The time I saved a life (well, sorta)

A memory

It is summer 2008, and I am visiting Chris in Athens for the first time since he moved there the week before. I am helping him unpack and get settled into his new place. The wonderful thing about a friend giving me free reign to his apartment (including deciding where the dishes will go and where the furniture should be placed and even what color the furniture will be) is that it makes me feel really at home here.

Plus, Chris and I have a really unusual friendship: unusual in that it is honest. That sort of honesty can lead to complete comfort around one another; if I am driving him crazy, I know it because he tells me. If I think something in his apartment looks dumb, he knows because I tell him. With all the cards out on the table like that, it takes off any edge that a typical house guest would cause, especially a house guest who is rifling through all the effects of the one who lives there.

JC relaxes on the bed as I try to hang the curtains he is resting on.
JC relaxes on the bed as I try to hang the curtains he is resting on.

The other nice piece to this puzzle is Chris’ cat, JC. JC typically hides from newcomers and is quite wary of people, but for some reason JC and I have really bonded. He curls up with me while I sleep, he follows me around the apartment everywhere I go, purring and rubbing against my leg (even as I write this, he is napping in the sun from the window next to where I sit). I am a dog person but my heart melts for JC.

We have an upcoming trip to IKEA planned but we are waiting for other friends to arrive, so after unpacking and organizing the kitchen and the closet, I feel it’s time for a much-needed break. Bubble bath and book time! Chris is at work so I have the apartment all to myself. I settle in for a quiet morning and figure I’ll pick back up on the organizing after he comes home for lunch.

I am just getting into my book (I believe it is Into the Wild, if my memory serves me correctly), when … Oh, my Word. The loudest, most obnoxious shrilling noise interrupts my morning of solitude. I panic. What is that? JC, who had been resting on the bathroom tile next to my bath, jumps up and runs into the closet in fear. I realize quickly it is the fire alarm. And I am wet, naked, and covered in bubbles in an apartment on the second floor.

I jump out, quickly pat a towel over me, and throw on my shorts and tank top that I had been wearing before the bath with timing from hell. I run out of the bathroom, find JC cowering in a corner, and I reach in and grab him. Luckily, he trusts me and he presses himself against me. He is scared, too.

I look around for a cat carrier. Surely Chris has one. Where, where, where? After all this organizing, you would think I would know, but that seems to be the one thing I haven’t come across. By this point, the building could be about to go up in flames, and we have to go now. So, I am still slightly wet, holding a scared cat, and about to make a run for it. I glance at my laptop. Do I have enough hands … no. Bye bye, laptop. …

I open the front door and dash outside. Uh-oh. The noise is much louder out here. Suddenly, JC is in panic mode. And why wouldn’t he be? He probably thinks I’m taking him into the danger, not away from it! I am amazed at his strength as he attempts to leap out of my arms. I hold tight, but barely, and resulting is a bleeding, 5-inch long scratch right down my chest. Despite the pain, I hold on for dear life. I have to save this cat!

I know at this point there’s no way I will be able to carry him to street level without him getting away. Do I risk him running away from me? Thoughts rush through my head about animals being able to find their way home. Is that cats or just dogs? Dammit, I don’t know. And Chris just moved here – would JC even know his home yet or would someone find him wandering around Columbia 6 months later? Now I am panicking, and I open the front door and rush back into the apartment, where things are quieter at least. Think, Melissa.

JC finally gets his way, out of my arms, and runs back into the closet. At this point I am shaking all over and fighting back tears. I can’t leave him. I won’t leave him. I have to get myself, and the cat, outside without anyone burning up or running away. This can’t be that difficult! I try to call Chris to ask about a carrier. No signal. I am panicking. I am panicking and I can barely see straight.

I have thoughts in my head about people calling me the “poor dear who burned up in the fire trying to save the cat.” I don’t care – I would rather die trying to save him than leave him helpless and alone.

I rush through the apartment and do another once-over for the cat carrier. And then I see it – on the laundry room shelf, in plain view. I have no idea how I missed it the first time. I grab JC from the closet again – he is much less trusting this time – and put him in the carrier. Run out the door, literally run, and down the hall and toward the exit. And then …

The sounds stop. No more fire alarm. I stop, too. What does that mean? False alarm? There is no fire? It’s been put out? I’m still quivering and freaking out. I call Chris. This time I do have a signal.

He answers, “Hi, you … ”

Now I’m not sure what to say. “I’m soaking wet and bleeding and outside with your cat that probably hates me now and I don’t know whether to go back inside and maybe burn or run out to the street.” ?

So I say, “Ummm … I think … I think everything is OK now … but the fire alarm was going off and it just stopped and I don’t know if there is a fire …”

“Oh yeah,” he says casually. “I got an email that they’d be testing the new fire alarms today.”

I might have “saved” JC’s life, but I probably could have taken Chris’ right then …

It took a few days, but JC finally decided to love me again and the scratches healed, although in certain light you can still see a slight scar now. I like to look at it as battle wound from saving a life. And until his dying day, Chris will never live down the fact that he neglected to forward that email …