Let’s start with the scope of the day.
I had been on upped medications due to thoughts of suicide and high anxiety. It had been three days of taking the new dosages, and they tended to make me sleepy. (For example, when we went to my son’s Special Olympics bowling tournament, I actually went into the bowling alley’s bar, laid down on the couch, and took a twenty minute nap…the couch was surprisingly comfy.)
My husband was stuck in a meeting in the city.
We had made reservations for this awesome event called “Caring Santa” for my autistic son back on November 2. It was the only way to guarantee we could get in to see him.
And now it was December 6.
The “Caring Santa” was at a mall. A mall about an hour’s drive away. I hadn’t driven that far since I’d been on the higher level of meds in case I got tired.
There was no way I wasn’t going to try to take him.
My neighbor’s daughter (who can drive, even if she’s not wildly fond of highway driving) agreed to come with because, well, it was a mall! And she said she would help and even drive, if absolutely necessary.
So off we went.
We got to the mall a little early, and rather than let my son potentially melt down too much over the wait, and because he had totally fallen asleep in the backseat, I drove in circles around the mall for about 10 minutes, then decided it was close enough.
Plenty of spots in the parking lot since the mall wasn’t even open yet – that’s one of the perks of “Caring Santa.” It happens before the mall is open, and it’s by appointment only. You don’t have to wait in a line, and the mall is much quieter than it would be during normal hours. (If you have a child with special needs, I highly recommend you check and see if there is one in your area you can sign up for next year!)
I noted the “neighborhood” we parked in. The mall is so big that it has neighborhoods. You have to know where you went in to figure out where to go out. It’s massive. It’s huge. It’s awe-inspiring. And it’s very, very easy to get lost and die of dysentery.
The beginning of the trip went great. My son got to see Santa, even if he did freeze up like Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story’ and nod and agree that he wanted video games (which he never plays). But he loved seeing Santa. Then my neighbor’s daughter grabbed breakfast from the food court while I took my son on the merry go round.
So far, so good.
We went shopping. I bought a few small gifts for people, stocking-stuffer level items, and we looked at a lot of things we couldn’t afford but were pretty.
Then we decided to leave.
And that’s when we started on the Oregon Trail.
I swore we came in at neighborhood six. My teenage companion demanded that was wrong – we did *not* come in there. She didn’t remember it as being where we entered. And I began questioning myself. Maybe I was just so used to coming in through six that I was imaging it.
All I remembered was that we had come in, turned right, saw a huge sign pointing to Santa, and walked to Santa in a few minutes.
Now I couldn’t find that sign at all.
Had they taken it down? Moved it? Perhaps it had caught fire and burned to a crisp while we were in another part of the mall? (It could happen!)
We began walking. We passed neighborhood eight. Then one. Then two. Then three. All of it looked familiar because we had gone past it before when we walked the mall.
The teen insisted that we had come in near Hot Topic because that was the first store she’d gone into. I pointed out that was only because it had been one of the first stores to open, and she’d gone into it while we were waiting for Santa to be ready.
I kept thinking things were familiar, but then we’d get to the exit, and it would look wrong. We must have passed neighborhood six three times. Every time I thought we were finding our exit, we’d come up on Santa again. Since Santa was not at our entrance, we were wrong.
I began freaking out.
We were trapped in the mall.
We’d never get out.
We would die there.
Dysentery would set in.
We’d be found huddled in the food court, or maybe in one of those short little hallways that led to the entrances and exits used by mall workers.
We’d be desiccated corpses.
The mall would be the death of us.
But we pushed on, bravely, I thought.
Apparently, though, my cracks were showing.
My anxiety had gone sky-high, and I was literally freaking out, convinced that we would never find the right exit. We would never find the car. We’d have to go to the police. They would think I was hopped up on drugs, and next thing I’d know, I’d be under arrest for something, and my son and the teenager would be waiting on someone to pick them up while I got processed at some station where I had to pee in public and have someone do a cavity search on me.
I turned to the teen. She had been texting.
“Who are you talking to?”
“You’re scaring me.”
I was scaring her.
“I’m not scaring you,” I told her. “I’m just getting a little anxious is all.”
She raised an eyebrow at me and kept her hand in her phone.
“Look, I told you I was anxious, right? Well, I’m just a little more anxious now because I can’t find our way out, and we’re going to die in the mall.”
Okay, maybe I was scaring her.
“Why don’t we just try every exit?” she suggested.
Bad idea. I knew it was a bad idea. My son was not good with changes in schedule. If we started going out every door, he was going to be very unhappy when we didn’t go to the car and leave. He was tired from all the walking. I was tired from all the walking. And my hip – which flared up with what I’m hoping is not arthritis – hurt like crazy, adding to my anxiety.
But I didn’t know what else to do.
“Sure,” I said.
What else could go wrong?
We went out at neighborhood five. I pressed the panic button on the car, even though the exit didn’t look at all familiar.
“Let’s go back in,” I said.
The teenager’s shoulders’ slumped. “Oh, I thought this was it.”
My son had a minor meltdown. He thought we were leaving, but suddenly we were back in the mall.
“That’s it,” I said. “I swear it’s neighborhood six, so I don’t care what you think, we are bloody well going out at it.”
And we walked to neighborhood six.
I turned in a circle at neighborhood six. There it was, the sign for Santa.
We went down the little hallway, and – shazaam! – the car was out there waiting for us!
I wound up with a very tired son, a very sore hip, and a crying teenager who thought she had hindered more than helped.
On the plus side, we survived the Oregon Trail, and we had cute Santa pictures to show for our travels. On the negative side, I have learned that anxiety at a mall really, really sucks when you don’t know where you’re going.