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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Happy birthday! Remember a few months ago when I asked for permission to write about Mars? Well, this is it! I thought I’d write this episode in the epistolary / birthday card form just to switch things up. Of course, your real card is in the mail right now. That one was harder for me to write, as you know I have trouble expressing my feelings (screams and rolls on floor). I think our friendship is the best thing to have come out of catsitting. And let’s be honest, I’ve never had a column and have no idea what I can get away with. Public declarations of love in front of an audience of an unknown number, perhaps?!

We met when you put out a call for catsitters in the grad school Slack. (Bear with me as I do the classic second-paragraph exposition for the dear, imagined readers. I guess I still need to work on varying my writing.) I remember standing on your stoop, trying to figure out how to get into your building to pick up the apartment keys, when I heard someone call my name from behind me. I turned to see you wearing your beat-up farmer boots and a flannel. You seemed to have emerged from the community garden down the block, the way a siren emerges from the sea.

You led me to the third floor, and I met Mars. She was still a baby and had just gotten spayed, her little tummy pink and shaven. She was unlike any cat I’d seen before. She was smaller than average but had large, pointed ears and white fur with gray patches and spots, like a cow. We sat on the floor and threw some toys around for Mars. I wasn’t scared of her yet. I let her sniff my hand and tried to pet her, but she ducked her head and seemed unbearably shy.

You showed me around the apartment and asked if I wanted to hang out more. I was like, right now? It was late summer of 2021, and we were still in the early years of the pandemic. It had been a while since I engaged in improvised socializing, so I made some excuse about having to go back downtown. On the train ride home, with your spare set of keys in my pocket, I mulled the invitation over and doubted myself for fleeing.

I returned to the apartment while you were traveling. For three days, Mars and I lived in relative peace. I enjoyed watching her engage in her hobbies: tracking birds from the window, peeing in the large planters, and chasing bugs that got into the apartment. Mars became more confident as time passed and allowed me to pet her. I chose to sleep on the couch, and she would nap above me or wedge herself under my arm before waking up early to play. She emanated extremely large yowls that disrupted my sleep, but that was small potatoes.

On day four, I figured we were comfortable enough that I could try holding her. I scooped Mars up and slung her over my shoulder, bouncing her up and down. All was well, so the next day I picked her up again. I took a mirror selfie to send to you, then turned my face toward Mars to check in on her. It was at that moment that she reared her head back, her neck kind of receding into her body, and I saw a flash of paw. BAM! I keeled over and dropped her. My eye was watering and I stumbled from the bathroom to the living room, a few tears starting to stream from my left eye. I cupped the cool of my palm against it, turning to see where the cat had gone. She looked at me from the hallway, her neck and ears alert. I checked my reflection in my darkened phone screen. My eye was swelling. In a few hours it would turn green and blue.

The rest of the trip was spent tiptoeing around Mars. I texted you about the black eye, and we both lauded her ability to assert her rights and practice self-defense. I thought I knew my way around cats, but it was my inability to read her that scared me. We could never go back to our age of innocence.

When you returned, I was stunned to watch you chase Mars around the apartment and speak to her in your loud cat voice. She side-hopped and scrunched her back, and you were like, she’s playing! We debriefed and made actual plans this time, then you picked up Mars in order to walk me out. Her neck suddenly receded into her body again. WHAM! She slapped your mouth and drew blood. In the doorway, you wiped it away with your hand and acted like it was nothing, so I also pretended to be unphased. Inwardly, my respect for you bloomed.

No one really asks what my “type” of person is, probably because it’s a stereotypical and outdated question, but in my head I keep a general list: leather daddies, dom tops, women who know they’re hot, women with RBF, women who scare me, transmascs, butches, nonbinary runners, and people who are thirty-one. You were in a few / helped form some of those categories. It didn’t surprise me when we took the ferry to the New York City Poetry Festival and you showed me all the scratches Mars had left on your hands, or when you taught me how to deadlift at the YMCA and randomly shouted in the quiet weight room. Or when you demonstrated how to manage a classroom (which also involved a well-timed shout), or how to post millennial thirst traps, or how to text people back when you’re mad at them. There’s also your self-awareness, your persistence, and the way you consistently gravitate to those guys on the street who try to make you switch to renewable energy. I’ve never seen you waste anything in my life.

I’m glad we still see each other so often, although I don’t make the trek to your apartment as much as I used to. When I do visit, I feel compelled to bring Mars a toy or some other form of sacrifice, as if she were a tiny god. She once lunged at me and made a spitting noise that I didn’t know cats could make, so perhaps she is an otherworldly creature?

When I think about people with animal familiars, I think about you and Mars or this lesbian surfer I know who has a really mean chihuahua. The dog is perpetually growling and once bit my shoe while my foot was still in it. There’s also the lesbian critic who brought her dachshund to the reading at the bookstore. I asked if she ever put her dog in clothes, even though I already knew the answer was no. There’s the notion that people’s pets look like them or are similar in personality, but I wouldn’t say that’s the case here because you wouldn’t punch me in the face, and Grace wouldn’t bite my shoe. What all your familiars do have in common, though, is autonomy, and maybe that’s what I’m trying to say I like. I like that you let your animals spit and bite.