Panic is just a deficit in the imagination, right? Like not being able to squeeze any alternatives beside the Single Awful Possibility that is ballooning up in your brain.
Last time I looked she was directly in front of me, practicing the flopping and bouncing and splashing that are her way of swimming right now. She puts everything but her face in the water. But now there is no sign of her.
I've jumped up from the blanket, strode into the water.
There's a scratchy bellow in my voice. There's an edge of a scream. The lifeguard is looking the other way. The other moms around me, strangers, are looking at me, then the water.
"MIIIAH! MIIIAH! MIIIAH!"
The mothers point to the beach. She's there. Playing in the sand at the water's edge. Now I feel my heart banging. I start run-wading to shore, my legs slowed by the water, like in a dream.
A woman in a protective long shirt and sun hat says as I pass her, "I know that tone of voice." I grab her hand and give it a quick squeeze on the fly.
What can I say to my daughter? I was not so scared that I'm angry. There's no tight fist in my chest, just this banging. "I didn't know where you were! I was scared!"
"I answered you," Mia says, nonplussed, her eyes still on her sand work. "I heard you and I called, 'Mom, I'm here.'"
I had kept looking at the water. I didn't look at the safety of the beach.