It started softly…. the way an ambulance approaches from behind.
You hear the whining as it increases, piercing the part of your heart that knows someone, somewhere is suffering.
And in a split second a warning goes off in your brain that looks a little like this:
COOPER! I yell…..
And just like that Jeff and I trip over each other in a race to get out of the booth…. We have been sitting in a restaurant – not a fancy one – Penn Station – basically eat-in sandwiches. We are at the front. My sweet, desperate, screaming boy? Well, he is in the BACK.
And he is stuck in the bathroom. In the dark. And he is four. Only four. And I can hear how scared he is. Jeff is talking to him through the door. We are waiting for a manager to unlock the door for us. My buddy is crying. The manager can’t find the right key.
The light in the bathroom has a motion sensor. It turned on when the door opened. Coop locked the door and used the bathroom. But I guess he was a) too little to register or b) took too long…. because the light went off before he was done. And he couldn’t see to unlock the door.
And he’s four.
And he is petrified.
And I am feeling stabby. I’m swallowing the urge to panic. And debating throwing my self against the door in an effort to knock it down.
While we wait….while we keep our faces pressed against the door doing everything we can to keep him calm…. I register how the last few minutes unfolded.
And I’m horrified by a few things.
Definitely by the fact that he is stuck.
There are probably 10-12 other customers in the restaurant with us.
How many of them reacted when Coop started to scream? Just guess…..
And by scream… I mean…
It was a sound that scratched at my soul… and not just because he is mine, but because you could hear that he was terrified.
Not one. Not one of them even flinched. Not a flicker of concern. Not a moment of ‘wow, what’s that?’. Nope. Nothing. So, you mean to tell me, that every single person in that restaurant would have let him cry like that? For how long?
That hurts my heart more than I can begin to express. Not just because no one wanted to help my innocent little guy (that actually triggers the Mama Bear in me – in a way that made me want to bark at everyone as I walked out the door) but because I cannot believe this is where we are now as a society. I live in a SUBURB for God’s sake – and in this small community outside a big Midwest city – you know the kind of place people are always yapping about being a ‘great place to raise a family’…. even HERE they don’t care. And what is worse…. it struck me as a subconcious thing – since they didn’t even REACT to his screams.
How many times have we heard stories about people’s unwillingness to ‘get involved’? And now? I bear witness. And I am furious.
There is NO WAY they didn’t hear him and recognize is cries for what they were – a terrified plea from a child. (I’m looking at you – table of four sitting RIGHT NEXT TO THE BATHROOM IN THE BACK OF THE RESTAURANT)
When the Manager finally came back with the right key, my sweet small dude walked out of the dark and into my arms, burying his tear stained face in my neck. And it was all I could do to keep myself from kicking each and every person I passed on the way back to the front of the restaurant.
Coop kept whispering, “I thought I was going to be stuck in there forever.”
I promise, buddy, I would never let that happen…. not if I had to pry the door open with my fingers.
And I also promise, dear friends and strangers, if it is YOUR child screaming? I will be one of the first people out of my seat.
Because that is how I roll.
After we got home, and I had time to reflect, I realized I was disappointed not only in the customers, but in what I perceived to be a lax-I’ll-get-there-when-I-can attitude from the restaurant manager.
My baby is screaming and scared… I’m looking for URGENCY.
But rather than stew about it. I called them. I talked to the same guy who let Coop out. And he apologized for appearing nonchalant, but wanted me to know he was anything but…. He heard Coop right away but saw Jeff get back there so took a second to wash the food from his hands. He’s only been the manager for 3 weeks, so he had to call the owner to find the right keys. He was extremely nice. I felt better after talking to him.
Now…. if only I could call everyone else who was in there….