The Vanishing

David Allan
4 min readJan 14, 2024
My poor panicked mother has to find me
after I disappear like a pint-sized Houdini.

My mom was 23 years old when, while she wore just her underwear in a dressing room in a department store in New Jersey, I went missing. I was about 18 months old.

I was strapped into a stroller, and she was keeping an eye on its wheels under the curtain of the changing room. One moment the stroller was there, and the next moment — in the time it took to take off a top or put on a skirt — the stroller, and I, were gone.

This wasn’t the first time, either. One day while driving me someplace, my mom could smell, then see, that I’d had such a massive crap that it leaked out of my elastic-waist pants and into the crevices of my car seat.

She pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall and ran into a store, by herself, to buy diapers. Minutes later, she returned to an empty car.

After a few panicky moments, she saw an older woman holding my hand. I’d somehow unbuckled my seatbelt and toddled out. The woman found me, poop streaming from the fabric’s edges like a sloppy joe sandwich delivered in an old newspaper.

When it happened again months later, at the Bamberger’s department store near our apartment in Hackensack, New Jersey, it looked even more like a kidnapping. This was before Adam Walsh’s infamous department store abduction¹ but not before abductions in general, or the parental fear of them.

¹ Adam Walsh was born about a year after I, abducted from a department 
store in Florida when he was 6 years old and later found murdered. His
father, John Walsh, went on to become the host of the popular 1980s
television show “America’s Most Wanted.”

This time seemed more serious than the carseat escape. The lightweight, quick-folding umbrella stroller I was strapped into was gone, as well.

Getting quickly dressed and sprinting out to the main shopping area, my mom didn’t see me anywhere. As the terror quickly mounted, she asked four other women in the uncrowded department whether they’d seen a boy on his own or, much worse, someone pushing a boy in a stroller.

They shook their heads.

“Yes,” a fifth one said. “I saw a young boy pushing a stroller,” she pointed, “that way.” And then my mom was on my heels.

Outside the woman’s clothing area was a candy kiosk. I had been old enough to recognize its purpose but not to understand that it was closed and unattended. I’d made my way back, gone inside the Well of Souls for its treasures and was discovered there trying to open a locked drawer full of candy.

“David,” my mom called in relief.

“Hi, Mommy.” I was happy to see her, and my apple cheeks showed their dimples.

She sweetly told me that I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t walk away by myself like that. That it had scared her.

“Okay, Mommy.”

The takeaway
Don’t underestimate the motivational draw of candy.

Unanswered questions
Did I push the stroller for stability, like a walker? Or did I imagine it would help me haul the sweet loot?

And now, a word from my mom…
“In the first escape, when the older woman who held your hand asked me, ‘Is this yours?’ she was as genuinely relieved as I. You had explored at least one storefront past the car in that strip mall. I never knew exactly where she discovered you, and it appeared as though you were in the lead as the two of you walked along.”

Related dream:
March 20, 1999
Friends’ apartment, Silver Spring, Maryland

Hands and Feet Securely Fastened

I kept taking this roller coaster around and around. There was nothing too scary about it except that I was securely fastened into the thing with no ability to free myself if something went wrong.

The whole ride was indoors, and each car was individual. Although it seemed thrilling, not much happened. It just went from room to room. The thrill was from the unexpected, as you entered a new room.

The last time I rode it, there were empty cars, kind of like go-karts in front of and behind me. They were messing it up, buckling and so forth. But I just pushed on.

Me, age 1, with my mother. Mall location unknown.



David Allan

CNN’s Executive Editor of Enterprise and Features (Travel, Style, Wellness, Science). This account represents my personal views, not CNN’s.