Sunday night, the same day I posted my review of Amanda Palmer's new book about relying on strangers and asking for help, I get home to the apartment we've lived in for less than a week, after working a 10 hour shift. I'm attempting to fix a washing machine that won't run and suddenly someone is banging on our window yelling "That house is on fire!" I look out our door and the third floor of the apartment building directly behind ours has flames billowing out of it.
We all spring into action. My wife is yelling, neighbors are trying to help us catch and crate the animals. They are all hiding among unpacked boxes. I fling a tool box (broke it, oops) and push the washing machine aside to get one cat. A stranger upsets one of our beds to get another cat. A bookshelf is toppled and books are everywhere. Our sixteen year old niece is standing on the sidewalk crying into a stranger's arms. Another man is on the sidewalk getting his arms scratched to shreds by our cat who hates strangers (but thankfully he isn't letting her go. He's a hero). And my wife is in the car counting cats. She's screaming. "We don't have Poppy. (her mother's cat we are babysitting) Where's Poppy?" I'm trying to remain in action and calm my family, counting animals. Counting again. We are definitely missing Poppy. One of our crates has broken and the door isn't secure so a stranger removes her shoelaces and ties it shut for us. Another stranger is giving my wife candy and water to help her glucose levels. So many people helped us. So many.
Then they turn on a firehose. It surrounds my car. I can't leave.
I go back to the house three times. At one point a group of high school students leads me through a path they know that gets me to our place faster. A chunk of burning charcoal falls right in front me. I've never seen anything so terrifying and beautiful. I get shoes for my wife and niece. I get my laptop. I get my wife's laptop. I get my grandmother's coffee cup, the only thing I own I would cry over if it was lost. But I can't find the missing cat. I describe her to a few neighbors, ask them to watch for her. I shine a flashlight under every porch I pass. Finally, I call a really good friend who lives nearby. She comes down and parks on the other side of the firehose. We put all the animals in her car. We take my wife and niece to her house. My wife at this point looks like she's about to collapse She has chronic health issues, we hadn't eaten dinner yet, and she has done more in two hours than she can physically do in a week. Adrenaline is an amazing thing.
My friend lives upwind, but the smoke is still thick enough that it's starting to collect in her house. She has a one year old who was a premie baby so she's worried about his lungs. She has two very stressed out dogs. And all of our animals in her basement/spare room.
And we are still missing a cat.
So, I go back to the house. A fireman stops me, "You can't go in there right now. Your house isn't going to burn, it's safe from that, but there was a gas line explosion in the burning building and it's too close to be safe." Thinking fast, knowing he may not let me back in for a cat, I say, "My wife is at a friend's house up the street, she's got asthma. I need her nebulizer." He says okay, but he's going with me. (Sooty boots on my brand new white carpets! Did I mention my OCD? Even in this insanity I worried about his boots.) He follows me in. On instinct I reach behind the couch and pull out the missing cat. I don't know exactly how I knew where she was, I just knew all of a sudden. I crate her in a cloth crate and fling it over my shoulder. The fireman laughs at me because he realizes I lied to him to get the cat. I walk back to my friend's house with the cat, through the smoke, through throngs of people, with a 17 pound bag of cat food on one shoulder and a nine pound cat on my other.
Our wonderful friends, who I've known since high school, order pizza and loan my wife an asthma inhaler (since I still hadn't grabbed her nebulizer.) They give me clothes to wear (at one point I ran through a firehose, so my work clothes are drenched.)
I pack the wife and asthmatic niece up and take them to the hotel I work in. And we all crash. We are able to return the next day. We open windows and run fans. Can't park in the driveway because it's covered in broken pieces from the burnt place. A friend and a coworker fix our washing machine and get our dryer hooked up.
So, again, I had to put all that Art of Asking to work. Thank you Amanda Palmer, for making me feel okay in trusting strangers. I trusted them. And they delivered.