I realized this painfully one Saturday afternoon in July. Xiaolin and I were tutoring a young kid’s early learners class when Xiaolin got a phone call. I kept up, but her surprising gurgling made the children laugh. It was a strange sound— from their teacher. It made them laugh because it was unexpected. It was the sound of her heartbreaking.
(I remember now, years ago, helping to feed a baby kitten from a litter, where one had a disabling injury from birth, and the funny sound it made when my friends tried to feed it milk from a syringe, we laughed a little, uncomfortably, because it was odd — unexpected — later, I realized it was the sound of it choking, trying to live, and it did pass away from its injuries days later… now, decades later, I remember that sound and our confusion and my heart leaps for my beloved Xiaolin and our family)
Meito, our niece, was at Shiyoulu mall, and the Ultraman exhibit was crowded with people. Just like that, someone pushed her two-and-a-half-year-old toddler — away. He wriggled out of her hands and disappeared into the crowd. She cried and screamed and finally got help to find him, but when she called us, it was to say, hey, please help, your grandson is missing. Ethan, a very independent toddler, was happy to run off on his own, but where did he go? So Xiaolin is crying, weak in the knees, and I put on a video about fruits and tell the kids I’ll be right back, but they look alarmed. I’m simultaneously trying to find out what happened, support her from collapsing, and comfort her as she barely hangs on — that’s how fast your entire sense of security can collapse, just a second, and everything is not the same as it was, there’s only a hole, where our hearts used to be. She’s going to head out the door, but I want to go and help her, so I’m suddenly trying to find someone to watch them for an hour so we can run to Shiyoulu mall to find Ethan in a crowd of screaming children. We need someone to babysit if not teach until the parents come back – we can’t leave them, but. I can’t leave Xiaolin to face this alone.
Just like that, our grandson is gone, and my mind races to the darkest places of baby kidnapping gangs and human trafficking, even as I figure he’s probably just hugging a fuzzy mascot and laughing. Xiaolin is barely hanging on now- I can see this weighing so heavily on her shoulders, the incredible weight of the first wave of tragedy.
Within 5 minutes, before we can finalize our exit plan, Meito calls back. Ethan’s been found, just a scare, a mother was watching him until the crowd could filter enough for the helpful families to track him down. The rest of the family is racing to help in the mall, full of advice “use a kid leash,” “don’t go to crowds alone at his age,” but mostly full of love to protect them. I give Xiaolin a few minutes to recover, and I teach the class until Xiaolin can relax for a few minutes.
She returns, and we explain how kids should never run away from their adults because we worry so much about them, and we finish the lesson.
The next day, we take Ethan back to watch the Ultraman show – but we have him on the kid leash and don’t take our eyes off him for a second. It’s his hero, he’s happy, and we don’t want to deprive him, but he’s so important to all of us.
It was a Tuesday morning. I’d been at Jacob’s playing D&D until midnight the night before, a rare schedule switch so James could be involved with his shifty schedule, and I was up at 7 to teach at eight on Tuesday. I had a break at nine and came back to lie down. Somehow, the lock didn’t engage, and about 9:30, someone came up or down the stairs. Benben pushed the door out into the hallway, and they both took off. We got up at ten and looked around. No dogs, the door was open. I ran out to find them and saw Benben sniffing around outside. No sign of Hachoo. I climbed every building on campus, floor by floor, 24 floors, calling her name, but she was gone. I had to teach at 11:30 and was giving a keynote speech at a human rights and COVID conference that afternoon, so I had to make a tough decision to get back to life and hope she returned. She didn’t. We tried to get the security camera footage but hit roadblocks, and then I was teaching, eating, and heading out to the conference. My mind was on her all day, but it was amazing and rewarding despite my heart not being in it.
A few days later, after days of walking around the neighborhood calling her name, I finally got access to the cameras and saw her run out of the house, within a couple of minutes, right out the gate. My theory she’d been taken on account of her cuteness by an overzealous visiting parent during the GaoKao’s was wrong. However, it still happened in the chaos and business of that event around campus.
After a few weeks, we stopped calling her name as we walked, but I still looked for her. Benben stayed, Hachoo ran, and I wondered in my life which dog I would be, the one that was looking for any excuse to bail given an open door, or would I stick around and fight through obstacles because this is where I truly belonged? I’m scared that I have two dogs in me. I want to be a Benben.
Sometimes, like when we had a heavy rainstorm a few days after she ran away, I stopped at that moment and breathed, focusing on the in and out of my breath, and I just wondered where she was. Who she was with, what was she doing? I hoped, then, that she was picked up by another living family, a cute and happy dog. She certainly deserves it. Sometimes though, I wonder if she just ran away and kept running, like that old song, runaway train, and was scrounging for garbage and hiding under cars as the pouring rain pounded the ground, and I wondered if she missed us or knew her way back. I realize then how my dad must have felt, and my mom, during the most difficult moments of my teenage DJ career when I was wandering around the USA, playing gigs, and taking shelter from storms. My heart aches for her.
I got interviewed at the school by national news again for the CPC 100 event about the pandemic and poverty alleviation. While normally I wouldn’t say I like watching my interviews– I generally prefer writing to vlogging, they did a nice job with my interview, and I felt quite eloquent. I even shared it with my friends back west to see more about where I live and how I feel.
Kai shares his diary exclusively with iChongqing. Kai has been writing about the pandemic since his lockdown began on January 23, 2020. You can follow his fight against COVID-19 on his blog, www.theinvisiblewar.co, or find his first collection, Kai’s Diary (The Invisible War), the story of Chongqing’s battle against the COVID epidemic in book stores and on Amazon.
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