Fear Afloat

I’ve never been so scared in my life.

And let me put that in perspective. I’ve been shot at, had a knife held at my throat by someone who wanted me dead and been in riots. I’ve jumped out of planes, off towers and into misadventure frequently. I’ve often chased my curiosity passed the point most would. But never have I ever felt as sick to the stomach as the moment I couldn’t find one of my children.

We were on a cruise liner on holidays. Twin A broke right, Twin B broke left. I chased the quicker one but the other had rounded a corner by the time I swooped up the first. I wasn’t concerned at this point, just irritated by their behaviour of the previous hour and this seemingly co-ordinated escape plan.

I set off down the corridor, but no Gypsy. Rounding corner number three, still no sign, so I picked up the pace. Around the fourth corner and about to complete a rectangular journey, I stopped cold. There in the middle of the corridor was the stuffed turtle she carries everywhere. Everywhere. The one she wouldn’t even allow to go in her luggage.

I feel a chill down my spine. I scoop it up but my fast walk has become a run now. I complete the circuit to no avail and check into the lounge in the middle where the rest of the family is but she’s not there. I dump Rhapsody with grandma while I take off at a sprint: me one way, grand-dad the other. We meet without toddler.

I’m very calm in a crisis but I’m aware my heart-rate is higher than normal. The wife has checked in with a staff member who shows little concern, with an offhand: “It’s a ship – it’s not as if she can go far”. I widen the search doing the entire level at a sprint. By the 15-minute mark I’m checking toilets as I pass them trying not to think about the why of my actions. One level of 14 searched. Corridors and toilets anyway. By 25 minutes I’m almost frantic. In the face of gunfire calm, but here? I’m aware I’m starting to lose it. It’s at this point that I peer over the mezzanine and, luckily, spot my wandering daughter – perhaps determined to live up to her name – walking purposefully through the
crowds two floors below.

I fly down two flights of stairs quicker than Usain Bolt and sweep her up in my arms. Surprisingly, I have no anger in my system. Just relief and, oddly, I’m on the verge of tears.

Unlike her daddy, she is relatively calm and tells me she couldn’t find me so she was heading back to our cabin. She is almost there too (later I would marvel this was quite a feat for a three-year-old).

Later I would also wonder at how quickly my mind went to a bad place where I assumed the worst.

When did I go from fearless liver of life to vulnerable? The day I became a parent.

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