Suburban Snapshots

Captain Oblivious

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When I was twenty years old, I almost accidentally killed a guy.

I was driving a jet ski for the first time out on the Long Island Sound, towing a friend on an inner tube. Because I had never operated any kind of watercraft previously, and because we were twenty-year-old idiots, he wore no life preserver. We hit some wake, he flopped off of the tube and I, believing any number of falsities about the depth and expanse of the Sound, drove off oblivious to my friend's peril. Ten minutes later he was rescued, flailing, by a fishing boat.

One of the men on that boat sent a letter to the editor of a local Hamptons paper, dubbing me "Captain Oblivious." I felt hideous that day and it took ages before I could even think about what I'd done without feeling gnawing, gut-churning shame over my carelessness, imagining how much worse things could have turned out.

I've had many, many moments of being inattentive, zoned out, unaware of my surroundings — the time I mistakenly took a stranger's hand thinking she was my mother and walking half a mall corridor before realizing my mistake, for example — but none as potentially tragic as this one. It's not a trait I'm proud of and now that I'm responsible for keeping track of another human being, sometimes it's pretty terrifying.

I worry for two reasons; the first is that I see hints of this same affliction already in Anna, who spent most of our time in airports this week walking blindly in front of golf carts and luggage trolleys, and tripping up senior citizens. The second is that it is I, Captain Oblivious, who's supposed to not only teach her to be attentive, but be focused enough myself to keep her out of danger.

Last week in a classic scenario that has for generations significantly reduced the lifespan of parents, Anna hid herself in a clothing rack at the mall. I knew where she had gone. All of the logic centers of my brain were saying, "Yup. Right behind the cute jeans on clearance for four-dollars that are, of course, only available in size 00." But that twinge of panic was still there, "What if you slide those pants apart and she's not in there? What if someone carted her off while you weren't paying attention?"

Anna pulled a similar stunt on Steve waiting in line at Disney World, and I was relieved to hear that his reaction was similar to mine — that he knew she could only be inches away (she had repositioned from in front of his knees to right behind them), but the realization that she'd gone out of his sight in a split second set off some parental DEFCON alert.

Between Steve and me I'm pretty confident we can keep Anna well-wrangled, but with my tendency for distraction and Anna's inability to focus, it might be best if she and I have a chaperone for a few years.

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