We were looking at the outdoor tidepool exhibits located on a concrete patio atop a cliff overlooking some of the most beautiful beaches and expensive real estate in the country. It was a perfect SoCal day and the beach break was dotted with surfers paddling out near the pier.
I had hoped that the aquarium wouldn't be too busy on a Thursday morning, but when we arrived, the parking lot was lined with buses full of school children and tourists.
Once in, I let the kids out of the stroller so we could explore the man-made tidepools. We jostled our way through the crowd of elementary schoolers, and the docent helped the girls touch some sea stars (formerly known as "starfish") and sea cucumbers. Cobra was into it, Butterbean didn't want any contact with the slimy critters.
I held Butterbean up so she could stick her hands in the water, and when I looked back down, Cobra was gone.
I looked looked left, right, and behind me. Usually when I don't see one of the girls, it means they're lurking in a blind spot one inch from my legs.
I did a 360-degree scan. A sea of children and a dozen adults. No Cobra.
fuck. wherewherewherewhere..."Okay, kiddo. Let's go find Sissy..."
I picked up Butterbean and started first in one direction and then another.
fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. wherewherewherewhere? don't panic. what to do for a missing kid? don't panic. panic bad. look look look look. check immediate area first. look behind possible concealing objects.
what are you doing? are you a recon expert now? you don't have any idea what the fuck you're doing. it's about time to panic. start yelling for someone to lockdown the facility.
shut up shut up shut up.
you don't have a plan! why don't you have a contingency plan for this? you should have read a book about child abductions! but you haven't even taken the child CPR class. idot. terrible parent.
shut up shut up shut up. calm down. i've got this. just...look around some more. but everything is all woozy. am i reeling? is this what reeling is like? she probably went back to the stroller. maybe if I called out for her..."Sweetie? Where are you?"
idiot. do you think she's gonna run to you like a dog? this is not the time to be cool and collected. this is the time to FREAK THE FUCK OUT AND START YELLING
shut up shut up shut up. okay. maybe i could ask the nice lady with the badge.
START YELLING, ASSHOLE! the kidnappers are loading her into the van RIGHT NOW. repeat after me, "MISSING CHILD! MISSING CHILD! AMBER ALERT! LOCK DOWN THE FACILITY!"
shut up shut up SHUT UP. okay. just wait until the lady with the badge is done talking about spotted Garibaldis and then ask her. come on, lady. she's talking too long. c'monc'monc'mon. shut up lady! shut up and look at me!"Um...excuse me...did you see the other little girl that goes with this one? She was petting the starfish...the sea stars...a minute ago? They're twins, but, um, they don't really look like each other?"
"No...I didn't see...is she..."
don't say "missing"..."She just wandered off. I'm sure she's right around here."
idiot. you think she knows something because of her ten cent badge? at least make an announcement. stand on that stone wall over there and yell at every one to look for a toddler. tell them what she was wearing. you remember what she was wearing, don't you? oh my god. you don't even know, do you? and you dressed her! idiot.
shut up. everything is just...kind of swirly right now. shut up. i've got this. shit--everyone is looking at us with that concerned "oh my god he's a terrible parent" face.
really? you're worried about what other people are thinking about you right now? holy shit. you're thinking about how to spin this into a blog post, aren't you? ASSHOLE. YOU. ARE. AN. ASSHOLE. well, at least you're going to get a shitload of pagehits, because your kid is HALFWAY TO TIJUANA IN THE BACK OF AN '87 WINDSTAR. ASSHOLE.
shut up. lavender shirt with a butterfly. pink pants with a little embroidered flowers on the pocket. also, you are racist.As calmly as I could, I asked the other couple of adults in the area to look out for her, and described her outfit. No one sprang into action though. They just looked at me, a little sadly.
what is that look? is that "aw, how sad. this imbecile is losing his shit"? or, "aw, how sad. this guy will never see his child again"?
it's both, asshole.With Butterbean under my arm, I jogged to the other side of the exhibit, where the stroller was parked.
No Cobra at the stroller.
I scanned the lobster pools. Nothing. The carp pond. No toddlers with butterfly shirts.
Then I looked down about four feet ahead of me, and there was Cobra, serenely playing with a plastic octopus, oblivious to everything around her, especially her jittery father.
oh, thank you god!
you believe in god now, dipshit?
shut up. i found her. no harm done.
you got lucky.I knelt down and deposited Butterbean next to some plastic lobsters. I gave Cobra a hug and asked her sweetly why she wanted to give me a heart attack, explaining that I'm a frail old man and didn't she want Daddy to make it to her high school graduation?
A mom with two kids looked at me with the same sad look as the others had earlier.
"Oh wow. She's been here for a while."
"She just got away from me. I looked down and she was gone."
The lady gave me a wan smile.
"Usually they stick right by me," I said. "Like, too much so. Hanging on my pant legs."
"Well, those days are over," she said.
"I guess so."