On Thursday night at 6 p.m. I got an email from my landlord telling me there had been a fire in my apartment building but my “cat was okay” and no one was hurt. I was in Manhattan. I called him immediately and he told me there had been a terrible fire on the 3rd floor (I am on the 2nd). The firemen had got there in time to contain the fire and put it out (if a neighbor hadn’t called 911 the entire building would have burned down). But I would not be allowed to sleep in my apartment that night. He would arrange for a hotel or whatever. I hurried home. It was pouring rain and cold. At least Hope was okay. But I panicked thinking of her in the hands of a fireman, in a crate, not knowing what the hell happened. My mind raced: should I take Hope to a friends house? My landlord had warned me that the scene was chaos back at my place. The street blocked off, and everything.
I arrived back to my place and saw all the emergency vehicles, and all of the tenants out on the front yard area. I was already looking for Hope, in a crate off to the side. I went up to a cop and said, “I live here.” He said, “Okay, Emergency Management has set up an area in the school over there, so go in and check in with them.” As I hurried across the street to the school, I saw my landlord’s wife and she came over with me. Nobody knew how the fire got started. She said they would put us up for the night at a nearby Days Inn. At least nobody was hurt. All of the tenants got out. My next door neighbor, who is elderly and infirm, had to be carried out by a fireman. That’s how urgent it was.
I came into the school and met Gio (bless you, Gio – he is just one of the many many helpful people I have been dealing with over the last exhausting three days). He said he would be helping me figure out my life in the wake of the fire. I said, “And my cat – where is my cat?” He said, “It was rescued – it’s at the Humane Society right now.” Panic ratcheted up in me. “Can I go get her right now?” “Let me just take down your information.” He was calm, used to dealing with people in a panic. Nobody told me to calm down. This is the true gift of people used to dealing with stressed-out disoriented people. We are unable to relax. Our home is in flames. Our cat is lost. Panicking is our job, staying calm is yours. It was amazing to witness and experience the comfort of that first-hand. I gave him my name and phone number. My landlord’s wife hovered by me, saying, “Don’t worry – we’ll put you up at the Days Inn tonight – I don’t think there was any damage in your apartment …” I wouldn’t have cared if my entire book collection went up in smoke, I just wanted Hope back with me.
As I was giving him my information, my mind was racing. If I went and picked Hope up at the Humane Society, would they not let me take her into the Days Inn with me? I thought, well, I’ll call Jen and sleep over there with Hope for the night. Or maybe David and Maria could put us up for the night. First priority was Hope. I did not want her to spend the night – collar-less – at the Humane Society. It was chaos in the school, cops and firemen hurrying by. Gio said to me something about going to pick up my cat, and some guy walking by heard this, stopped and said, “The cat? No – it got out. It ran out the front door.”
Everything changed. I gasped, “Whaaaat?”
The guy said, “Yeah. It ran out. It’s out there.”
I burst into spontaneous sobs. I can count on one hand the times that has happened and it is quite an alarming experience. I could never recreate it if I tried. (Jen, who teaches Method acting, said to me, “You’ll be able to access it in 7 years. Well, 3 to 5, depending on who you talk to.” Thank God for my friends and family who have kept me laughing and been so with me through this whole thing!) I was wailing, “OH NO”. I became Medea in .7 seconds. My landlord’s wife was holding me, but I was straining against her to run out into the night. The poor guy who gave me the bad news realized that he had just dropped a bomb of tragedy on my life and said quietly and stiffly, dignified, “Cats don’t go far, ma’am.”
I ran out into the street and then began looking for her. I was hysterical. Shouting out my cat’s name, and sobbing. It was raining, and cold. Everyone, it seems, had seen her run out. The firemen had kicked my door open and she, in a panic (understandable – and like my sister Jean said, she probably knew there was a fire in the building even before anyone called 911. Animals know shit.) had run out, down the stairs, out the front door, and then skittered off to the left (away from the corner, where all the fire engines were) – and then ran between two of the houses down from me. So that was good information. She hadn’t ran out into the street. She was still on my block. I was on my hands and knees in the dark, in the wet, looking under cars. People started helping me.
Beside my apartment building are houses. We are the only big building on the street. The rest are one-family homes. I know these people and they were all out on the sidewalk. I told them all about my cat. There are many stray cats in this neighborhood and people leave out bowls of food on the porch for them. They’ll sneak up on the porch, have a bite, and then run off to be wild and feral again. This was comforting to me. Because at least there would be food for her should she eventually want it. (But this thought did not occur to me on that first night. I was panicked and just wanted her back. NOW.) My neighbors got in the act. Occasionally a stray cat would be seen skulking about and a cry would go up. But it wasn’t her. She was obviously hiding. I was calling down dark alleyways and peering behind and under dumpsters. But it was night. I couldn’t see anything anyway.
About an hour passed, I think. Time was weird. Meanwhile, the plans were being made for all of us to be put up in a hotel for the night. I just wanted to sit on my stoop all night. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I thought: Okay. I’ll go to the hotel, wake up early in the morning, come back here and keep looking. That was my only plan. Make it through the night, assume she was hiding somewhere, and find her the next day. It sucked, but there was nothing I could do.
It was mayhem out in front of my building. There were firemen, cops, emergency management people, tenants, and neighbors. My neighbor Chris came over and hugged me. He’s an animal-lover. Lots of pets in the building, but mine was the only one lost. “Where is she???” I was sobbing.
A cop came over to me and said, quietly, “I know you’re upset. I just want you to know that we’re going to be letting you all in one by one to go pack a bag for the night.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
In the midst of my worry, I realized how lucky we all were. Especially staring up at the apartment where the fire happened. All of the windows were shattered. It looked horrifying. Hope could have been a dead charred cat as opposed to a lost cat. And people could have died, and I could have lost all of my possessions in the world. Thank God Chris was home and called 911. Jesus.
A fireman with a flashlight came up to me and said, stoic, calm, “Whenever you’re ready, ma’am, I can take you inside.”
There was no electricity in the building.
I was confused. I didn’t know what was happening. I was disoriented. I didn’t want to go anywhere. Hope was out there. He saw the look on my face and he said, “You can take all the time you need to pack an overnight bag. No rush, okay?” Only in retrospect do I appreciate his calmness and kindness. I was a mess. I couldn’t make any decisions. I was too focused on my lost cat and on the chaos of suddenly not being able to stay in my home for the night. This is why firemen stay calm. They are used to disoriented people, to handling them well. So okay, I will do what he says. Nothing else to do. I was still sobbing. He followed me into the building, flashing the flash light ahead of me. It smelled of smoke. The staircase was covered in broken glass (they had broken the skylight on the roof, that’s why, although it took me some time to figure that out). I walked up the steps. My door had been kicked open.
So let me set up the fireman for you. I have had many good experiences with firemen. First of all, there was the famous “who here is wearin’ Sierra” moment. Then there was this mortifying moment. The firemen didn’t blink an eye. They’ve seen it all. I could have been buck-naked and they would have said, “Come this way, ma’am.” There was also the double whammy fantasy of Irishmen + Irish FIREmen. And way back in the very beginning of my site I wrote a discombobulated post about ABBA, September 11, and a fireman I saw in my neighborhood. I’ll add this anecdote to the list.
The fireman said nothing to me as I walked into my dark apartment. He followed me around, shining the flashlight in front of me. He didn’t say anything like, “Don’t worry, your cat will be found” because that might not be true. He didn’t say, “Calm down. You could have lost everything.” because that is not what an upset person needs to hear. He didn’t say “I’m sorry”. All he said was, “Take your time. Pack whatever you need.”
I moved around my dark bedroom, weeping. Through my upset about Hope, I knew I needed to pack
4. contact lens stuff
5. phone charger
The essentials. So I packed my pajamas, went into the bathroom, grabbed my lens stuff. The fireman quietly followed me around, shining the flashlight where I needed it. I went into my study. I have major bookshelves in there. The windows had been taken out, and were lying on the floor. The window was wide open, like a door. It was raining. I guess the firemen had taken it out for ventilation. Or to enter through the fire escape. Not sure. Grabbed my laptop. As I was doing so, the quiet stoic fireman who did not judge my emotions shone the flashlight where I needed it. But briefly … briefly … he swooped the flashlight beam around the room, before bringing it back to my area. He said nothing for a minute after the swoop. I was packing up my laptop, in hysterical tears.
Then I heard the fireman say quietly … oh so quietly … “Have you read all these books?”
It was one of the small moments of humanity and kindness that occurred in the past couple of days that I have gone back to in my mind. I was so consumed with Hope, but I loved him in that moment. I was about to brush it off like, “Nah, haven’t read ’em all” but let’s be honest. I have read them all. So I said quietly, “Yes.”
He responded, quietly, “Wow.”
I said quietly, “I know.”
Then, without saying another word, we moved on out of the apartment. You could tell firemen had rushed through there, though. Just a quick look showed the garbage can in the middle of my kitchen floor, and debris scattered all over from their boots, I imagine.
Then back outside into the night and the rain. The Hope-less night. I couldn’t stop crying. I wandered the streets screaming for Hope. Finally, it was time to leave for the hotel. My landlord’s wife drove me. I had said, at first, that I had a car, I would drive myself – but I became sane again and realized I was in no state to be driving. We got into her car. It was awful to be leaving. I knew that Hope was right there somewhere. I hadn’t eaten since 2 p.m. I had no idea how I would ever get to sleep. I was hysterical. I was checked into the hotel, which was nearby, huddled in the shadow of a giant freeway. No man’s land. It was about 9 p.m. Nice hotel. My room was freezing and I was distraught. I had forgotten my toothpaste. They had no toothpaste at the front desk. The very nice guy behind the counter told me there was a gas station “across the street”. Of course the “street” was a major three-way intersection of three busy highway ramps. It was a shrieking nightmare. It took me 25 minutes to get across the street. It was pouring rain. I bought toothpaste, water, and a bunch of pistachio nuts. Then walked back to the hotel, which took me 25 minutes again.
As I approached the side entrance of the hotel, here is what I saw.
It was either a cruel joke or a good sign.
Nobody in my life knew what had happened. I left a message for Allison, which was nearly incoherent from sobs, and I have no memory of this but I told her I was staying at “some Days Inn somewhere”. This will be important later. I knew my sister Siobhan was at work. I called my brother. He was in traffic in LA so we talked for about 45 minutes. At first I sobbed out what had happened, I could barely speak, and then we moved on to talking about Elvis. I am nothing if not consistent. But by the end of the conversation, I actually felt calmer, and the tears had subsided. I looked like hell. I walked into my hotel room, which was freezing and lonely. I turned on the heat. I had some pistachio nuts. I paced the floor. I would randomly burst out crying, and then calm down. The room warmed up. After about 20 minutes, the phone rang in the room. I assumed it was my landlord or someone. I picked up. It was Allison. I had already forgotten I said “some Days Inn” and was totally confused as to how she knew I was there. She basically had Googled my area for the closest Days Inn. Now that is a friend. She had also looked up the fire online and there was already a piece about it. No mention, however, of the redhead staggering through the streets looking for her cat. I sat on the bed, and talked with Allison, and I cried and cried, but she also gave me hope. Cats don’t go far. She’s hiding under a deck somewhere, she’s crouched behind a dumpster, nearby. She won’t go far. You’ll find her, you’ll find her.
When I hung up with her, I took a long hot bath. I lay there in the tub and prayed to St. Anthony. Prayed as hard as I could. Out loud.
I thought I would NEVER be able to sleep. The night yawned in front of me. I turned on the TV just for some background noise. I lay in bed and read the STFU Parents blog for about 45 minutes, roaring with laughter. I watched some Drunk Histories. I was howling with laughter. I lay down finally, and kept the TV on, which I don’t normally do. But it helped me tune out my own worried brain. It was cold and raining out there, and Hope was missing. Ugh. I wanted the morning to come NOW.
I woke up at 6 a.m. Made a cup of coffee in the room, scarfed it down, packed up all my shit and then went down to the front desk and had them call a cab for me. It was a grey mild morning. The cab dropped me off at the Dunkin Donuts near my house, I bought a coffee, and walked back to my apartment building. In the early light of day, you could really see the damage. All the windows on the third floor around on the front were shattered and the sidewalk all around the building was coated with glass. You could see that the interior of the third floor was totally black and charred. It looked awful. A police car was parked in front of my front door, up on the sidewalk. He was clearly there to keep tenants from going back inside.
I walked over to the window of his car. To give you an idea, he looked like Vin Diesel. Talked like him too. Hot gorgeous bald young guy in a cop uniform. Here is yet another anecdote of kindness from men trained to deal with people in extremis. I had cried so much the day before that my eyes looked like this.
I said, “Hi. I live here. So I take it I can’t go back in yet.” He shook his head regretfully, “No, not yet – the inspector has to come today and look through the building before you guys can go back in.” I said, “Okay” and I was already on the edge, I had woken up on the edge, so when I started to speak, I could feel the tears coming back again. I said, “My cat was lost last night – I’m here to look for her – can I just leave my bag on the stoop?” He said, “My shift ends at 8 – sure, you can leave it – but if I have to take off, you’re on your own.” “Oh, no problem.” I started off to put my bag down and he said, stopping me, “I don’t have a cat, but my commander does – and he says that cats, when they escape, usually have a one-block radius.”
He didn’t have to say that, or share that with me. But he had information to impart and he did. It was kind. I said, “That is very good to hear.” “Good luck,” he said in his macho Vin Diesel way.
I put my bag down and walked around the neighborhood, looking under all the cars, peering between garbage cans, calling for her down each alley. At least it wasn’t cold and at least it wasn’t raining anymore. Periodically I would come back to my building and hang out on the front stoop, calling out to her from there. So she could … orient herself? She’s an indoor cat. She’s never been outside in the neighborhood before, outside of her crate. Thank God I didn’t de-claw her. At least she would not be defenseless should she have to fight.
By around 9 a.m., things were getting busy at my building. More cops showed up. Building inspectors. Construction guys. Insurance guys. The landlord. A cleaning crew. Tenants were coming back to find out the status, if we could get back in. We were not allowed back in. The sun was out, it wasn’t too cold (although I certainly got chilled being outside all day). There were guys inside the building, cleaning up the stairwell, and dealing with the charbroiled apartment, boarding up the windows. Gio was there. Came over to talk to me. He had called the local shelters for me. Everyone asked if I had found my cat. Periodically, I would get up and walk away and wander the streets calling and kiss-kissing for Hope. I went blocks away, hoping against hope that she hadn’t gotten that far but I couldn’t rule it out.
No word on when we could get back in. My phone was already running out of juice. I went to the nearby laundromat and charged it, drinking my coffee, and randomly screaming out Hope’s name like a maniac. I put up a post on Facebook. Comments started pouring in. Those comments, all supportive, dismayed, and firmly certain she would come back, helped me get through the day. (Again, to those people who say the Internet separates us from one another: WTF Internet are you talking about?) Not one person dismissed me, not one person scoffed, not one person reminded me of the starving children in the Sudan in order to “give me perspective”. There are some people who see literally every event in life as some zero sum game (they are the bane of my existence mainly because they are boring and predictable). You talk about your problems, they talk about the Sudan, and want the whole thing to be a Zero Sum Equation. But … but … I’m not a robot. This is just life, and I’m living my life, and I am ALSO aware of the Sudan, very aware, but those two things don’t cancel each other out. The sum is RARELY zero. But the Facebook comments were just great. She’ll come back. She’s tough. She’s waiting until she feels safe. She’s not far away. Put fliers up. Call shelters, etc. St. Anthony was referenced often, by different people (something I find so charming and sweet), and St. Francis also came up. But St. Anthony was really the main saint being represented in that Facebook thread.
I couldn’t get to my printer, obviously. I wasn’t thinking clearly. If I had, I would have called David or Siobhan or anyone with a printer and had them make one up for me. But I kept thinking, I’ll get back inside soon, I’ll make a flier, and I’ll be IN CHARGE OF MY LIFE AGAIN.
I would be fine, and then have moments of frantic weeping. Those moments of weeping really had to do with imagining letting her go. Of not having her around anymore. Anticipatory grief. She was gone. I would have to prepare myself for it. I got to know everybody’s alleyways. I talked to everyone, told them about my missing cat. Everyone in my neighborhood had heard about the fire. Everyone was lovely. They were happy everyone was safe, they were sorry for our troubles, they would look for my cat. People are good.
Every time I would come back to my apartment, more was going on. A giant cleaning crew was there. Running generators. People milled around. A guy came up to me. He was wearing a suit. He had an earpiece on. He introduced himself as Claudio, and he was from the Red Cross and he was here to help me in whatever I needed. Claudio was so awesome that I wrote a letter to his supervisor (copying him) yesterday praising him, and praising the Red Cross. I have donated to the Red Cross before, and am well aware of the good work they do, but being on the receiving end of their help gave me a whole new perspective on it. Wow. I needed Claudio periodically over the next couple of days. I would call his number. He always picked up on the first ring. He would text me if he had tried to call me and left a voicemail. “Left you a voicemail” would say the text. He was absolutely incredible, totally unflappable, and was a can-do fix-it guy. He was my advocate. Gio was, too, but in terms of Life Stuff, Claudio was my guy. If I hadn’t been able to get back into my apartment that night, he would find a place for me. He was there for me. So I had a contact person for my own basic needs. And man, he was THERE for me. So kudos, Claudio.
The only guy who was a douche was the representative for the Town who showed up. Unfortunately, he was also hot in a tough young Gary Oldman way. So I had a mixture of lust and hatred for him, a palpably disturbing and thrilling combination. As I was hating him, I was also thinking, We kinda need to get naked and work this shit OUT. He was there to make sure none of us went into the apartment building, and that we all signed release forms, and all this bureaucratic shit. I said, “When will we be able to get back in?” His reply was, “Don’t jump the gun.” I said calmly, “If I had said, ‘Can I move back in now?’ – then you could say I was jumping the gun. I am not jumping the gun. Just asking for a ballpark number.” He didn’t speak to me after that. Just handed me the release form. I wanted to slap him. I wanted to kiss him. I felt very confused.
We heard different things from every person we talked to. And the folks in the front of the building had it way worse than those of us in the back. And everyone who had pets were freaking out. Sleeping on a friend’s couch is fine, but when you have a pet it complicates things. However, I was freaking out the most because my pet was missing. I’d be talking to some other tenant, totally engrossed in our conversation, and then would randomly turn my head to the side and shout into the universe, “HOPE??????” before turning back to the conversation as though nothing had happened. Nobody found it strange. If one thing, it has bonded the whole building together. I know all the tenants, it’s not a huge building, so we say Hi in the hallways and everything, but now … we are a GROUP. We are UNITED.
I spent the entire day outside. At one point I got lightheaded and realized I hadn’t eaten for hours. I drove to a nearby town and had some lunch. Stood in the parking lot talking to my mom on the phone. Talking to my sister. Everyone was reassuring. You’ll find her. She is crouched nearby and she is freaked out and there is too much activity in front of the building for her to come back now. UGH.
Came back home. Still no word. We had been told that Frank (he was mythical, like Godot, every single conversation somehow involved Frank although nobody had actually ever SEEN Frank) was due to arrive at 3, and that probably he would let most of us go back into our apartments then. We all clung to that as though it had been revealed in a burning bush. 3 p.m. We’ll be able to get back into our homes. 3 pm, 3 pm.
3 pm came and went. No Frank. He wasn’t answering phone calls. I talked to the hot plumber (why was everyone hot?). Hot plumber said, “I called Frank at 10 am. Haven’t heard back yet.” I said, “What the hell is going on with Frank?” Hot plumber said, “Maybe he forgot that it’s Friday. Maybe he’s out of town.” Everyone – contractors, service men, landlord, tenants, was waiting for Frank.
The cleanup crew was gone. They had boarded up the windows of the burned-up apartment and had (apparently) cleaned up the glass in the hallways. By 4 p.m., the temperature started to drop. It was starting to get dark, and we were all still outside. I started to feel like I needed Claudio. I still hadn’t found Hope, and I was getting hoarse from screaming for her. But if I couldn’t get back into my apartment, I’d rather know sooner than later, and just have Claudio hook me up. The Red Cross has an arrangement with Howard Johnson’s, so all I had to do was call him to set it up. They could put me up for the whole weekend free of charge if I needed it. So … maybe I should do that?
WHERE WAS FRANK???
Finally, the landlord told us we could go back in. His energy was “Fuck Frank, the building is fine, go back in” which I should have distrusted. But I was now quite cold, and had been out of doors since 6:30 in the morning. We all trooped back inside and into our respective apartments. (Well, not all of us. The apartment below the burned apartment was really damaged, so that couple had to stay with their daughter still.) It was almost worse being in my apartment. Because Hope wasn’t there. The damn place felt empty. I’ve had her for six years now. We are used to each other. We were on Block Island together. You know. She’s around. I made a chicken sandwich, and Hope WASN’T pestering me at my feet, and I dissolved into tears. Let’s face it, I was just exhausted.
I poured a big glass of Jameson’s, straight, and sat by my open window, occasionally screaming out “HOPE????” into the gathering twilight.
About 30 minutes pass. A knock comes at my door. I don’t move. I call out, “YES??” A guy opens my door (the lock wasn’t fixed yet) and says, “Ma’am? You can’t be in here.”
Even though it was kind of awful to be there without Hope, I did allow myself a couple of minutes of annoyance at the mixed-messages and flat-out contradictory orders we had been receiving. I said, “Why? They told us we could.”
“No. You can pack up another overnight bag if you want, but you can’t stay here tonight.”
“BUT THEY SAID I COULD.”
“No. You can’t.”
Unfortunately this poor guy had to have this same identical conversation with every single tenant who had already settled back in.
So we were all out on the streets again. It was now night. It was cold. After my first burst of annoyance, I let it go, because honestly, I was more upset about Hope missing than anything else. The other tenants had to pack up their animals in crates again, and it was all very annoying. I got it. We couldn’t be in there. But at least acknowledge that someone just told us that we could – it’s not like we are all disobeying orders and being unruly. But whatever. I let it go. I walked around the neighborhood, calling for Hope, occasionally bursting into sobs.
Then I got Claudio on the horn and told him to hook me up at Howard Johnson’s.
He said calmly, “No problem, Sheila.”
15 minutes later, the mythical Frank arrives and completely diffuses the growing Battle on the Barricades situation that is percolating. He looks exactly as I imagined him to look. He is used to contractors, he is a building inspector, he is the epitome of an Alpha male, although who the hell knows where he was all day. He was not officious, he was not rude to us (this is our HOME, people – don’t just dismiss the fact that you are telling us at 7:30 at night that we have to make other arrangements – at least have a little humility to realize that that sucks for us, and that we are pissed), and he said, “Look. The guys are working on the fire protection system, and that work will be going on until probably 10, 11 tonight. It’s gonna be loud, but the building is safe, you’re all fine to go back in.”
I immediately got Claudio on the horn again and told him to call off the Howard Johnson’s.
He said calmly, “No problem, Sheila.”
Claudio was unflappable.
Back in we all went. Frank came into my apartment, looked around, signed off on it, and left me alone. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Had a couple of melt downs. Kept staring out into the night. I ended up talking to Siobhan for a bit, and then talked to Beth for a couple of hours, and really cried a lot of it out. Beth was great. We haven’t spoken in a long time, so it was good to re-connect, too.
My apartment felt empty. It was awful. I lay in bed, and Hope normally sleeps around my head (until I can’t take it anymore and move her away) so it just felt wrong wrong wrong. I ached. I ached for my little furry companion. Where was she? I was picturing her huddling in a ditch, scared. I was picturing her as road kill. I was picturing her getting eaten by a dog. I cried myself to sleep. I resigned myself to losing the last of my looks. Well, that’s it, I’ll never bounce back from this night, looks-wise.
Woke up at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning. Felt like shit. I made a flier. I called all the area shelters and Faxed it to them, which I should have done the day before. Should have gone to a Kinko’s and got it done. But whatever, I did it on Saturday. I called the local police and asked them where she would be taken if she were turned in. The very nice officer told me that they were always notified any time an animal was turned in. I should come to the police department and give them the flier for distribution. So I put on my coat and tromped off to the police station with the flier. It was 7:30 in the morning.
The police station was empty except for three police officers, all big gruff goombahs. One of them looked at the flier, made a little “tsk tsk” sound, like “Isn’t this a shame.” See, life is not a Zero Sum to him. He deals with rapes and murders, but a woman losing her cat also warrants “isn’t it a shame”. THAT man has perspective.
They told me they would distribute it. I thanked them. It wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet and I was exhausted. Allison was going to come over in the afternoon and help me put up fliers and look. It would be good to have a partner-in-crime. Also the woman had tracked me down at the correct Days Inn through Google. She’s Columbo. I made my way back to my apartment. I walked and walked around the block, calling out to Hope. I knew she could hear me. I KNEW IT. She was just waiting. I kept running into other tenants. Many were doing loads of laundry because of the smoke smell. I had no smoke smell (my windows had open for 2 days and I was in the back of the building). But those in the front really suffered. Everyone asked about my cat. “We always see her in the window. Hope you find her.”
It was a long day. Nothing happened. I emailed Jen. I had put the Facebook post up, as a way to let all my friends know what was happening. She hadn’t replied, so I knew she hadn’t seen it. (How dare she not be on Facebook all day??) So I wrote her an email: “Uhm, not sure if you’ve seen my Facebook page, but ….” and detailed it all: Fire, Hope missing, Days Inn, Red Cross refugee. She called me back, shrieking, “I HAD NO IDEA ANY OF THIS WAS HAPPENING.” We talked for a while, and ended up laughing hysterically. She told me a story about her childhood cat who found herself miles from her home and made it back. She offered her help in any way.
At around 3 p.m., big grey clouds started rolling in and it started getting very cold. Allison arrived. Allison broke her foot over Christmas, and so still has the boot on. So there we were, in matching down coats, she in her boot, and wielding a frightening-looking packing tape gun. We walked around the block putting up fliers. We talked to everyone we saw. And, more often than not, they would come up to us and say, “What did you lose? Can we help?” Like I said, the fire was the big news in my neighborhood. Everyone was so grateful it hadn’t been worse, and eager to help. It’s nice to know my neighborhood is filled with such nice people. I mean, I have loved living here, and always sensed the good people (they are quiet, nice, calm, it’s not a loud neighborhood, it’s safe, people look out for each other), but they really showed their true colors. You really discover who people are when you are down-and-out and worried.
Allison was blatantly walking into people’s backyards through alleys. “I hope I don’t get shot,” she would say as she disappeared, with the damn boot on her foot, and the packing-tape gun in her hand. Imagine having a family picnic and seeing that emerge into your vicinity. “She’s back there somewhere,” she would say. “It’s all connected yards. That’s where she is.” Of course, that was where Hope had been seen bolting into on that first night. But to play it safe, we put up fliers everywhere, not just on my block. We called out for her. Having Allison with me was such a comfort. I certainly had my moments when I would break down (again: it was the anticipatory grief, imagining Hope not coming back at all and having to grieve her, etc.), but Allison kept us active and aggressive and positive. I felt like I had been aggressive for 2 days straight, but it helped having another eye.
After we put up all the fliers, we went back up to my apartment and hung out for a bit. We ended up talking about newspaper scandals and plagiarism. Do not ask me how we got there. I leant her a book about the Jayson Blair scandal. I walked her back to the bus. We hugged. “Call me the SECOND you hear anything!” she told me.
I kept going to the window and staring out, calling out Hope’s name, picturing her out there in the backyard right below, hearing me, and storing it up in her memory bank. “Okay, she’s right over there, I’ll go find her when I’m damn good and ready.” Unfortunately, it had started to rain, which was an awful feeling. But I know she’s tough. She has her claws. She’s a cat. She’s arrogant and tough. But still. I care for her, she is my responsibility, and it was terrible thinking of her out there. I tried to watch TV and found myself falling asleep in my chair. I crawled into bed and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. It was 8 p.m.
This was last night.
I slept like such a rock that I did not hear
1. My phone ring two times
2. My doorbell ring
Slept through it all.
I woke up at 4 a.m. I had gone to bed so early that I was, to quote my dad, “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” despite the hour. I still had “lost my looks”, and still looked like Momma, but I was alert. I went to the phone and saw voicemails from two numbers. Numbers I didn’t recognize. I felt still and tense. Listened to the first voicemail, which had come at midnight. The first words I heard: “We have your cat….”
I didn’t even gasp. I didn’t cry. I didn’t weep with happiness. But boy, was I happy. I stood stock-still listening to this urgent sweet voice telling me about Hope showing up on the doorstep at 11:30 last night … “and we had seen the flier, and we saw that she had a damaged ear – we knew it was her …” The woman had been ringing my bell, and left me a message from my vestibule using her friend’s cell phone (hence, the two numbers). “My mother lives two doors down from you – she can stay with her tonight …” (Two doors down. I knew it. That was the alley Hope originally ran into. She was there all along.) But I could tell: this woman was DETERMINED to get me the message, and just was hoping I would pick up, answer the bell, something.
I hung up the phone and had a quiet moment of thankfulness. Thankfulness that Hope was okay, thankful that nice neighbors took her in, and had taken the time to actually peruse the description on the flier: “her left ear is crumpled”. That stupid damaged ear might have saved Hope’s life!
But dammit, it was 4 a.m.!!! If I were a different person, maybe I would have called them at that time and woken everyone up. But I didn’t. Hope was safe, she was inside, and all I had do now was wait a little bit more. Until it was a decent hour. I made a pot of coffee. I couldn’t do anything. I tried to read. I looked at Elvis pictures on the Internet. I shot off emails to everyone: my cousin Kerry, my family, Allison, Jen. I texted Gio. (To show his integrity, he emailed me back later that morning: “I am so relieved! Great news!”) I left an update on the Facebook post, which by that point was up to over 100 comments. “She was found!!”
Many people who responded over the next couple of hours said, “Thank you, St. Anthony!” It sure makes you feel good to have people shouting out prayers to saints on your behalf, especially if they echo your own prayers from the bathtub at the lonely Days Inn surrounded by stray cats, none of whom is Hope. I love the saints. I have personal relationships with them. I don’t write about this stuff on the Internet. But I guess now is as good a time as ever to come clean.
One of the best things about the Facebook aspect of this story is how much people gave a shit. Not just about me, but about Hope. We are small, in the scheme of things. Of course we are. But a cat is lost. And people cared. They cared about that lost cat. It is so heartening.
It was 5 a.m. I could no longer bear it. I still didn’t feel comfortable calling my neighbors. But I had to get outside. I put on my coat and walked to the Dunkin Donuts. Got a coffee. Walked around in the dark. No tears. I have not shed a tear since I got word that she had been found. I never want to cry again. I just felt so happy, and I couldn’t wait to see her again.
I sat on my stoop in the darkness, reveling in the knowledge that Hope was safe and warm inside. I blessed that woman who had called me – TWICE – ringing my bell, so anxious was she to get the word to me. That’s a good person. How many times have I walked by a “lost dog” poster and glanced at it but not really taken it in? She took it in.
Finally, at 6:01 a.m., I thought, “I know. I will wake people up. But the sun is up. I have to call.”
I called the number of the house two doors down. A clearly sleepy woman answered on the first ring. “Hello?” I said, tremendously sorry and submissive, “I am so sorry …” The woman interrupted me before I had even introduced myself: “Sheila! We have your cat!”
Aren’t people beautiful?
I said, “Thank you SO MUCH.”
She said, “Come over to pick her up. I’ll tell you the whole story.”
I love her so much.
I ran upstairs, grabbed Hope’s crate, and went to the house two doors from me. Doris was waiting for me at the door in her nightgown. She was so nice. She was in her 60s, and a sweet grandmotherly type. She wanted to tell me the whole story, and she was an awesome storyteller. She gave me the whole context. Her daughter was the one who had called me. They were all over there last night, Doris, her husband (whom I know – I had never met Doris), their daughter, their granddaughter and her boyfriend (both about 20, 21 years old). “So we were all up late, having some beers, which is totally rare for us. And so we were taking the beer cans out onto the deck in back to the recycle bin. And there she was, sitting on the deck, staring at the door.” Hahahaha. Hope!! She knew: People are up and about in that house. I need to get myself the hell in there.
There are so many stray cats in the neighborhood but they are wild and run when you try to talk to them. Doris’ daughter looked at Hope and knew: This is no stray. She is an indoor cat. She wants to come inside. Then she noticed Hope’s ear. “Ma,” said Doris’ daughter, “I think that’s that lost cat. Look at her ear. Let me go out and look at the flier again.”
Allison and I had done our work.
She came out, checked out the flier, came back inside and looked at Hope. “That is definitely her.” She had jotted down the number on the flier and called me immediately. I slept the sleep of the dead and did not pick up. Doris’ daughter is a huge animal lover and actually works at a shelter. She knew the distress of animal owners who lose their pets. So she came over to my building and rang my bell, calling me again from the vestibule. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Doris’ daughter said, “We can’t let her run off again – you have to keep her here for the night.” Doris’ daughter took charge, set up a litter box with newspaper, and tried to coax Hope inside. Hope just sat there in the rain, staring. But she knew what she had to do. Finally, she tiptoed into the strange house. Everyone was up. It was a crowded and friendly atmosphere. Perhaps overwhelming to her, but she knows friendlieness when she sees it, and within 5 minutes, she lay on her back, and stretched out, revealing her belly.
Hope! Save at least a LITTLE bit for later. Jeez! Mind your manners!
Doris told me that she wandered around for a while, she ate some food (oh, Hope, she knew how to get what she needed: she is no dummy. She hid, until she got hungry, and then came out … to the right house, turns out). She then hid under the bed, and stayed there all night, apparently. Doris assumed she was still back there, so she led me through the house. The granddaughter and her boyfriend were sleeping on two couches in the living room. We tiptoed through. I loved these people. We stood in Doris’ room. Hope was not on the bed. We kiss-kissed for her. And then out she emerged from wherever she was, tiptoeing anxiously into the room. I picked her up. She was purring like a furnace, and – not lying – she started kissing my face, holding both of her paws up on my cheeks gently. It was like a dog’s greeting. She definitely knew she had been saved. Now, Hope is a survivor. She would have figured it out and adjusted to a new owner if someone had scooped her up. But she knew. She knew. She doesn’t like to be held when I am standing up (she’s a weirdo) but she didn’t mind there in Doris’ house. She cuddled, head-butted me, licked me, all while holding her paws on my face.
Doris said, watching the reunion, “This is a very happy moment for me.”
Standing there with her grey hair and her nightgown. Such a beautiful person.
I carried Hope back through the house to her crate and Hope crawled into it with nary a protest. Once I locked her in, she started yowling, however. Saying, “thank you so much, please thank your daughter for me”, I hustled out the door and back two doors down to my apartment. Let Hope out and just had the best time watching her walk around, have some food, and then promptly plop herself down onto her waiting pillow in front of the warm radiator and give herself the longest bath in the history of baths, purring so loudly that it made me laugh out loud to hear her.
Later that morning, I drove to the supermarket and bought a chocolate truffle cake and a Thank You card and took it to the house that had taken Hope in. It was about 11 a.m. at this point. What was so great was that everyone was up, and so I got to hear the story from everyone’s perspectives. We stood in the kitchen and Doris’ sweet granddaughter, about 20 years old, showed me all the pictures she had taken on her iPhone of Hope. Hope lying on the couch, Hope kissing the granddaughter’s boyfriend, Hope standing in the middle of the living room, Hope playing with a little piece of paper, totally abandoned and uninhibited as though she had lived there always.
This is a tribute to who these people are.
Not only did they take her in, but they enjoyed her.
I stood in the kitchen, listening to all of them tell me the story of Hope Arriving At Their Doorstep, all talking together, interrupting each other, laughing, kind, excited to have helped, and felt very glad that there are such people on this earth. Because they helped this happen.
Thanks everyone. Thank you, Gio. Thank you, Claudio. Thank you, Hot Douche From the Town for adding a bit of lust to my sad day. Thank you, everyone on Facebook, friends I have met, friends I have not.
Thank you, Kim Morgan, for posting two things once I got the word out that Hope had been found.
First this. Hysterical. That’s pretty much representative of what is going to be happening tonight once I fall into my bed.
And then posting this on my Facebook wall:
Thank you, my mother, my brother, my sisters, for caring about Hope because I care about her. Because you care about me. Thank you. Thank you, Jen. Thank you, cousin Kerry. Thank you, Allison.
Thank you, sweet kind enthusiastic family two houses down for taking my cat in, for feeding her, for caring for her.
Thank you, you.