In my nearly 38 years on this Earth, there have only been two times when my life flashed before my eyes.
When I was 16 years old, my mother and I were involved in a horrible car crash. After coming to, I found myself gasping for air, my lungs working overtime trying to get a full breath. I frantically struggled with my seat belt trying to free myself. That's when it happened. These images of my life, more like snippets, flashed in my mind. It wasn't like I saw pictures of Christmases past or my first day of kindergarten. They were flashes of what could have been - I'd never had a boyfriend, never been asked to a school dance, never gone to college. In a few short seconds I thought So this is it. This is how it's going to end. On a beautiful, sunny September morning. Sitting next to my mother. A patch of blood seeping through the leg of my brand new jeans. My red backpack, stuffed to the gills, sitting at my feet.
Turns out that seat belts like to lock when you're in a crash. The gasping I was doing was because the wind was knocked out of me as the seat belt locked and I was thrown forward. After a minute or so my breathing returned to normal and my thoughts went from Oh my God, I'm dying to I'm going to be late for my French test. Oh how the mind works at a time like that.
The second time my life flashed before my eyes? Last night. During what should have been a fun night at the mall doing some Christmas shopping, Griffin managed to take off and get lost. We were only going to be there for a little while, just long enough for me to buy something for my Grandma at JC Penney and then off to see Santa. We forgot the stroller and when we saw that it cost $5 to rent one at the mall, Patrick decided we'd take turns holding Griffin since we wouldn't be there very long.
As I paid for my Grandma's gift, Patrick came around the corner and said, "Griffin's gone." The funny thing was that I didn't panic. Griffin's a fast little bugger and as soon as we stepped inside the mall, he took off running through the shoe department. I assumed he was just hiding nearby, but the look on Patrick's face told a much different story.
Patrick went in one direction and I went in the other. We shouted for him. We ran. We looked underneath tables and in between aisles. No Griffin, but I still wasn't panicked. It wasn't until I heard a voice on the intercom call for a "Code Adam" that my breath caught in my throat. I looked down and in my hands I was clutching Griffin's winter coat, his little fleece hat still nestled in his sleeve. I ran faster.
We got paged to one of the registers where I was immediately put on the phone with security. They asked me to describe Griffin. I wanted to tell them that he was the sweetest little boy who loved fire trucks and frosted cookies, but that's not what they were looking for. The call went out over the intercom and my sweet little boy was reduced to a few measly descriptions: Griffin Moore. Two-and-a-half years old. Short blond hair. Khaki pants. Red shirt. I dropped the phone and ran.
It was then when it hit me. For the past couple of minutes I just assumed he was hiding or that he'd run right past me. I envisioned seeing him and scooping him up in my arms. People are good, right? We had complete strangers running through the mall helping us look for him. Someone would see him and come find us. But that's not always the case. That's when I let my mind wander off a bit. That's when those could have beens flashed in my mind. He never got to sit on Santa's lap. He never had his first day of school. He never got to play with the red fire truck that we got him for Christmas. And me? What if I never saw him again?
Just as I was headed up the escalator, I saw Patrick out of the corner of my eye. He was holding a smiling Griffin. As I approached them, Griffin held out his arms, smiled at me, and said, "Mommy up!" And just like that it was over.
No tears were shed until I sat down to write this. In fact, once Griffin was safe and asleep in his race car bed, Patrick and I sat on the couch watching TV. Without even turning to me, he said, "I can't believe we lost our child at the mall." My first instinct was to laugh - just my habit of using humor and sarcasm to cover up some of the panic. We joked about it for a second because, let's face it, Griffin was sound asleep upstairs and all was right with the world. But then Patrick said it again a few minutes later and then again. And again. It sank in and I eventually crept upstairs and looked in on Griffin as he slept.
Just like that, he disappeared, and just like that, we found him. We were lucky. We know that. I will hug Griffin just a little bit tighter when he wakes up this morning...and every day from now on.