Can’t Find My Way Home by
(302 Stories)

Prompted By Trauma

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It was probably the most traumatic event of my life, and certainly the most traumatic event of Molly's.

This story was originally published on April 6, 2020, on the prompt Close Calls. It was probably the most traumatic event of my life, and certainly the most traumatic event of Molly’s.

In August 2007 we gathered from far and near for a joyous occasion, the wedding of my niece to her Israeli singing partner. We were at a resort called Gold Lake, in Ward, Colorado, which is about 30 miles up the side of a mountain from Boulder, at an elevation of 9,450 feet. All of us who were not Coloradans were feeling the effects of the altitude a bit, but I don’t think I can blame what happened on that.

My youngest child, Molly, who was eleven years old, was the flower girl / junior bridesmaid for her cousin. My niece’s nineteen-year-old stepsister, Devi, was the only bridesmaid. If you think it is odd that I refer to Devi as my niece’s stepsister and not my step-niece, let me explain. My former brother-in-law, long after he and my sister divorced, married a woman who had previously adopted a daughter from India. At the time of their marriage, Devi was already an adolescent, and my niece was in college. So they had not grown up together, and my family had never even met Devi or her mother before we got to Gold Lake.

We arrived at Gold Lake a couple of days before the wedding. There were lots of fun things to do, with two outdoor hot pools as well as the eponymous lake, and beautiful wooded grounds. The accommodations consisted of about ten rustic but charming cabins each with one or more bedrooms and a spa-quality bathroom. There was a main lodge where the restaurant/dining hall and other common areas were located. My husband and I, and our three kids, were all in one cabin, and the rest of the cabins were occupied by the other members of the bride’s and groom’s families.

The wedding ceremony was going to be outdoors, down by the lake. On the day before the wedding, the members of the wedding party and some staff from the resort went to the site in the late afternoon for a rehearsal. My husband and I wondered if one of us should go with Molly, but we were assured that there was no need, and that she would be returned to us after the rehearsal was over.

Although it was August, it was fairly chilly. Molly was wearing a sweater, but we told her she should bring her hooded sweatshirt with her in case it got even colder down by the lake or as it got later. She resisted at first, but eventually complied and took her sweatshirt with her.

While they were having the rehearsal, the rest of us were hanging out in the lodge, having drinks and singing songs. I can’t remember if we had a piano or a guitar, or if we were just singing a cappella. When my family gets together, there is always singing of some sort.

Devi and Molly were told they could leave the rehearsal once they had their instructions about where they should walk for the processional and where they would stand during the ceremony. While the others stayed at the lake to continue figuring out wedding logistics, the two of them walked back on the long path that led to the cabins. They got to a fork in the path where Devi’s cabin was in one direction and Molly’s was in another, and Devi said, okay, I’m going to my cabin now, you know where yours is, right? Molly presumably said yes. But she didn’t.

At some later point either Devi or someone else from the rehearsal showed up at the lodge, so we knew the rehearsal was over. We assumed that Molly had decided to hang out at the cabin instead of coming to the lodge. She doesn’t enjoy the family singing as much as the rest of us do. So we continued singing. But then one of my other kids went back to our cabin to get something, and quickly returned to report that Molly wasn’t there.

We rushed out to look for her. It was just beginning to drizzle, so we dashed over to the cabin to get rain jackets and umbrellas and flashlights (because it was also starting to get dark), and to satisfy ourselves that Molly really wasn’t there. She wasn’t. Everyone fanned out over the grounds to look for her, including resort staff. She was nowhere to be found. I was pretty close to hysterical at this point, thinking that she might be at the bottom of the lake, or have fallen down and hurt herself, or worse! It was cold and raining and getting darker by the minute. If she wasn’t anywhere in the resort, we were going to have to get the car and start driving towards town looking for her. My husband and I headed towards the parking lot where our rental car had been sitting ever since we arrived at the resort. Just before we got into our car, another car drove up and a young man wearing a Gold Lake shirt said “I’ve got Molly here.”

His name was River, and he was barely more than a teenager himself. He worked at Gold Lake, had finished his shift, and was driving home when he saw Molly by the side of the road. He asked her what her name was and where she was supposed to be. She was unsure whether to talk to him or run away from him, because she had been well trained about not talking to strangers and especially not getting into cars with strangers. She said later that what made her decide that she could trust him was the song that was playing on his car radio. Unfortunately, we can no longer remember what that song was. It must have been a song she associated with our family, like classic rock or Beatles, and that’s why she felt safe. I think under hypnosis, Molly or I might be able to get it back. At school the following year, when the sixth grade students had to write a book for the Young Authors program, Molly wrote a somewhat fictionalized account of this experience. The Featured Image is her book cover. I have also included here part of the page with her drawing of River. I was sure that I would find the name of the song in the book, but unfortunately she left that out.

River had discovered her, cold and wet, about two miles from Gold Lake. Apparently when she and Devi parted ways, she went in completely the wrong direction, but when she didn’t see the cabin, she just kept walking and walking, believing it would turn up, never thinking she was going the wrong way. (I did the same thing once in Amsterdam, because I misread a map.) When it started raining, she was very glad she had her hooded sweatshirt. In her Young Authors story she says that just before River found the fictional heroine, “she was now getting desperate, hiding under a rock for shelter. She was freezing, and she thought she might die.” I don’t know if Molly was really hiding under a rock, but the rest of it is probably pretty accurate.

That close call was certainly the worst half hour of my life, and the worst couple of hours of hers. She did tell me later that she was so-o-o-o glad that I made her take that hooded sweatshirt with her, and that she would never argue with me about what to wear again. Well, not for a while, anyway.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. Wow, another truly great and scary story, Suzy! I love the opening paragraph, and especially the last sentence of it which sets up the story so beautifully. There’s an almost ominous or mysterious air what with the altitude and what sounds like a kind of isolated venue, and then it builds very cinematically — we know something is going to happen. I love the contrast between the rehearsal and the family singing, can see it in my mind’s eye. Then Molly goes missing, it starts raining, it’s getting dark…the suspense is really building. And then…River! So perfect, and what a name. I feel like I just watched a movie…thankfully it had a happy ending, but so very sorry you had to go through such a scare!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Despite the fact that Molly obviously showed up at some point, this is a truly compelling scary story. Indeed, what can be worse than a lost child? And, as Barb notes, you set it all up so beautifully.

    I was particularly glad to hear that Molly had written about this herself, albeit in a somewhat fictionalized manner. That had to be cathartic and/or an indicator that it was not something that she could not face. And how terrific that you could include illustrations from her story.

    Finally, again as Barb noted, amazing that a young man named River found her. It seems so contrived that you’d probably have to change it in the movie to something more prosaic, like Fred. And, as usual, a perfect title. I now have Steve Winwood’s distinctive voice buzzing around my head.

    • Suzy says:

      River was obviously the son of hippie parents who lived in Boulder. I think I would keep the name in the movie, and have some backstory on him so it didn’t seem contrived. And you make a good point that it was healthy that Molly wanted to write about it, although she gave her protagonist a bratty younger sister, probably reflecting the fact that she didn’t like being the youngest in the family.

      It’s a great song, isn’t it? It has been buzzing around my head for a couple of days now. (Along with Big Old Jet Airliner from my other story.)

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, s-o-o-o glad Molly was retrieved, unharmed. even if cold, wet and frightened to death. I understand how these stories can trigger memories. I’ve had a few triggers myself, but have written forward, rather than sharing additional stories here. Perhaps I’ll add another one soon…something from my Chicago days living alone.

    I particularly like Molly’s own illustrations for this story. A great bonus feature.

  4. Marian says:

    What an experience, Suzy, and I’m so glad that it was River who found Molly. As a directionally challenged person, I can relate to this harrowing story.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Marian. It might have been a very different story if someone other than River had found her. But it was such an isolated area, I don’t think anyone but Gold Lake employees or guests would have been on that road.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, I could feel your upset and panic rise as I read this story. Thank goodness you made her take that sweatshirt. This was a great retelling of one of the worst things a parent can experience. I could totally empathize with you.

    • Suzy says:

      Laurie, after reading your story about losing your daughter in Jerusalem, and being reminded of this one, I got freaked out all over again and couldn’t get to sleep that night! I had to write the story to process the whole thing!

  6. I felt panicky myself when I read your piece. My piece is also about a lost child, but ultimately he would have been safe, it was just a mix-up. But your fears were warranted and to know that there could have been a disastrous outcome is every parent’s nightmare. So well done!

  7. Mister Ed says:

    Quite a story, the facts of which I think of often. Still gives me chills.

  8. Suzy, somehow I missed this story last week, glad to read it now. We parents all must have those lost-child moments, I lost my son once at the beach, in a playground and in a crowded department store!

    And funny to hear the young rescuer’s name was River, my cousin and his wife gave their daughter the lovely name Samantha after our grandfather Sam. But the kid changed her name to River, go figure!

  9. Suzy, Rereading your story now reminds me of our own traumatic lost child stories, in fact I’m going to write one now!

    (And I love your last sentence!)

  10. Dave Ventre says:

    Having once spent a bad 24 hours looking for a missing friend (who turned up alive in the end), this story touches me a bit! It was a tense read.

    When I was quite small, I wandered away from my Mom in a Safeway supermarket. When I realized I was alone, I started SCREAMING. The entire store began a frantic hunt for my mother, who was well aware of where I was and on her way towards the sound. I was probably no more than five, so I remember none of the incident, but it did enter Family Lore…for years afterwards, we called that supermarket chain “Unsafeway.”

  11. Laurie Levy says:

    Rereading your story, it is the ultimate parental nightmare. Is that where the name Devi from Never Have I Ever came from?

  12. Khati Hendry says:

    Both you and Dana put out stories about a lost child–a truly traumatic event. One neither of you has forgotten I’m sure, and oh so good that it turned out well. I can imagine that you both appreciated each other even more after that (hooded sweatshirt advice is just a symbol of the deeper love). Thanks for re-posting this.

  13. Your story brought back memories. I wish I could write them up as well as you did. The outline: When I was 12, my parents spent a summer in San Cristobal with a community of writers, artists and political activists. One afternoon my mother allowed me to joined a young couple for a walk into the forested hillside. We soon became lost. Darkness fell upon us. We thought we found a way home. It passed by a cave. Suddenly a bear emerged. The couple fled one way and I the other. Much later they found their way back to the group. Reported that I was missing. An immediate search party with lights and urgent calls searched the darkness. I could not be found. Why? I figured that I should go down the hills into a shallow stream. followed it, I would probably find a town or a home. Fortunately my boy scout training provided me with success. I heard the calls. My mother came running toward me crying. I never went into the wilderness again with strangers. My poor mother still shakes with fear and remorse.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comment, and welcome to Retrospect. I hope to read your stories here too. You could write this San Cristobal incident up as a story, it’s basically already written in this comment.

  14. Jim Willis says:

    I must have missed this one back in 2020, but wow, what a traumatic event, indeed! I’m so glad your Molly was brought back to you, safe and sound, by River.

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