My column from the Dec. 29, 2010, Mille Lacs Messenger:
My kids love malls, and they especially love THE mall, the quintessential, prototypical, evil incarnate, iconic mother of all malls — The Mall That Shall Not Be Named. I like to do things that make my kids happy, so I took them to said mall on Saturday, Dec. 18 —the busiest day in 19 years, someone told me.
After driving through one ramp and finding no place to park (insert ironic “no room at the inn” reference here), I dropped Diane and the kids off, resigned to park downtown and take the light rail if I had to.
I found a spot on the very top of one of the ramps and got a text from Diane, saying my 15-year-old daughter, Cedar, was on her own. I texted Cedar and got no response. I called and got no answer.
Great, my daughter was lost in the Mall of Satan, and my wife had made no backup plan. No time to meet. No “what if” scenarios.
I was ready to divorce her.
It was quite a comedown from an hour before, when we had been eating burgers at the Lions Tap. I took Diane and the kids there as a surprise because it was the day after the 20th anniversary of our second first date, which took place at the Lions Tap on Dec. 17, 1990.
She hadn’t even noticed that I was not on the road to the Mall, our eventual destination. She looked up from her phone as I pulled in the parking lot. “Oh, the Lions Tap,” she said. “We came here once.” It was slowly dawning. “We came here on our first date.”
“Do you remember when that was?” I asked.
She pondered. “19 …. um … 90?”
“Yeah, do you know what day?”
Then she got it, and broke into a smile, and gave me a big kiss there in the parking lot as our teenagers ran away in disgust.
We told them the story, how we had gone out in college, then split up for five years, then reunited by chance at the aptly-named Concert for Reconciliation in Sioux Falls, which we attended with some mutual friends.
I rode back to the Cities with Diane, and I was getting other ideas, so I called in sick to my job as a school bus driver, and the rest, well, you know.
I looked at my kids and summed it all up. “If I had never called in sick that day, you might not exist,” I said.
My 13-year-old son, Leif, said, “Let’s come here every year.”
An hour later, at the Mall, I called Diane and bawled her out for letting my only daughter get lost forever, so just to appease me, she called security, and the child-finding network went into action.
I spent the next hour circling the three main levels of the mall, stopping in every store my daughter might visit, eyeing the teen girls like a creepy stalker, peeking under dressing room doors in hopes of seeing her feet. If you could’ve traced us on a GPS, you would’ve seen my red dot flashing in Aéropostale on the first floor east side, and Cedar’s flashing in Hollister on the third floor west.
What I figured would happen finally happened. Cedar found a pay phone and called me, and I sprinted down the escalator and through the amusement park, and when I found her, I slowed down and pretended I wasn’t worried at all.
An ill-gotten sick day 20 years prior had brought me to this — fear and trembling in the Mall of Hysteria. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.