"We can't forget Kitty."
Our 2-year-old insists her stuffed cat, her favorite, sit on the bench facing us in the cab from Nassau airport to our resort. So there he is, on a black beach blanket with neon Bahamas lettering, staring at us, daring me to leave him.
My husband sits in the way back, and as K wriggles around to stand and face him, in a moving vehicle with no seat belts or car seat, I struggle to keep her from flying into danger, struggle to not hate myself for putting her there (so unsafe!), and remind myself again: "Absolutely do not forget Kitty."
When we arrive at the resort, my parents, who we're meeting, aren't there yet, so we wait, with a tired and hungry toddler who, thank goodness, finds a play area. She rearranges kid-size chairs till my husband secures a room number and keys. Then we head up, carrying not a lot of luggage minus the toddler but way too much if you factor her in. At one point, my arms give out, and I say, "I can't do this." To which kind strangers respond with an offer to help, and assurance that we "would have fun—promise!"
We aren't so sure.
Up in the room our girl starts to melt down, and when she is lying on the floor kicking her legs, I am grateful, so grateful, that she isn't asking for Kitty. Because I can't find him anywhere.
"Oh, sh*t. Kitty," I say to my husband.
"No, I saw you carrying him. He's in the diaper bag."
I look in the bag again, hoping there's some secret pocket large enough to hold a 12-inch stuffed cat that I've missed.
Nope. We have done the very bad thing that we told ourselves we absolutely could not do. We have forgotten Kitty.
As the final nail in my self-worth's coffin, I realize I have lost my phone, too. I can see it in the play area just as clearly as I can see Kitty on that Bahamas blanket, now staring at some other family who, with their toddler squirming toward sure injury, are having the same realization we are—a relaxing family vacation is a lie.
In a lucky break (so out of place on this day) that will turn out to be not so lucky (much more in sync with this day), the cab driver has given my husband his card. While I go downstairs to find my phone and retrace our steps in case we dropped Kitty, my husband calls him. I feel certain that Kitty is there, and we'll just have to pay him to come back here again. But the driver says he isn't there. Did he look everywhere? Yes, he says, Kitty's not there.
That is how my husband recaps it to me, and when I refuse to take no for an answer, because I am also refusing to accept that I've lost the-apple-of-my-daughter's-eye-best-friend-forever-source-of-comfort-always-Kitty, he says I can call the driver, too, if I want to. So I do.
"I just spoke to your husband," he says. "I know, I know," I reply, but I think Kitty is on that black blanket with the neon Bahamas all over it. "No, I told your husband. He's not here." I say OK, but could he look again? Kitty is my daughter's favorite and she's very upset (a lie—she is sufficiently distracted by gift shop mac 'n' cheese and her grandparents at this point), but that doesn't change his answer.
"Could I pay you to come back so I can look for myself?" I ask. I believe he has looked; he just hasn't looked well enough—no offense. He asks for our room number. If he comes back, he'll call up from the lobby. Or, he'll break into our room later and leave something unsavory on our rug. Because I looked, lady! Stop harassing me!
Rather than wait for him to call up, if he does return at all, I decide to go back downstairs. At this point K has picked up on our hushed tones and is starting to wonder what's up. Every few minutes, she'll go, "Where's Kitty?" with her little palms upturned.
I start to ask everyone who even remotely looks like they work at the hotel if they have seen a stuffed orange cat. No. No. No. No. Did I check the lost and found?
Just out front, where new guests arrive, I find the woman who showed my parents to their room. Has she seen Kitty? No, she says. At first. But then adds that she did see so-and-so from security holding some kind of stuffed animal and taking it to wherever security takes unattended objects. Apparently this is different from the lost and found.
"Oh! Was it an orange cat?" I ask.
She isn't sure. She just remembers them holding a stuffed...something. But she will ask them.
She walks away, beyond the front gate, around a corner to where I can't see her.
I stand around with the bellhops and wait. They greet and assist guests. I startle and confuse them: a harried, overheated woman, still wearing her mid-fall-in-New-England jeans and pullover, staring into a vague space over their shoulders. What was she looking for? Why did she keep knotting her hair at the base of her neck? (A nervous tick.)
At last, the woman reappears.
"They're going to bring it you," she says.
"Did they say if it was an orange cat?" I ask.
"They're not sure. They're going to bring it to you so you can see."
At this point, I'm not sure. Kitty's not an ambiguous orange cat. He's not one of those stuffed things with exaggerated eyes and unicorn coloring. He looks like a real kitten.
It was like asking someone if they've seen your football, and they respond that they did see someone carrying a ball, but they're not sure if it was a football.
So, I'm becoming less convinced that they do have kitty. They would know if they did.
Or, maybe there's another reason.
A general consensus that my and my husband's darting eyes and sweaty states could mean only one thing—drugs! We are two parents tweaking out. And sewn within kitty are our precious drugs. The good stuff.
And that's why it's taking so long, why they won't admit they have him. They are chasing a phantom. They can't believe that all of this is just about a stuffed cat. They are not parents yet. So they keep looking for the drugs.
But I'm not going anywhere. And eventually, they give up.
A man across the lot waves and points to the woman.
"He's getting it now," she tells me. "He'll bring it here for you to see."
More waiting. More hair-knotting. More guests who hope whatever happened to me does not happen to them.
And then there he is. "Keeeeeety!" I squeal.
"Yep, there are drugs," the security guy thinks.
Before he hands him over, I have to sign a sheet identifying myself, the date and time, and what I am taking: "stuffed orange cat"—but oh so much more.
Walking back to the room, I still look "off" but in a completely different way. My eyes are open wide with a clear, steady focus. And I'm unable to stop smiling. An hour ago, I was ready to turn myself into child protective services. And now, I'm ready to nominate myself Mother of the Year. And that is parenting. Just as quickly it knocks you down, it raises you up. In this moment, I am a superhero flying high.
I knock on our room door. My husband answers, sipping on some straight rum—that's how he's feeling. I hold up Kitty like a trophy.
"Hooray!" he says.
My tiny daughter walks up behind him, scoots around his legs to see. It's her turn to squeal.
Now we are having fun.
Until two hours later, when we can't find her blankie.