In a contest between which is more frightening – being lost as a child or being the parent of a lost child – the latter is the winner hands down.
However, here is a story of the former.
This is my story.
It is the summer of 1980. I am in the city of Avalon on the island of Santa Catalina located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
I am here as the guest of John, my grade-school friend, and his family as part of their annual vacation getaway to this island twenty-six miles across the sea.
Today is our last day on Catalina and, in fact, our boat is set to depart in an hour for the mainland. As a last hurrah, John’s parents allow him and I to spend our last moments in the video arcade. When we weren’t fishing on the pier, swimming in the ocean, playing pitch-and-putt golf, or simply walking around the city, this video arcade is where we spent a good deal of time.
In the arcade, John and I split up and I am most likely playing my favorite game of this vacation, Crazy Climber. So wrapped up in this game, plunking quarter after quarter into the machine to get my player up the building, that I lose track of the time. I glance at my watch and see that there is only twenty minutes before our boat leaves. I leave my game in the middle of playing (my apologies to my climber who lost his life hanging from the ledge) and dart around the arcade trying to find John.
He is nowhere to be found.
Thinking that maybe he is outside waiting for me and his family, I rush out of the arcade and furiously look around.
He and his family are nowhere to be found.
There are now only fifteen minutes before the boat leaves.
Thinking that maybe John and his family have already started on their way to the dock, I make a run to the pier where the boats leave. It’s a ten minute walk, but I cover the distance in under five minutes.
John and his family are nowhere to be found.
I am at such a loss to understand my situation and what my next steps are, that I actually go up to a policeman and ask, “Have you seen Mister [John’s last name]?”
Of course this officer has no idea who I am asking about and he politely tells me no. Before he can even ask me if I require any assistance, I am bolting down the road back towards the arcade in an effort to retrace my steps.
I am now in full panic mode.
It is close to five minutes to the time from where the means of transportation of taking me off this island is about to depart, I have no clue where are the people who a) are responsible for looking after me, and b) have the tickets.
I am imagining the panic John’s parents must be going through as they realize they cannot find me. I am imagining the panic that my parents will feel as John’s parents inform them that I could not be found. I am feeling my panic over how I will ever make my way back to the mainland.
I dash back to the arcade and in the plaza outside this video palace, I see John and his family by an ice cream kiosk enjoying a lovely treat. In fact, they are quite calmly eating their cold confections. Panting due to lack of breath from all the running, I do not say anything to them right off the bat. I am trying to think of what to say because my panic – while now subsiding – has still addled my brain.
While I gather my thoughts, John asks me if I want an ice cream also. He had tried to find me in the arcade when his parents came to get him, but he couldn’t locate me to ask me what flavor I wanted.
Now able to speak, I make some inquiry about the soon-to-be-departed boat and John’s father looks at me quizzically. John’s father says that the boat is not scheduled to leave for another hour.
I show John’s father the watch on my wrist showing that the time of the boat’s departure is nigh and John’s father quite simply and plainly tells me that my watch is fast. He shows me his watch which is displaying the correct time.
I have strawberry ice cream in a cone as it matches the flush of my cheeks.
That’s my story.
P.S. If you would like to hear about one of favorite movies that John and I saw that trip in the theater at the Avalon Casino…well, that’s a story for another day.