When we were on vacation, I lost Riley for a while at an aquatic rec center. If you’ve been to Sunriver’s SHARC on a hot day, you know what it’s like: every cubic foot of water absolutely teeming with people, kids everywhere you look. The only way that pool could possibly be more crowded is if there were a dedicated staff of employees pushing people into the water like those white-gloved subway packers in Tokyo. JB and I were sitting nearby while the kids played, then one of us gradually realized we hadn’t seen Riley in a while. It was visual chaos trying to scan the scene, the only way I could make sense of all the thrashing, squealing activity was to section it off into a sort of mental grid before moving on. B7 is clear, Captain! Eventually JB was on one end and I was on the other, and the more time went by, the more I wondered what our next step should be. When exactly do you stop worriedly peering around and start to, you know, completely fucking panic?

The thing that kept me from unraveling, I guess, is that while the presence of people make parsing the area difficult, the water itself was somehow reassuring. Clear as a bell, bright noon sunshine illuminating its every nook and cranny: no shadowy submerged bodies, or anything. Still, it was of course slowly, increasingly awful until suddenly it wasn’t, because there he was and had been all along. Towheaded and be-goggled, just like 895 other same-sized kids.

It’s funny how the entire vibe of the place changed for me after that. Up until then I’d been sort of enjoying the shitshow of it all, gazing around at the throngs of people and playing a rude little mental game of Fake or Real? with regards to how various women filled out their bathing suit tops. Afterwards everything took on a sinister vibe, like a horror movie where things appear to be normal but there’s a pervasive sense of inexplicable dread. I felt like I kept getting slow-mo glimpses of people laughing: Muh ha. Ha. Ha. Haaaaaa. Somewhere, an invisible person on a cello steadily ground out the Jaws theme. All the surgically enhanced boobs held poison darts.

But in the end it was all okay, and isn’t it weird how many stories like that we all have? The thing that could have gone totally sideways but didn’t, or at least didn’t completely, and you’re left thinking about how life is just one big old Choose Your Own Adventure book only most of the time you don’t get to choose to flip back to the page that drove the outcome. On the first day of our vacation Dylan went flying off a hotel bed and and smashed headfirst into a table, total blood-spurting disaster, and after we’d made the heart-pounding drive to an Urgent Care and a kindly doctor sewed his brow bone shut I thought, Jesus, less than an inch lower and he maybe would have lost an eye, and on it goes, a million zigzagging what ifs, and I think that’s what drives some people to become nasty judgmental parenting-topic trolls, it’s the belief that you can actually control all that shit. Can you imagine that burden? It must like living at the top of Everest, clinging to a freezing rock and forever gasping for a full breath.

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