By Kiyrah Floyd – Collegiate Staff

I often like to believe that I entered the world blindfolded, gracing the delivery room in silence because for the first time ever life had given me no reason to cry. Perhaps that is why infancy is so beautiful, because it is the only moment in a person’s lifetime where pain is only skin deep, failure is nonexistent, and happiness is inevitable.

Growing up, failure was my biggest fear. It was the only thing I thought life could throw at me that my mother’s arms could not shield me from. For years I strived to be the best at everything, from elementary school quiz-offs, to middle school track meets. I wanted to win it all, and I did. Then high school came around, and as to be expected it challenged the validity of everything I thought to be true. For the first time in my life I knew no one, I was rejected from all my favorite sports teams, and I couldn’t win a quiz-off against Lindsey Ferris if I tried. Afraid to face my own defeat, I continued trying and studying until finally success landed on my doorstep.I wish I could tell you things from that point on went perfect, but they didn’t. Nov. 2, 2011, somewhere between Rogers High School and Oakland Avenue my blindfold had been ripped off and at the simple age of 14 years old, life had revealed itself to me in its darkest form.

It was that time of year the trees were just beginning to sway to the melody of the autumn wind. The sky had once again lost its vibrant, lively appeal, and was now a dark, eerie shade of gray. The leaves, now scarlet red, had leaped off their branches and drifted onto the pavement, crumbling beneath my rugged Nike sneakers as I raced to the bus stop on my way to school. Freshman year had finally arrived and after having gone to the same school for 10 years, I was ready for a fresh start. I got to school 10 minutes after the first bell, drenched in the sweat of both adrenaline and anxiety. Stopping in the office, I received a schedule and a late pass and headed to class. English was my first hour and I couldn’t be more thrilled as writing was my favorite thing to do. I quickly opened the door and stumbled into the room. It had appeared everyone had finished their general introductions so I greeted the classroom of unfamiliar faces and took my seat.

I didn’t know it was possible to feel alone in a room full of people until that very moment.

As the day went on, the same routine continued. Introduction, syllabus, and classroom requirements, and then came lunch. As I entered the cafeteria I was instantly in awe. There were four lines to get food, and each line served something different. Smiling from ear to ear, I headed for the first line I saw, and the aroma hit my nose almost instantly. It was my favorite, pineapple and ham pizza. I quickly scooped it onto my plate and raced to find a seat, only to be greeted with another one of life’s harsh realities. Loneliness. I didn’t know it was possible to feel alone in a room full of people until that very moment.

I scanned the room for at least one familiar face. Out of luck, I took a seat and began eating. After the first bite, I felt a light tap on my shoulder.

“Can I sit with you?” she asked. It was a girl from my English class and I couldn’t quite remember her name, so I simply nodded yes and watched as she took her seat. The whole thing was pretty awkward. I tried striking up a conversation but she was too busy on her phone to maintain it so I finished my food in silence and headed to class.

“Hey, wait up,” the girl said, whose name I now know as Margarita. “Are you any good at sports?”

I wanted to say yes, but the volleyball coach from summer tryouts made me believe otherwise.

“Not really,” I said.

She seemed to have a look of disappointment on her face as she responded,“Oh, okay, nevermind, see you in class.”

“Well, there goes my first friend,” I thought, and I was right. That was the longest conversation her and I had ever held. That is of course until two months later when I became the topic of everyone’s conversation, the highlight of everyone’s morning television, and the coolest person in the lunchroom.

September and October came and went, and I found myself getting use to the high school routine. I was maintaining straight A’s in all my classes, and I had managed to make a few friends during the late afternoons at school spent waiting for the bus to arrive. Overall things had changed since my first day at school. I was fitting in and, man, did it feel great. As the days flew by I realized I wasn’t the only one excited about my newfound progress. My Algebra teacher Ms. See was so pleased with my grades she recommended I join Rogers High School’s newest program for freshman, Middle College, a five-year program that allowed young pupils like myself the opportunity to earn a high school diploma, 60 transferable college credits, and an associate’s degree from Grand Rapids Community College for no cost at all. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and, trust me, I read all about it. The letter came in the mail in late September. I took the Accuplacer test shortly after that and based on my competition alone I highly doubted I’d get in.

My hands were shaking, my heart was racing and as I looked at the clock for the fifth time I realized I had two minutes to solve for x.

The Accuplacer, the first time in my life I anticipated failure before it actually happened. I remember it like it was yesterday. There I was, in a classroom surrounded by the high school’s most promising freshman intellectuals, panicking. My hands were shaking, my heart was racing and as I looked at the clock for the fifth time I realized I had two minutes to solve for x. The same two minutes I spent trying to answer the previous question. Almost like the two minutes I was granted before the test to study that I didn’t use. Looking at the computer screen with regret, I selected the first answer I saw, submitted my test, and accepted my fate. Then something happened, perhaps I pressed the wrong button, or the computer had some sort of a glitch, because the next thing I knew I looked up at the computer screen and all my answers were gone. And there it was, failure, a feeling I had dreaded for so many years was happening right before my eyes.

Everyone surrounding me boasted about how easy the test was and how they couldn’t wait to find out how the program would be. I just stared at the screen, lumps forming in my throat and tears streaming down my face, hand raised high in the air begging for at least one person to tell me where I went wrong. Mr. Reeder, one of the test administrators, instantly realized what happened, and proceeded to reopen the test for me. I sat in the library for what felt like hours retaking that test, trying to remember everything I could from eighth grade until then, but it was no use. My score probably didn’t match up to the others and even if it did, how could I survive middle college, if I couldn’t even stomach the Accuplacer?

For the rest of the month I tried not to think about it. I threw out the invitation letter they first sent me in the mail, and I avoided every assembly the school offered about the program.

On Nov. 1, the test results came back and we found out whether or not we were accepted or rejected. In no hurry to look failure in the face, I purposely overslept, arriving to school shortly after third hour. Walking into class I noticed Ms. See reading a list of names off the computer, assuming she was taking attendance I responded “here” when she said mine. The classroom almost instantly erupted in applause and Ms. See, smiling from ear to ear, wrapped her arms around me.

“I knew you could do it,” she said.

“Do what?” I responded my voice laced with confusion,

“As if you don’t know. You got in. You’re officially a middle college student,” she cheered. A large smile graced my face as I took in the news. I couldn’t believe I was going to be a college student. I wasn’t sure how it happened, but I’m glad it did. As a result, Nov. 1 had proven itself to be one of the best days of my life.

The rest of the day I stared at the clock, waiting for the 2:30 bell to finally ring so I could tell my mother the great news. It seemed to take hours but when school finally did end I rushed to the bus stop and headed home to an empty house. I guess not even getting into middle college could prevent my mother from having to go to work. Refusing to celebrate alone, I quickly made my way to my grandmother’s house close by. From about sixth through eighth grade I spent most of my days at her house, waiting for my mom to get home from work. I didn’t mind it. She was great company, and the elementary school I went to was right across the street from where she lived.

Most days upon entering she’d be in the kitchen cooking one of her famous home cooked meals, and would ask me how school went. But before the question could even leave her lips that day, I told her about my acceptance. I told her about the program and what it had to offer and talked her ear off about how easy it was to get into. She thanked the Lord in excitement and called all her church friends to brag about my accomplishments. Around 7:30 that evening we sat around the living room scarfing down cookies, watching reruns of “Golden Girls.” I picked up the phone in an attempt to call my mom but I got no answer. She was probably asleep. Deciding to wait until the next day to give her the news, my grandmother and I continued watching television until eventually we fell asleep.

Around 6 a.m., I was awakened by an ear piercing scream.

“Help me, somebody, please!”

Tired and disoriented I assumed I must’ve been dreaming, and rolled over in an attempt to get one last hour of shut-eye before my alarm went off.

“Help!”

By now anyone else would have called the police, but not me. I froze.

There it was again, the same voice, but much louder and much more desperate. At that point my temporary feeling of fatigue had worn off and I was greeted by the shadow of a woman running past my grandmother’s window. In a panic I sat up and peered through the blinds, to see a woman running barefoot down the pavement. With every step she took, her screams grew louder and I couldn’t help but wonder what she was running from. Behind her came the answer to my question. A man drenched in the sweat of anger and adrenaline chased after her with what looked to be a gun, screaming for her to be quiet. And there it was again the lump forming in my throat, the rapid heart beat, the sweaty palms. I was panicking.

By now anyone else would have called the police, but not me. I froze. It was like I was sitting in front of the test screen watching all my answers disappear but this time there was no Mr. Reeder to reset the test. I was not in class. I was at home and solving for x was the least of my worries. Someone’s life was in danger and I had no idea what to do. Snapping back to reality, I raced to the phone. Grabbing it, I headed back to the window and dialed the number nine.

“Boom!”

Dropping the phone, I watched the woman’s body collapse onto the pavement. A few more gunshots went off until finally it grew quite. It was the most dreadful silence you could ever imagine, the silence of grief, guilt. The silence of death on Nov. 2, 2011 was one I’ll never forget.

The man took off running in the opposite direction, gun still in hand, leaving his lifeless victim’s limp body bleeding out in the middle of the street. Crying, I raced to my grandmother’s room, shaking her out of her slumber, screaming in attempt to explain what I just witnessed. Perhaps I was talking too fast or, maybe not fast enough, because the more I explained, the more confused she seemed to be. Police cars flooded the block almost instantly, detectives started knocking on the doors of several houses on the street. When they finally arrived at my grandma’s house, I was afraid to speak. I was afraid to tell them that I saw the woman running down the street, I heard her screaming for help, I saw the bullet pierce through her skin and I did nothing about it. So instead I told them it happened around 6 a.m., a man and a woman were running down the street and I heard a gun go off. They seemed satisfied with the information and headed to the next house.

For the rest of the day we were told to stay in our houses. The only people outside were the detectives, paramedics, and some local news crews. My mom somehow managed to sneak her car in through the back alley. She instantly wrapped her arms around me. Before I could explain to her what happened, a knock sounded at the door. It was a reporter. I attempted to answer the questions being thrown at me. As soon as the interview was finished I raced back into the house, turned on the news, and waited for an update on what was happening.

“Boom!”

Another gunshot went off somewhere in the distance. My mother and I jumped at the sound, trembling I could only imagine where it was coming from. Not too long after the local news revealed my suspicions. The man who I had witnessed killing the woman, who I now know to be his ex-wife, was dead. He had killed himself in the basement of his home, just downstairs from his two children, a 3-year-old and a four month old. After learning the details of the full story, everything hit me and my mother and I broke down into tears.

“Why?” Was all I could think to ask. And to this day I still don’t have an answer.

That I believe is one of life’s saddest truths, not knowing. It made me wonder why I tried to be the best at everything, why I worried about what others thought, why I feared failure when success is only temporary.

Pain is not skin deep, failure does exist, and happiness isn’t always guaranteed.

Life, it entices you with expectations for the future and hinders you from ever seeing it. And yet each day I continue trying, I let what I witnessed be my motivation to keep moving forward. I am now in my final year of the middle college program, and I am doing great. I do wonder whatever happened to that woman’s children. Where are they now? Who is taking care of them? I doubt I’ll ever get an answer. It’s been about four years, and they’re still quite young, blindfolded by innocence.

They will never witness what I saw happening between their parents, or hear the sound the gun made after their father pulled the trigger, but one day they will hear about it. They will learn just like I had that innocence although beautiful does not last. Pain is not skin deep, failure does exist, and happiness isn’t always guaranteed. It’s all part of life. Friendships end, people fail tests, family members pass away. It’s the reason we keep moving forward. It’s the reason I never stopped trying. That day, somewhere between Rogers High School and Oakland Avenue my blindfold had been ripped off. And as surprising as it may seem it wasn’t until today, a little over four years later, at the simple age of 18, that I discovered the beauty in living without it.

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