I hadn't driven down BPW Club Road in Carrboro in the many years since my friend Laura and I grew up and got husbands and lives. But early one morning last week, I cruised down Laura's old street and felt a curtain of memories drop around me.
How many evenings we whiled away in her apartment, burning vanilla-scented candles, dancing rowdily to Jimmy Buffett. How many conversations meandered into the wee hours, as we wrestled with our futures, fledgling careers, relationship turmoil. The anxiety that torments most 20-somethings led us occasionally to declare "angst-free weekends," when we would self-impose a ban on all whining.
But my venture there was not intended as a trip down memory lane. It was in the service of a different kind of friendship: the human-feline bond.
On Sept. 30, a fire destroyed a building in Laura's old complex, killing one resident, rendering 20 more homeless—and leaving 11 beloved cats unaccounted for. One, Phoebe, escaped from the second floor clutched in the arms of her human, Kristin Pietrowicz. Pietrowicz and roommate Susan Thorne, 25-year-old lifelong friends from Ohio, jumped in desperation from their balcony, suffering multiple injuries and losing Phoebe in the air.
For a month, a friend of one of the residents has been setting and monitoring friendly traps in the area, hoping to lure any surviving cats back to safety. Some of us from Bayou Rescue, a Chapel Hill animal group, stepped in to provide relief labor.
Trapping cats can be a heartbreakingly fruitless endeavor, and feels more so with each unsuccessful day. But on Oct. 27, four weeks after her terrifying plunge, Phoebe walked into a trap baited with her favorite food, peanut butter. She weighed only 5 pounds and had a fractured rear paw, but she's alive. So, we soldier on, hopefully.
From one trap, I freed a terrified baby opossum who apparently had quite an appetite for Friskies. I dumped stale food from the others, rebaited and reset them all. I called each missing cat's name, searching the nearby woods in the weak early light for movement, listening hard: nothing.
Standing on the steep bank where 14 homes turned to smoke in a jiffy, I imagined flames licking into Laura's old apartment, devouring the vanity table dressing she glue-gunned together, the recycled furniture she taught herself how to stencil. Laura and I are facing 40, now, and we live in opposite corners of the Triangle. Which isn't that far, until you factor in demanding jobs, growing boys, grocery shopping. We lunch, squeezing into an hour visits that used to consume whole weekends. I miss her. But I'm the friend she calls from the ER, when her baby is sick and her husband out of town. And she's the person who ditches everything—without being asked—to spend a day holding my hand through a grueling ordeal.
Pietrowicz and Thorne are lucky to be alive, and to have each other. I know they will dance in their next apartment. I wish them angst-free weekends. I hope to find more cats.