We were in a department store.
I was looking at tee shirts and she was right next to me.
She said "Mommy, I'm just going to get a sip of water from that fountain right there."
Totally out of character in public, where everyone is plotting to steal my child, I just nodded and let her go off.
Before getting back to me, she must have caught sight of her sister who I had said could go look at earrings and shoes, in another aisle. She must have decided it was fine to go with her. She tells me now that she knew she was safe. I didn't.
I looked over one shoulder and mumbled "Meg..." as I sized up a really cute ruffled shirt.
I looked up and around and behind me and said, louder, "Meghan."
No tiny little shadow anywhere around me.
I looked over to the water fountain, down one aisle, down another. I ran into the washrooms, to where they keep the purses and belts and jewelery. She was not in any of those places. I started to get frantic. I wondered if perhaps as she was sipping her water someone noticed she was alone and just scooped her up. Or, maybe she had come back to where I had been and was gone and now she was running frantic like I was?
With my heart pounding, my head whirling and my hands shaking, I went back to the tee shirts and still, no Meg.
How I managed to say "Excuse me?" to a clerk is beyond me.
The clerk could see I was upset so she looked a little panicked.
"Have you seen a little girl. She is wearing a black coat, brown skirt and red tights. She has brown hair and brown eyes and she coughs a lot. You can hear her cough if you listen! Can you page her? Please page Meghan to come back here. She won't know where here is, but at least you can let her know I'm looking for her."
The tiny little clerk didn't freak, but she ran from me. I totally forgot they have procedure for stuff like this - procedures where they shut everything down. But I thought "Screw it. Find me my kid!"
As she talked to a manager I started to run. I ran and I yelled and I didn't care who thought I was nuts. I had on a wool turtleneck and my whole upper body was stinging and itching with sweat from my panic.
I stopped suddenly. And I knew it was her. Just like I had told the clerk, if you listened, you could hear her cough. I heard her cough. It was the best sound in the entire world.
There she was. Smiling and laughing with her big sister in the pet department. So not a cool place for them to be without me knowing, but they won't do it again. It was better than where she could have been. At that point, she could have been buying a fish for all I cared.
I scooped her tiny little body up and didn't even have the heart to scold her or her sister. We found the clerk, thanked her and assured the manager that we were okay.
I never, ever, want to relive those minutes where I didn't know where she was. I know she's not the first to do this. Hell, I did it to my mother! Still, not knowing where your child could be? Killer. Awful. Complete and total kick you in the gut pain.
Wine waits me now. Well deserved I think.