Once upon a time I lived in a rent controlled 3-bedroom flat in San Francisco.
My boyfriend-at-the-time was “not a cat guy,” and under no circumstances ever wanted to get one. He was actually a militant vegan (although ethic-less in most other regards) who didn’t believe in the subjugation of animals by forced domesticity. His words.
One Sunday, boyfriend was busy studying for his math final when his dad called, unprompted, to say that he had found us a cat.
“But we don’t want a cat,” boyfriend said in a tone of immediate pre-defeat. The usual series of familial arguments ensued, with the end result being that we agreed to go rescue this arbitrary anonymous kitten from its current owner and hang onto it until the dad could come get it from us—by that evening at the latest.
Since boyfriend was busy studying, I was delegated to go rescue the cat from its squalid circumstances. In one of the more ghetto parts of the Mission I found myself knocking on the door of a welfare housing unit.
A scowling old Chinese woman answered the door.
She didn’t speak a lick of English. She glared at me for as long as it took me to repeat “I’m here for the cat” about four times, with decreasing confidence. Finally, a young girl showed up in the background, with a tiny fuzzball of a kitten that the old woman, I soon gathered, had not even realized was in the house. While they screamed at each other in Chinese, I picked up the naturally curious and not-at-all-shy kitten and tried not to feel any kind of love for it.
While I stood awkwardly on the front step watching the Chinese mother-daughter duo embroiled in a heated argument, a bored posse of dudes next door was making lewd catcalls at me. I was getting more and more nervous, unsure of why I was picking up this random kitten that no one even wanted.
I called boyfriend’s dad.
I said, “Are you sure you want this kitten? Do you even know anything about it? Where it came from? Do you know what it looks like?”
Dad, who had a strangely apathetic attitude toward the animal kingdom despite his son’s militant vegan fervor, said, “What does it matter? It’s a cat. I could use a cat.”
Before I could wind up this pointless phone conversation, a door slammed in my face, a deadbolt locked audibly, and I realized that I had been shut out of the bickering Chinese house. Just me and this tiny little furball, standing there on the curb in the ghetto.
That’s how Budapest came home with me.
No papers, no veterinary information, no certificate from the pound. No background history, no birthday, nada. Just a sweet little animal that smelled like Chinese fish sauce and had a raccoon tail bigger than its body. On the way home, I remember glancing at her and saying, out loud, “Well, it’s just you and me now,” and then immediately wondering, why did I just say that?
As soon as I walked in the door and put the kitten down, she ran over to boyfriend and stuck her head in his hoodie pocket. And there she stayed, for hours, until he fell in love with her. And needless to say, by the time my father in law decided to swing by and pick up his new pet, we were not ready to give her up.
We named her Budapest. We never learned anything about where she was from. But we quickly learned that she was feisty as a motherfuck and, actually, not all that sweet. She could stick up for herself. She was a little bit cross-eyed, but she had uncanny balance and preferred heights, where she could survey the world from a place of dominance. She hated small children, dogs, and people with too much joie de vivre. She had uncanny strength and quickly developed many adept forms of defending herself from perceived threats, including punching, biting, hissing, growling, scratching, and her piece de resistance—the savage bunny kick.
She also proved herself a doting sister when we brought home Luka, another discarded kitten, from the pound. Budapest took it upon herself to carefully groom (read: pin down and lick) Luka’s coat whenever she possibly could. Although Luka was the definite street cat (“probably found under a bush somewhere,” they said) she was the far more docile and well-behaved kitten and never gave us any trouble.
Budapest, though, is a handful and has only gotten more ruthless and willful as she’s gotten older. But despite her “special needs,” her slight lazy eye, and her mysterious and obviously traumatic past, I could not possibly love her more. She’s kind of my favorite. She has an attitude that I find secretly impressive, and in many ways I aspire to be more like her.
And long after boyfriend and I broke up under sorrowful and non-negotiable circumstances, I still often say to Budapest, “Well, it’s just you and me now.”