problem back to its roots in my childhood.
You see, I was a victim of child abduction.
Not once, but hundreds of times. 347, to be precise.
If there was a category for this kind of thing, I would hold the Guinness Book of World’s Records title for “most times abducted.” And I’m pretty sure that second place would be a a 3 million-way tie for all the people who were abducted once.
Let’s be honest, for most people, you get abducted and one of two things happen. Either you get murdered or you get rescued, at which point, your parents watch you like a hawk and you don’t trust anyone else for the rest of your life and it never happens again.
Maybe if you’re super-gullible, it might happen twice. But after that second time, you’d be like, “Shit, I’m gonna lock myself in a safe room and never come out, because I’ll be damned if that bullshit’s ever gonna happen again!”
And then you have my family.
In second grade, I got an L.L. Bean backpack for my birthday. You know the one. It was blue and had a reflector stripe along the outside pocket. Everybody had one.
Well, if you order anything from L.L. Bean, they will embroider it for you for a nominal fee. So, my mom thought it would be a nice idea if she got mine embroidered with my name on the back. That way, since every kid in the world had the same backpack, I would know which one was mine.
The problem is, anybody could read my backpack and know my name. This includes child abductors.
When you are a kid, you get it drilled into your head over and over: “don’t talk to strangers.”
When a man you’ve never met approaches you in the mall and asks you to take a ride in his van, you know to run away and yell for help.
But when that man knows your name and tells you that your mom was in an accident and she sent him to find you and take you to the hospital, your little kid brain gets confused.
If this guy is a stranger, how is it that he knows my name? In fact, how does he know I have a mom? He must be trustworthy!
Or, so I thought.
So my 8 year old self and my brand new embroidered L.L. Bean backpack got in his van.
Now here’s the twist you weren’t expecting: my mom was fine and he was a stranger who only wanted to abduct me!
He knew my name by reading it off of my backpack!
Seems simple, huh? Well, apparently not so simple to me and my parents.
In fact, I remember my parents coming to pick me up in the police station a few days later and the first thing my mom said when she saw me was, “Thank God he’s still got his L.L. Bean backpack!”
A few days later, it happened again. Different guy, slightly different story. This time my dad’s car had broken down (not really, this was just his story.)
A week later, a man claiming to be an off-duty police officer told me I had to go with him down to the station because I had won an award and the mayor was going to give it to me, live on TV!
This was also a lie.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an idiot. I started to figure out that just because you’re a grown man and you own a van and somehow mysteriously seem to know my first name, it doesn’t make you a person I can trust.
It takes a little more than that to get me into your van, thank you very much!
Which is why I felt I was safe the time I was walking home from baseball practice, carrying my glove and bat and some extra balls in my L.L. Bean backpack and the man pulled up next to me and said, “Hey, you’re Eric, aren’t you? I hear you really like baseball. You should get in my van, the Yankees want you to try out for third base.”
Boy was I excited! Until I figured out that I wasn’t going to be trying out for the Yankees at all. I had been abducted.
Ditto the time I was walking my dog and this guy came up to me and told me that the local pet store had given him a 15 dollar gift card that they wanted him to pass on to me. When I questioned his story, he asked me, “Well Eric, if I’m not who I say I am and I’m actually just out to abduct you, then how did I know you own a dog?”
His story seemed to check out, which is why I was surprised when it turns out there weren’t actually any pet store gift cards in my future, just more child abduction.
And so it went, on and on, over and over again. We found out later that my story had gotten out and child abductors from all over the world had flocked to my quaint New England town for the easy pickins’.
Towards the end, when I was around 16 or 17, most of the people weren’t even professional child abductors, just regular folks looking to have a good laugh at my expense.
I’m only thankful I didn’t grow up in the age of YouTube, I can just imagine the possibilities. I would be a laughing stock!
For a long time, I was too embarrassed by my plight to tell anyone about it. I stayed in the shadows and made up excuses for why I never finished high school.
But I’ve learned you can’t run from your past. This is who I am. I’m not going to hide in my room. I’m not going to let it affect me in a negative way.
In fact, I still have my old backpack!
I’m going to take what happened to me and turn it into something positive. I make it my job to tell everyone I meet about the dangers of child abduction.
In fact, not 3 hours ago, I told my tale to my old college roommate as I finally paid him back that six hundred dollars he had loaned me that I didn’t remember ever giving him.
To be honest, I don’t even remember him being my college roommate and I’m pretty sure I never actually went to college, but like he told me, as he admired my L.L. Bean backpack, how would he know my name was Eric if he wasn’t really my college roommate?