Most of my anecdotal memories from childhood, while funny, include some form of serious injury or (what my small-child’s perspective interpreted as) trauma. The tale below is an example of perceived emotional trauma caused by separation anxiety.
The Time I Got Lost at the Beach
Again, I remember this happening when I was five, but my family says I was more like three. My cool liberal aunt and uncle still lived in Houston, and my mom brought me and my siblings down to visit. I remember the car ride being the longest car ride in the history of vehicular transport, but nothing else terribly specific about the trip. Except for this:
One day, my aunt and uncle drove us down to Galveston to the beach (I think it was Stewart Beach, but I’m not entirely sure). I was, as you can image, terribly intimidated and awed by the vastness of the ocean. We played in the shallow water and built sand castles. Sunblock was painstakingly reapplied. At some point in all the fun, my aunt was done swimming and I needed to go to the bathroom. So she took me to the public restrooms so I could go potty and she could rinse off in the little shower that was in there and change into dry clothes. I was finished much more quickly than she was, and after about a millisecond of waiting, I was ready to go back out and play in the sand some more.
Now, my aunt may deny this. But this is how I remember it.
I asked my aunt if we could go back out to the beach, and she told me she wasn’t ready yet. I repeated my desire with my best small-child manners, and at last wore out her patience. My aunt told me to go out to the sidewalk and go to the right, and I’d find the rest of my family just a bit down the beach.
I don’t know how much interaction with three-year-olds my aunt had had at the time (she and my uncle never had any kids), but you can’t really blame her. I was always a little advanced for my years, and normally her confidence in my ability to do things independently would not have been misplaced. This instance, however was the exception.
Her advice was quickly acted upon; the only problem was that I didn’t know my left from my right yet. I left the restroom, went to the sidewalk, and turned in precisely the wrong direction.
This is when my real adventure began.
I wandered the beach for hours, climbing over sand dune after sand dune in search of my family. The sun beat down upon my tiny back, the wind blew sand in my face, and still I searched. In some time, my little-child’s mind came to the realization that I must have gone the wrong way, so I turned around in search of the restroom again. But I never found it. There was just more and more sand, more and more beach; my family, my aunt, and the restroom had vanished into thin air. It was at this point, when I began to wonder if I’d ever see my family again, that I started to cry.
My aloneness and sobs attracted the attention of a nice non-pedophilic man, who knelt beside me and asked me what was wrong.
“I can’t find my mommy,” I eeked out between sobs. “And I can’t find my sissy. And I can’t find my bubba. And I can’t find my Uncle Paul.”
“It’s alright, sweetie,” he said (this being one of the few times I allowed an adult to call me sweetie; the stink eye would have been a lot less effective through the tears). “We’ll find them. What’s your name?”
I proceeded to tell the nice stranger my full name, which I must have just learned.
He repeated my last name curiously. “And you said your uncle’s name is Paul?” When I had managed to squeak out a reply and nod, he smiled at me and took my hand. I remember nothing else about this man, but I swear I can still remember that smile. “Come on; I think we can find them.”
Holding the nice man’s hand, I followed him across the vast expanse of beach. We climbed a dune, and lo and behold, there was my entire family nestled behind it. My siblings were still playing in the sand and surf. My mom and uncle didn’t even look worried. My aunt wasn’t even back from the bathroom yet; I’d probably been gone less than five minutes.
I always thought that nice man was an angel. I think he turned out to be another police officer from my uncle’s precinct. Either way, I don’t remember ever again being left in my aunt’s charge.