"Jasmine, stop playing! Where are you?"
My 25-year-old bitchy, pseudo-hipster self scoffed at a woman who'd name her daughter after a Disney character. I got in line to pay.
"Jasmine! Jasmine!" The woman began stalking the aisles, calling out the little girl's name.
The music took on a bam-bam-bam heavier beat, a mocking soundtrack to the woman's voice, which was pleading now, choked with the anticipation of tears.
"Jasmine! Please! It's not funny."
I'm ashamed to say I wasn't the first to step forward. It was the woman next to me who did, adding her voice. "Jasmine!," she called out, and left her place in line, heading in the opposite direction of the mother. I did have enough sense about me to push up to the registers and ask the kids to turn the music off.
"No," one said.
"We don't know how," said another.
"Find a way to turn it down," I said. I left my stuff on the counter and called, "Jasmine!", and began walking circles through the store. A minute or two went by. The music cut out. More women shouted the girl's name. The mother, frantic, the tears coming freely now, dashed through the racks. Someone ran out to the street--the busy, bustling, high-traffic street--and then we all knew this moment could get bigger than us. Much bigger. The mother slowed for just a second, as she realized every bit of the store had been scrutinized. "911," she said. "911," women repeated, and there was a mad rush to the register and they scrambled to find the phone. I looked at the mother and my insides shook, unsteadying my legs and hands and the muscles around my mouth. Fear. Naked, desperate, wild, frightening. As frightening as anything I'd ever seen.
And then, in less than five minutes, it was over. A Gap worker handed Jasmine off to the mother, and the little girl--so little--wailed as the mother grabbed her. A flurry of activity and they were gone. The mother hadn't waited around for an explanation; she'd gotten out of the store as quickly as she could. I doubted she'd ever be back.
The women asked the Gap employee for the story. Unlike the mother, who had her daughter to hold onto, we needed the story.
"She was in the storage room," he said. "She closed the door behind her."
"Oh," we all said, and stumbled back in line to pay for our stuff.
I only told my sister about it. And when I did, I cried. Maybe it's true what some people say about the 97% of our brains we don't use, that one of those percentage points is taken up with scenes from our future, and every so often a little bit leaks into our consciousness and we experience deja vu. Maybe this incident struck me so hard because I knew I'd be at a mall with a toddler one day, a little guy who thought it was hilarious to hide behind a display at Old Navy. Or that I'd be running down the street calling my almost ten year old's name, only to find him at a friend's, playing Wii bowling. Maybe that's why I recognized that fear; I knew it was inside me.
After that incident, and especially after I had kids of my own, I couldn't watch a TV show or a movie about a kid getting snatched or read a book about children gone missing. It hurt too much. Those narratives poked at the fear always residing in the pit of my belly.
Until, for some reason, this weekend (You didn't know this would end with a book recommendation, did you?). I picked up Losing You, a thriller by the husband and wife writing team known as Nicci French. It's about a mother's hunt for her teenage girl who disappeared while on her paper route. A pretty by-the-numbers thriller, but it captured that fear with such brutal, encompassing force, I couldn't put it down. Maybe I admired the skill, the technique, and I guess I could separate my fear from the character's, or maybe, it was a case of classic catharsis.
I still won't touch The Lovely Bones, though.