Let me begin by saying I didn’t lose the bag. I left it. There’s a difference.
A few years ago, Cynthia and I bought Caitlin a cute suitcase, with her name and a salamander, her unofficial totem, stitched into it. When I ordered it, I knew it was probably too “young” for her. She was sixteen, and the bag was really made for a ten-year-old. But Caitlin has never been the “mature beyond her years” type (at the time, she still slept with stuffed animals all over her bed), so we gave it to her for Christmas. She said she liked it, even though ever since then she has often “forgotten” it and uses a different one when she travels.
Anyway, this is the bag I “lost.”
The story begins at my mother’s house in Harrison, New York. Whenever she goes to Italy, my mom packs two humongous suitcases and then shifts stuff from one to another so each one will be under fifty pounds. She weighs them by placing her 65-year-old scale on the living room carpet, weighing herself, then picking up a bag, weighing herself with the bag, and subtracting the difference. (Invariably she’s stunned when the airport-counter scale, which can’t possibly be more accurate than hers, shows her calculations to have been incorrect.) She packs one suitcase with her clothes, the other with gifts for her relatives—like jeans, maple syrup, and five-pound containers of Tylenol, which for some reason Italians can’t buy in a pharmacy. (This same bag, upon her return, will be loaded with huge blocks of parmigiano and tins of biscotti.)
Late last June, when Cynthia, the kids, and I arrived at her house, my mother was delighted to see there was extra room in my bag, and then, when Caitlin told her she was carrying on her bag (she hates being without her bag, any bag—even during weekend trips, she keeps her it with her in the back seat, like a pet she can’t part with), and she saw that my son Steve’s duffel bag was only half-filled (with crumpled clothes that nobody would ever wear in Italy during the summer: dirty jeans, three hoodies, flannel loungewear, socks), she practically squealed, then gleefully asked Steve to go up to the attic and bring down another suitcase. She put all of Steve’s clothes into that third suitcase, threw in more of her own stuff, added to mine, and voila! She was checking in three bags.
Anyway, the point is, Caitlin carried on her bag. As we boarded the plane, being the gentleman I am, and having with me only my backpack (hands-free, in other words), I offered to care for her bag during our long journey. On the security line at JFK, I noticed her tag was still blank, so I quickly scribbled in her name and my phone number before putting it on the treadmill. On the plane, I put it in the storage bin before we took off, brought it down for her when we landed for our layover in Dublin, and rolled it behind me as we sleep-walked toward the cafeteria to get some breakfast. (Caitlin was particularly tired, since her obsession with movie-watching had trumped my insistence that she sleep during our five-hour flight.)
As my mother ran off to get coffee, asking me to get her “a scone or something,” and Cynthia went to the hot-breakfast line with her eye on the porridge (which, an Irishman told me, they also used to put up wallpaper), and as I tried to figure out what my kids, who went stumbling over to seating area, would want to eat, I loaded up the tray, paid for everything, and brought it over to the table.
With two hands.
And here is the most amusing part—or, if Caitlin were writing this, the most infuriating part. After eating breakfast, we still had an hour to kill. Stephen went to the bathroom, Cynthia went to check out the duty-free shopping, and my mother went with her to get duty-free cigarette cartons for her sister, my aunt Marisa, who gives a pack a week to the man who delivers free bread to her house because his father did so for my grandfather, or something like that. Which means I was alone with my daughter, both of us very sleepy, when we heard a page for “Catherine Hicks” sputtering vaguely over the P.A. system.
Cait lifted her head. “That’s me,” she said. “They’re paging me.”
I snorted. I nearly guffawed. “Honey,” I said, in what my wife would call my “condescending voice,” which I may, occasionally, use with her as well. “We’re in Ireland. There are a lot of Hickses in this part of the world. Besides, they said Catherine, not Caitlin.” And I went back to my nap.
Minutes later, the same garbled page came again, and again Caitlin said it was for her. This time I just gave her the look. Why on earth would anyone be paging her at the Dublin airport?
An hour later, when we saw that our flight would soon be boarding and started gathering our things, Caitlin said, “Dad, where’s my bag?”
I smiled pleasantly, even while my stomach sunk. “Wherever you left it, honey.”
She gave me a look. “You had it,” she said.
I said something like “Mfhnmblle” while casually looking around for her blue bag. In case you don’t know this about me, in moments of crisis, I get calm. A little too calm. If giant frogs were to invade us from outer space, I would, in the most soothing voice possible, say, “No big deal. They’re just frogs from outer space. I read about this in the Times. There are some figs in the fridge, maybe they’d like some.” This trait of mine, far from comforting everyone around me, simply infuriates them.
“I knew it!” she said. “I knew they were paging me!”
I kept looking, a little more frantically now. The bag was gone.
I retraced my steps. I had surely left the bag near the scones, not eighty feet away. I hurried over. It wasn’t there.
We rushed down the escalator, found a security guard, told him we’d misplaced a bag, and he said “A blue bag? Ah yes, I saw it earlier. They brought it that way.”
We all went that way, to the security line, where I got all NewYork on another security guard who was busy inspecting bags, and she very pleasantly told me where to go: to the police station, about a fifteen-minute walk away.
(By the way, it’s true. The Irish are incredibly friendly.)
By now, our flight status had changed to “Boarding,” so I switched over to emergency mode. We didn’t know how far away the gate was. Go for the bag and risk missing the flight? There was only one flight to Naples per day. Two rooms in a Dublin hotel would cost 250 euros, plus another fifty for bus fare, to say nothing of my mother’s disappointment at not seeing her beloved family for another day, plus the hassle of getting our suitcases out of the plane . . .
Everyone was looking at me. I was the Decider.
I forgot to mention that Caitlin was crying. Big-time. She began crying almost immediately, kept crying down the escalator, cried all the way to the security line, and now she was really letting it rip. She’s sensitive, that one. This is not to say that Stephen is insensitive. Far from it. But Steve can take a hit and keep going. Caitlin, on the other hand, believes that a terrible thing is always on the verge of happening, and this event—her father losing her bag—was all the confirmation she would ever need that her world view was the correct one.
I took stock: I knew that I could probably send the others to the gate, run to the station, get the bag, and still make the plane. I knew this. But then, there might be paperwork at the police station. All kinds of paperwork.
I put my hands on Caitlin’s shoulders. “What’s in that bag?”
“Nothing,” she said through her tears. “Just clothes.”
“Are you sure?” There was something she wasn’t telling me.
She shook her head. “Just clothes!” But then she cried even harder.
The security guard stepped forward then. “You’d better get to your plane,” she said.
I may have given Caitlin’s shoulders a little shake. “Is there anything in there,” I asked, “that we couldn’t replace with a little shopping expedition in Italy?”
“NO!” And she gave me a look I’ll never forget.
I stepped back. What the hell, I thought. Why was she so pissed? I made a mistake! I’m human! How unforgiving she was! And to think I had been so . . . chivalrous! And by the way, hadn’t it been smart of me to write her name on the bag tag, even though my handwriting is so bad they had said Catherine Hicks instead of Caitlin Hicks in that page that I had ignored?
I glanced at my mother, who, along with Cynthia, was stroking Caitlin’s back and murmuring soothing things. We both knew what would happen. As soon as the Italians got wind of this, they would spring into action. My cousin Maria would bring over some of her daughter Martina’s clothes. (Martina and Caitlin are the same size; they look like sisters.) My aunts would compete to see who could buy Caitlin the most clothing. She would end up with a much better wardrobe than whatever was in that bag.
“Okay then,” I said, “let’s catch that plane. We’ll pick up the bag on the way back to New York.”
We rushed off, Caitlin still sobbing, Stephen alternatively yelling at her to stop being such an incredible baby and running way ahead of her, his eyes stuck in the roll position. As we found the gate, Cait blurted out, “Jake (sob) gave me (sniff) a shirt (sniff) for me to wear (choke) in Italy!!!”
Jake was her boyfriend. Her first serious boyfriend. A sweet kid. They were, and still are, head-over-heels in love. The shirt he had so thoughtfully given her, the one she promised to wear in Italy so he’d know she was thinking about him, was in that bag.
We boarded the plane. The flight attendant took one look at Caitlin and asked, “Dear God, is she okay?”
We all found our seats.
And then just sat there.
There was no captain in the cockpit. Apparently you need a captain to fly a plane. The flight was delayed.
We waited for about twenty minutes, with the airplane door still open. I had fantasies of dashing out, sprinting to the police station, snatching up the bag, and sprinting back. Or the pleasant woman from Security to walk onto the plane, triumphantly carrying Caitlin’s carry-on.
I looked back. Cait was in the middle row of seats, on one side of my mother, now crying without making a sound. (She is the world’s best Silent Sobber.) Steve (who had quickly put on his headphones and pretended he was completely unrelated to the sobbing girl two seats away) was on the other side of my mother. Cynthia and I were one row ahead, near the window. I held Caitlin’s gaze. There may have been something like forgiveness in her eyes. In mine, a heartfelt apology for ruining her life. (We all have our specialties. Apologizing for screwing up lives is mine.)
Then, I had an idea.
I got out of my seat (alarming my fellow passengers), approached the flight attendant (Dear god, does he have a bomb!), explained our situation, and asked if, as long as we were just sitting there, someone could perhaps retrieve my daughter’s bag from the police station. She very kindly said she’d “ring a red-cap,” and then did so.
But then she immediately received word that the captain was on his way.
And so he was. He and his co-pilot walked in, and we soon took off.
There’s no need to tell the rest of the story. In Italy, Caitlin was treated to a shopping spree, swam in the clear water off Capri, took a sauna in the thermal baths on Ischia, went to an outdoor rock concert with her cousins, ate like there was no tomorrow, and was pinched on the cheek a million times while being told how beautiful she was. She very sweetly searched for, and found, the perfect soccer jersey, and two bags of pasta, for Jake.
As for me, I was in for two solid weeks of ball-busting—an Italian specialty.
“So you lost your daughter’s bag? Did you lose her virginity too?”
“David can’t teach anymore because he just lost his PhD.”
“Don’t give David a kiss hello. He might lose it on his way to the living room.”
“My dear cousin! Let me give you a hug. No wait–you might lose it.”
“You’re going to Venice with Cynthia? How romantic. Don’t drop her bag in the canal, okay?”
“The next time David tries to have sex with Cynthia, he’s going to stop and say Darling, I’m so sorry, I’m afraid I just misplaced my penis.”
And that was just at the airport. And just from my cousin Peppe.
Anyway, two weeks later, Cynthia and I did indeed spend two romantic days in Venice, leaving Steve and Cait to have fun with their cousins. Before we left, Caitlin and I shared a laugh about the bag. She reassured me that she was never truly angry, that she was just sleep-deprived and cranky and worried about missing Jake. But we both knew she really was mad, royally pissed in fact, and that what had hurt her most was that I had treated her disrespectfully, dismissing her when she insisted she was being paged. And she was right. I apologized, and she apologized back. We kissed each other on the nose, she gave Cynthia a big hug, and we were off.
On the return trip to New York, Caitlin got her bag back, and she’s used it many times since. It’s looking a little worse for the wear by now, so we’re thinking of buying her a new, grown-up bag for Christmas.
And next time we travel together, I’ll let her take it on and off the plane by herself.