I wrote this on November 1, 2014, but I needed to put distance between it happening and posting it.
I had grabbed the keys to my friend’s house in order to run ahead of the group and use the bathroom.
“You want me to wrangle the kids?” My friend asked, as she pointed out the shortcut back to her house.
“Yes, please!” I shouted as I half-sprinted away.
Our neighborhood pretty much blows when it comes to Halloween. It’s a dull neighborhood for the kids to Trick-or-Treat through, and we never get more than half a dozen doorbell rings for candy. Last year we (and other friends) had a fantastic time walking through my friend’s neighborhood, and considering Jack found out just over a week ago that he would have to work on Halloween, we opted for the safety in numbers of returning to the same neighborhood this year. I didn’t even bother buying any candy for our house.
We worked our way through the neighborhood with our throng of costumed kids — some parents in the lead, others bringing up the rear, the rest of us roaming the middle. I kept counting my kids (as is my routine), occasionally jogging up to the front to remind my boys not to run… don’t go past so-and-so… listen to what the parents in the front were saying.
There was my robot-skeleton-zombie. There was my green-glow skeleton. There was my black and pink ninja. And all around us was my village.
Things felt very safe.
Toward the end of our route, as we were deciding to make a beeline for the house that traditionally gives out cotton candy (I brought wipes this year! And we had water! We so had this!), we found ourselves at a driveway with an instant photo booth. Halloween-themed prints for the kids in costumes. They were handing out business info with the pictures. Brilliant.
Miranda hung back while her brothers raced forward. She didn’t want her picture taken. “You don’t have to do it, Lovebug,” I had told her. “Your choice.” She held my hand for a bit and hugged my leg, deciding to be shy for a moment. I started chatting with another mom, and Miranda skipped away toward a friend.
The other kids ran back with their photos, and the group started to move. One mom was hanging back. “Anybody left over there?” I asked her. “Just one,” she replied. “But it’s okay.” She motioned that it was okay for me to go ahead.
And for some reason, I stopped counting.
We found the cotton candy house, and I started handing out wipes to anyone who needed one. Some parents were taking pictures of the kids all sitting there enjoying the treat. We all decided to head back to the house. After all, Ethan and some other kids had early soccer games the next day. I didn’t want it to be a long night.
And somehow I didn’t stop to count.
I was distracted. I had to use the bathroom badly. I grabbed the keys from my friend and ran ahead, feeling secure in knowing my kids were in good hands.
And for the two that were still with the group, they were.
I came out of my friend’s house just as the group was coming through the shortcut into sight. I started my count, not realizing that I hadn’t done it for a while.
Ethan was attempting to negotiate with me to stay and watch the movie. And there was Henry in his green-glow skeleton. And there’s… no, that’s not my ninja girl.
“Where’s Miranda?” I asked.
“She’s right over there,” said someone.
“Where are you looking?” I asked, starting to feeling a little bubble of panic. “I don’t see her.”
“Right there,” he pointed. “Oh… Sorry, that costume looks like hers.”
The bubble quickly grew, and my heart jammed in my throat. I yelled toward the parents who were in the back.
“Miranda’s back there with you, yes?”
Heads shook. Then I saw my friend take off running in the direction from which the group had returned. One of the dads followed suit.
“Oh my god,” I whispered, and took off after them.
I kept yelling for her, all the while thinking that I would certainly be getting a phone call from the group back at the house that she was there all along… that she had run in to use the bathroom or something. This wasn’t real, right? This wasn’t really happening. She was going to be back at the house and we were all going to joke about how my friends had “lost” my little girl. But no one was shouting from behind me that she was there.
This was actually happening.
I ran, yelling for her, asking everyone I passed if they’d seen a little girl in a ninja costume. My slip-on shoes kept slipping off. My heart was racing. My ears were ringing. A few (I think?) moments after I caught up to my friend I heard someone say something like, “We found Abi.”
So single-minded was I that I immediately thought, “No. We are looking for MIRANDA.”
My friend was next to me, talking with a woman wearing flashing-red devil horns, and somehow over my rising panic I heard, “She’s okay. She’s with my husband. He’s a Sheriff.”
I completely fell apart, and if it weren’t for this dear, dear friend who held my arm and steered me in the direction the devil-horned woman had pointed, I don’t know if my legs would have worked.
I felt like we walked for ten minutes before I saw my little girl, held up high and smiling, I dropped my purse and ran. I grabbed her and held her and didn’t let go.
A voice to my right: “Is this Mom?”
“Yeah, this is definitely Mom,” another voice said.
The Sheriff, a happy, good-natured man, said “Well, I know your name, and I know Miranda has a twin brother and a nine-year old brother. I know where she goes to school and I hear you have a huge office. I know just about everything… except your phone number!”
I was on the ground with Miranda in my arms at that point. I was trying not to bawl. “We’ve been working on that.” I murmured something about how I’d been teaching the kids that each section of our number is a palindrome.
As I lifted Miranda up, she smiled down at me and asked me if I’d saved any cotton candy for her. I felt like I was going to throw up because it was at that moment that I realized that she had gotten separated from the group while I was still there. I lost my little girl and I hadn’t even known it.
I looked around me and saw not only my friend, but three of the dads from our group, and the gratitude I felt loosened the already-tenuous hold I had over my tears.
“Mommy, are you happy crying?”
“Yes, love. I am so happy that we found you.”
“I’m happy that I found you, too, Mommy. I was lost and you were lost and now we found each other.”
I love my friends. I love my village. I cannot imagine going through something like that without their unconditional support and love. They ushered Miranda into the house to join her brothers and the other kids watching the movie, and helped me to calm down and breathe.
When we finally made it home, after shoes and costumes were removed and teeth were brushed, I had all three kids climb into bed with me. “Daddy and I will bring you to your beds when he gets home in a few hours.”
As the boys settled down on either side of me, and Miranda on top of me, I kept thinking about the question she asked on the drive home. The question to which I had no answer.
“Mommy? Where did you go when I was lost?”
Trick-or-treating last year was quite stressful for me — I was a shaking mess, and Miranda loudly proclaiming to all who would listen that she wasn’t going to let go of my hand because she got lost the year before certainly didn’t help keep me steady, but we got through it.
Hopefully it will be easier tonight.