I was only a three year old child when I got lost in the middle of Orlando, Florida.
A sunny afternoon in 1993, when my family and I were vacationing to this popular city. It was very common to have Costa Ricans travel for leisure not just to Florida, but also to Panamá and San Andrés in Colombia. Not sure if that is still the case, however, internal tourism in Costa Rica has grown.
I remember that I was just bored, like any curious and active child would, especially when there was a pool nearby. I was at the hotel room, which I exited and ended up in a hallway with a balcony overlooking the pool and the hotel’s shared areas. Something like this, but not sure if this was the actual hotel:
I walked through the balcony, peacefully, like any happy child would, while contemplating the view. Several minutes after around, I decided it was time to head back with my family. I turned around and knocked on the first door I had in front of me, expecting my mom to open up. To my surprise, it was not my mother who popped out of the door, but some other person I did not recognize.
Innocently, I thought my family had forgotten about me and they had left to walk around without me. Hence, it was my duty to go look for them and catch up wherever they were. So I decided to walk down the hallway, down some stairs until I reached the lobby. In the lobby, I did not find them, so it was definitely my turn to go look for my parents and brother in the city.
Without anybody noticing, I walked a few more stairs out of the lobby and into the street sidewalks.
Finally, alone in the middle of a sidewalk in Orlando, Florida, I began my quest to find my family. I would look up to the sky and up until today, at my 28 years, I have the blurry image of the tall buildings of this particular city.
No idea how much time passed. No clue for how long I watched, nor how many streets I walked, nor how many meters I moved. What I know is that the perception of time one has as an adult is very different from the perception of time one has as a kid. When you are a kid, time usually goes by very slowly, you get bored and it is difficult to stay still because there an igniting curiosity to explore the world. As a child you lack malice and even emotional intelligence, I daresay. I know because school hours went by so slowly and I would count the seconds to finish!
As an adult, it’s very much the opposite. Time goes by too quickly, and experience makes you wiser and more conscious of your surroundings.
Suddenly I came upon a policeman in his motorcycle. He began to talk to me but at that time I had not learned English yet. I wasn’t even close to beginning by multilingual life yet. At that moment I only spoke Spansh and did not even know how to write. I was going to start learning in 2 years. On top of that, my echoic memory of this adventure is null. Everything I remember, I remember it as if it were a dream, and a soundless one.
Going back to the moment with the cop, I think I tried to explain to him that I was looking for my mother. I have no idea if he understood, but his first action was taking me to the convenience store of a Shell Gas Station and left me under the watch of the lady in the counter. It seems as though he asked her to look after me while they found my mother. I must clarify that during the whole adventure, I was very calm, especially when I was given one of those delicious ring pops that would make me feel like a little princess with her diamond sugar ring. What a better way to keep a child still and entertained!
My mother, when she told me her version of the story and I was at an age where I could understand the situation, I can easily connect the dots of this nearly tragical loss. When she noticed I was missing from the room, she went out looking for me all over the hotel, and eventually got to the lobby and ask for me. To her surprise, nobody had seen an awkward child walk out.
Nowaways I ask myself how can it be possible that the hotel staff did not even notice a three-year old girl walking on her own, parentless. Likewise, I ask myself why my family took so long to notice that I had unpurposefully escaped the hotel.
Either way, I was already very busy with my fabulous ring pop and noticed that the policeman was not at the gas station shop. Also, if you think about, as a little kid, I could not have walked very far, so the policeman definitely made it to the hotel where I was staying and coincidentally, my mom spotted the cop in the lobby talking to the reception staff. She didn’t think twice to approach him desperately.
My mother did not speak English and the cop did not speak Spanish, but after some sign language and tears, communication was achieved. Maybe one these shirts would have come in handy at that moment:
After the cop had brought my mother to the store in the gas station, we arrived to the following conclusion: the cop delivered and fulfilled his duty, my mother got the shock of her lifetime and I accomplished my exercise and sugar consumption for that day.
Up until today, I am thankful that nothing bad happened to me, like being run over by a car or even kidnapped. You never know what can happen to you. I just know I was lucky enough that the cop found my just in time, before any regrettable event happened. It could have been much worse, right?
Written by Emjay.