Mai Tran began catsitting in 2021 while Tran was on pandemic unemployment, often staying overnight in people’s homes. Tran has now cared for twenty-two cats and traveled to ten apartments all over New York City, observing the interior lives of cat owners and appeasing their neuroses. From home vet visits to black eyes to refugee cats, Chronicles of a Catsitter documents the most memorable days on the job.

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It’s late August, and I’m lugging a duffel bag to the Bronx to stay with my friend M. for a week. She’s recovering from a breast augmentation, and I’ll be taking care of her cats and helping out with the groceries and household chores until she can lift things.

I arrive at night, the same day of the surgery. M.’s friend E., a beautiful actress on strike, lets me in and takes me up to see M. She’s groggy but has enough energy to show me her new boobs, which look great, as all boobs do. We order delivery from a chain burrito place, and E. explains UFO conspiracy theories to us until she has to leave, which is when M. gets up to explain her house to me.

The whole thing is rigged with Amazon Alexa, to the point where the light switches are defunct. I learn that I’m such a sub I don’t like telling Alexa what to do. I find her little, circular body on the TV stand and get on my hands and knees to whisper, Alexa, turn off living room lights.

The cats, Lizard and Darcy, are in the basement, where they have an automatic litter box. I see they have pooped on the floor, and there is litter scattered everywhere. I do some sleuthing and realize the Litter Robot has stopped rotating, so the cats can’t get in. While I’m troubleshooting, a.k.a. googling “what does Litter Robot blue light mean,” Darcy squats into position and poops on the floor again. M. and I watch in silence. I can’t tell if M. is unfazed, unsurprised, or still high from the anesthesia. It turns out the blue light is actually purple, but none of it matters because the solution is just to turn the robot off, then on.

The next morning, M. is more awake and shows me her countertop dishwasher, which takes ten jugs of water to fill and can barely clean two people’s worth of dishes at a time, let alone a pan. Robots will never replace human labor anyway, because the house is so full of dust and cat hair that I get an eczema outbreak. I go up and down the stairs and into the basement with a hand vacuum, trying to clear the air.

E. returns in the evening, and we all eat more fast food on the couch. She hugs a stuffed animal passed on to her when she got bottom surgery this year, which she passed on to M., who will hopefully pass it on to someone else. A cis woman I catsat for, who had gotten a breast reduction done, had also passed a pillow on to me when I got top surgery. E., M., and I sit in a row, and E. talks about how special it is to be together, with all our modified trans bodies.

The conversation turns to doctors, which ones take insurance and do or don’t require referral letters. E. loves a Dr. Tran who does trans surgeries, which leads to us watching Robin Tran’s stand-up bits. My roommate’s dad once texted them, “hows mai trans health,” and I genuinely thought he was interested in my trans health care until my roommate put in the apostrophe. Later, I text my friend about how safe I feel there, amid the mountains of clutter and stuff.

What does make me feel unsafe is the lack of coffee in the house. I start going to the corner store under the subway station, until the women working there recognize me. On my last day in the area, I think they can sense it, because they crowd together, giggling. They ask if I’m Thai, Filipino, or Korean. I say I’m Viet, and they go ahh. They had guessed Thai or Filipino. “Yes, all the brown ones,” I say, glad they could clock it.

Back on the couch, M. shows me the new selfies she’s taken, her boobs center-framed. We had met on Grindr and hooked up for a little bit before calling it quits in that regard. We scroll through her Feeld, a relatively new dating app “for open-minded individuals.” Sometimes, I can’t tell if it’s genuinely bad out there or if every cool gay is already seriously partnered, and we’re just left with the white people named Sock. “It’s harder for us,” says M., who is Indigenous and transitioned well into her adult life.

There are the friends I love and the work I believe in, all the things I want to do, and still, I wonder about the dailiness of other people’s lives, the maintenance work that happens between the big ventures into the outside world. How nice, I think, to have a body beside your body, a person with whom you can fill up all that time and space.