I got Bumblebee back when I was living in Providence—fresh out of RISD— in 2009. My co-worker at the time found her underneath a car on the west side of town. She was so small that they took turns that night putting her into objects (a boot, a top hat, a Mr. Planters can, etc).
It was Halloween night when I got her. I remember I was sitting outside one of the dorms of my school. I had graduated but still had friends on campus, and I had been spending the evening helping them get their Halloween costumes together for the annual Artist Ball held by our school. I was sitting outside, waiting, and watching a stream of students pass me to go to a dance I hadn’t cared to attend when I was a student. I remember just wanting so badly to be a part of it for once, and I couldn’t.
It was that moment of realization: College is over. Time to grow up.
My co-worker pulled up in her Oldsmobile to hand over Bumblebee (who was nameless at the time). I got in the passenger seat and she plopped this tiny black and brown fur ball into my lap. Without saying a word to her, I burst into tears. Bumblebee perked up her ears for a second, and then she went back to sleep completely unfazed. She snoozed along peacefully as I tried to calm the torrent of tears streaming down my cheeks. I remember saying to my co-worker, “I’m so sorry. I just realized I graduated college.”
Bumblebee has been with me ever since. She’s sat with me while I’ve cried into her fur. She’s slept next to my head on cold nights, and tucked herself into my side when she thought I was asleep. She’s moved across the country with me (twice!). She’s dealt with my dysfunctional relatives with me. She’s cried for me when I’m right outside the door, struggling to get my shoes on so I can leave for work. She’s curled up in my lap and slept while I spend hours at my desk editing. She’s interrupted me in the shower (I don’t know why she does this—she hates water?). She saved me from a house fire. She saved me from a lot of things.
We lived alone in an old house in Providence. It was just the two of us. Bumblebee was so tiny, I was constantly terrified that she would either get stuck in a crevasse somewhere, or go outside and not be able to find her way home. I didn’t realize how resilient she already was.
At the time, she didn’t like sleeping next to me on the bed. She always slept either at my feet or on one of my bags on the floor. I always fell asleep looking at her while on my side. One night, I was up late talking on the phone with a friend. When 1:30 in the morning rolled around, we both decided to try and get some shut eye. I remember hanging up the phone and falling asleep quickly. Sleep was fitful. I remember hearing some sounds, but convinced myself it was just noises from the wind.
Suddenly, two soft paws were hitting me in the face. I woke up to Bumblebee sitting on my chest, her eyes big and frantic as her tiny paws batted me awake. I looked over at my door and saw that the door frame was lit up; it looked like the kitchen lights were on. I heard what sounded like soft footsteps. Still half awake and very confused, I texted the same friend I had been on the phone with earlier in the night:
Are you still awake? I think there’s someone in my house.
He called me immediately. “There’s someone in your house? Are you sure? You should call the cops.”
I remember whispering under my sheets, “I think so… I can hear them walking around.”
“Call the cops and call me back,” he said, promptly hanging up.
I got up and put Bumblebee in my closet, because I didn’t want to risk her getting out or anything happening to her. She was so small, she could fit in my hand. Then I crept to the door, took a second to brace myself, and threw it open.
It wasn’t an intruder. The far corner of my kitchen was engulfed in flames taller than me. It was right next to the stove, and I remember being completely frozen for a second.
Oh my god.
My house is on fire. Is the oven going to explode? What do I do?
I panicked. I just ran for it.
I flew upstairs and pounded on my neighbor’s door, screaming for them to wake up. Luckily he came down with his fire extinguisher and tried to put the flames out. I was on the phone with 9-1-1 at this point. We tried to put the flames out ourselves by throwing water on it from the sink with a pot. But it wasn’t changing a thing. The wall of flames was far too big.
I ran outside. Firetrucks and police cars were approaching extremely quickly. I remember I was barefoot, standing in my pajamas, frantically waving them down. As they ran out of the trucks I was saying, “Please help her! My cat is inside!! She’s in the closet.”
It was the dead of winter. My toes were very cold on the pavement.
Someone walked me to a truck and put me in a spare pair of fireman’s boots. They brought Bumblebee out to me and I remember sitting in the truck with her in my arms, telling her I was sorry over and over again. One of the firefighters had wrapped her up in one of my scarves.
Once the fire was completely out, the firefighters told me that I was very lucky. The flames were big enough that “they were licking your upper cabinets. If they had caught, your house would have burned down very quickly.” When they questioned me and realized Bumblebee was the reason I knew the fire was even happening, they smiled.
“That’s a smart kitty.”
A couple of days later, I ran into my neighbor on the porch.
“We’re gonna have to get Bumblebee a medal or something,” he said. He could tell I was confused and clarified.
“It’s the least we can do. She saved all of our lives.”
Yoon is a Korean-American multi-disciplinary artist based in Brooklyn. On days when she isn’t juggling all of her creative work, she can be found on her couch, glued to the PS4, with her cat Bumblebee by her side.