The four of us are all home, relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. After the events of yesterday, it feels like a dream. I’m still not convinced it is real.
Yesterday morning, I packed all of our beach going supplies – beach toys, towels, snacks, and the “get back in the car bag” with a gallon of water and washcloth to rinse of the sand and fresh towels to dry off with, and a change of clothes for everyone – and I got sun screen on the kids and myself – then I sent Taylor in to get Caleb dressed (she does that everyday now – she seemed so grown-up yesterday morning)….I was prepared like a boy scout for our day at the beach…except I wasn’t at all prepared for what our beach day turned out to be.
We had a lovely start.
We played in the sand and four-year-old-knee deep in the water. Then we went for a walk down to the tidal pool where both kids got a little more adventurous in the calmer waters. We collected shells, and walked back to our spot to find that some kind soul at Station 22 1/2 moved our chairs, shoes, and towels when the tide came in much faster than we anticipated. Those people at Station 22 1/2 are my absolute favorite people in the world.
Because shortly after we arrived back at our spot, the sand was blowing on Taylor’s legs and stinging, so I told her to go stand in the water a little so it wouldn’t hurt. She was no more than 5 feet from us. I got up to reposition Caleb so the sand wasn’t blowing in his face. I glanced at Taylor, who was standing ankle deep in the water. Then I sat back down. I have no idea how much time had passed, not much though I’m sure…but the next time I glanced at Taylor, she was not standing there 5 feet from us, ankle deep in the water. I didn’t see her anywhere. I jumped up and ran toward the water. My mom jumped up and grabbed Caleb and ran to the water’s edge. And we both began yelling and screaming Taylor’s name and repeating the phrase, “Have you seen a little girl – I can’t find my daughter – she’s four, has pigtails, and a pink bathing suit – her name is Taylor” Within seconds there was an army of kind strangers searching for her and asking others and calling 911.
I surveyed the beach from left to right…nothing.
I surveyed the water in front of me….nothing.
I got in the water, tried to rationally judge the current and undertow to discern where she might have been pulled. My greatest fear. Had a wave knocked her over? But she was only ankle deep. But the waves were getting stronger. And the tide was coming in quickly. And the undertow was getting stronger. There was a storm off the coast afterall. Was she scared? Where was she? Oh, God, where was she? Oh God, help me….help me…And I made my way up and down the beach in the water trying trying to feel for any sign of her…stopping periodically to ask strangers for help and to scan the crowds and the water.
I couldn’t find her. I don’t know how long it was, it felt like an eternity. Maybe 20 minutes at the most….but it was an excruciating 20 minutes. For the last 10 of those, I was convinced she was gone. I tried to hold on to hope. to pray. But I couldn’t see her. It had been too long. I couldn’t see her. I was running around the beach and in the water like a lunatic with the most horrible thoughts going through my head. My lungs and heart felt like they were going to explode.
My mom kept asking people for help. By this point, she would say “I’m looking for a little girl” and they would respond, “so are we”.
The police SUV finally arrived with its blinking lights – then a jeep with jet skies for the water search. OH, GOD!
I was devastated. The hope was getting smaller, but the prayers were getting stronger and more desperate. I was out of the water; stumbling back toward the rescue team… delirious.
Then the most beautiful wonderful man in the world ran up to me and yelled, “They found her….she’s ok….she wasn’t in the water” And I sprinted those 200 yards back to where the police SUV was and saw her, safe and sound and dry, and I could not run fast enough. I hugged her; she felt like a dream.
And all of the adrenaline that had been holding back the tears set them free and I lost it. She kept asking, “mommy, why are you crying?” I couldn’t speak. The officer was trying to ask my name and address and phone number. I couldn’t speak.
Some kind soul came and offered me his towel because I’m sure I looked like a drowned rat from the ocean and the tears. I said “I’m ok” – he knew I wasn’t and insisted.
After a few minutes, we got up to walk back down the beach together, the missing four year-old with the pigtails and the pink bathing suit with her lunatic mother to make sure that all the people who were looking knew she had been found. As we walked back so many strangers hugged me. With utmost genuineness, they told me they were so glad she was ok. I’m so thankful for them. They are the ones who found her. Two young guys in their 20s knew that we were looking and saw her…asked her if she was ok. She told them she was looking for her mommy, and they said they knew where her mommy was and brought her to where Grammy was waiting. Heroes, right there on the beach…just relaxing on vacation on a care-free holiday weekend. Heroes.
We had been looking mostly to the right because that’s the direction the current and wind were going. But she was found to the left. She was found.
As I look back, it’s all crazy. Rationally looking back, there was little chance she was in the water because if a wave had knocked her down and she was struggling in the water, there were so many people there, that someone would have seen her and helped her. But in the moment, I was not so rational. I was in survival mode. I wasn’t looking that hard on the beach because if she was on the beach, she would be ok….but if she was in the water….
It doesn’t seem real. All last night, every time I would wake up (which was often) the images would flash back into my mind and I would think it had been a nightmare…then I would realize it was real, and I would weep. Still now, I can’t think about it without crying. And I can’t not think about it. I’m hoping by getting it all out here that I’ll be able to stop thinking about it….to stop playing the what ifs? in my mind.
Today, I am so thankful….thankful that Taylor is ok. So thankful for all those strangers at Station 22 1/2. Thankful for the guys who found her….for the guy who ran to tell me they had found her…thankful for the guy who offered his towel…thankful for the many women, moms themselves, who hugged me tightly…thankful for my mom who held on tightly to Caleb and searched in earnest while I was a lunatic…thankful for Caleb, who must have sensed something was wrong, because he stayed there in my mom’s arms, not trying to get down at all, which is very unlike him.
We are so lucky. I have heard those news stories of the unlucky ones. I can’t imagine. I experience a fraction of the despair for 10 minutes, and it was unbearable. For those parents who experience the fullness forever, I pray.
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