This month quite possibly marks the third birthday of my cat, Berry. Amy and I adopted her in December 2008 and we were told by a(n admittedly incompetent) vet that she was around seven months old.

We don’t know what happened to her in those seven months and we rarely speculate. She was found on the streets of Seoul by an insane American woman not long before we adopted her, and as she was healthy and fairly amicable towards people, we assume she wasn’t on the street for long. The first thing we ever knew about her was that she was playful; incredibly boundlessly energetically playful. We think she probably had a home but was thrown out on the street once she became too old to be considered cute.

She was fixed days before we adopted her and has spent the last two and a half years indoors: eating, sleeping and playing. I wonder sometimes if she ever thinks about or knows about boy cats. I wonder if she had a boyfriend between being thrown out and being rescued. She was probably too young and more than likely not on the streets long enough.

In Korea we lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building, and though there were street cats running rampant around the neighbourhood, Berry never saw nor heard any of them – except for Eddie and Monkey, her rescued sisters. From the window she could only see birds and never the street, and when we took her outdoors on a leash she would become overwhelmed and terrified and would hide anywhere. She didn’t like the outdoors.

In China we live on the second floor and have two balconies. Berry likes to sit and watch the local students play basketball from window behind our balcony, and when she has been behaving herself, I pick her up and let her sit on the back balcony wall, watching the birds and butterflies dance in my garden below.

Berry didn’t always like this, though. She used to growl at the outdoors. You see, about three months ago Berry escaped and spent twelve hungry hours hiding under a rock outside our door. She was traumatized by her stupidity for a long time, and the smell of outside terrified her too much to sit by the window or go out on the balcony.

But then she met her boyfriend: A big handsome tabby with a crooked short tale and the most gorgeous eyes a cat ever had, who stalks the north side of the campus and lives in the drains beneath the basketball court.

One day when I was again acclimatizing her to the scary outdoors, she looked down from the balcony like a little kitty Juliet, and saw her Romeo staring up at her with giant green eyes. They stayed silent, never taking their eyes off one another. It was intense. They stared for maybe five minutes, until a noise in the bushes spooked the boy cat and he darted off.

She howled, of course. She howled and bawled the house down for a long, long time. Her evil sister, Eddie, just sat looking confused. She was only a few days old when she was tossed out on the street and rescued, and she has no enthusiasm or inquisitiveness for the outdoors. She doesn’t know why Berry likes the balcony so much.

But now Berry sits and listens and sniffs at the air, and always begs to get back out on the balcony. Sometimes I catch her boyfriend sitting down there, looking up and waiting for Berry to come back. So I shout, “Berry, your boyfriend’s here!” and she comes running. Berry has somehow learned various important words of English, including “boyfriend.”

Sometimes I let her sit on the balcony and watch but mostly he doesn’t come by. Only once or twice a week do we see him prowling through my herbs, beets and kale, sniffing around. I think he knows that Berry hid out there three months ago, and her smell is still strong. He’s trying to learn about her from the lingering scent.

Whenever they see each other they just sit and stare. I wonder what goes through Berry’s mind and gut. She has been fixed, like I said. What do fixed cats think about when they see a handsome kitty? What would she do if it wasn’t a big handsome boy cat – if instead it was another girl?

One day I saw her boyfriend with another cat – a big white girl cat with a Hitler ‘stache whose territory runs near the boy cat’s. I didn’t tell Berry, of course, but she knew. The next time I took her out on the balcony he was down below, staring up and waiting for her. Berry screamed at him and he wailed back. She cried and howled and he stared and whimpered, and this went on for five or more minutes. Eventually, the boyfriend walked away.

They say cats learn more from their noses than we do from most of our senses combined, and so I wonder what goes on that I can’t know about. Berry probably smells what’s going on in the garden, and the boy cat probably knows all of what’s going on. All I know is what I see when I look out the window.

Today I was in the garden and the boy cat sauntered by. He is a skittish creature mostly, but he seemed to recognize me, and while I was watering my basil he walked close by me, then turned and stared. Perhaps if I had a cat nose I would’ve better understood what he was trying to say, but I think that he was trying to get me to pass along a message. Perhaps that was a simple cat “sorry,” or maybe a cat “it’s over” but I have no idea.

I haven’t told Berry but she has been terribly melancholy today.


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DAVID WILLS is the managing editor of Beatdom Magazine, and the author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. You can learn more about him on his website.

39 responses to “A Kitty Romance”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    That is such a great picture of Berry looking at her Romeo. I love that you can see his short, crooked tail. Good picture and a sad cat tale.
    (I knew about Eddie and I think I heard of Berry before, but not Monkey. We need to hear about Monkey.)

    • I was holding her and the were staring at each other, and I thought that a photo of his big eyes would be just fantastic, but by the time I got the camera (which is quite difficult because Berry really wanted to jump down (and would most likely have broken her legs)) he was moving. It turned out ok, but I really wanted a photo of him staring up at her.

      Monkey was mentioned in the Eddie story that I posted a couple of months ago. I rescued her (after creating a small army of old Korean women) and hitch-hiked with her in the rain (not easy in Korea) to the local vet. We kept her around for a few months, but Eddie was so mean to her that in the end we had to give her to a friend. Which still makes me sad because she was such a funny little kitty and I miss her.

  2. […] I think I have previously mentioned my cat, Berry. She’s a wonderful Calico that Amy and I rescued in South Korea and have brought with us to China. Well, she’s quite taken with one of the neighborhood kitties, and I’ve written about their doomed romance over at the ever-awesome Nervous Breakdown. […]

  3. Irene Zion says:

    We all love Eddie, David, but she can be such a brat! One of my Goldens is like that. They were watched by a pet-sitter when we were away. Brooklyn had an ear infection and had to wear one of those lamp-shade things to keep her from scratching. Kimchee pretended to not recognize her and acted like the pet-sitter was in danger and she planned to keep her safe. When I got back I found Brooklyn locked up in the kitchen and Kimchee given the run of the house. I let her out and Kimchee barked at her. I told her to cut it out and there wasn’t a peep out of her after that. I think she discovered that while I was away she could inhabit another identity. I love Kimchee but she can be such a brat!

    • Oh, Brooklyn. What a brat indeed. I suppose pets are just like children in that way. Always scheming. Eddie is being really mean to Berry lately – she kicks her out of their cat bed and tries to steal her kibble. But she’s so dumb that it’s difficult – all she has is her meanness and selfish stupidity.

  4. James D. Irwin says:

    I was never much of a cat fan until recently. We’re not allowed pets, but our neighbours cat— who still looks pretty young— is always sneaking into our house and we’ve all fallen in love with her and her hilarious feline antics.

    They’re fascinating animals though, quite possibly more so than dogs. They’re certainly more intelligent. They always seem to know what they’re doing, whilst dogs are just like ADD kids on too much sugar…

    I always imagined cats to be too arrogant and independent to form relationships of any kind… this was actually quite sad. But also adorable because… y’know… they’re little furry animals…

    • I never knew any cats until Berry, and she is a special one. She’s quite like a dog – she loves to play, has learned a bunch of tricks, and recognises certain words. I can make her do a lot of stuff. But she’s quite independent – she only comes to you when she wants. On the other hand there’s Eddie… She’s dumber than a rock but cuddly. So I guess there’s a cat for all types.

      I certainly thought the same as you: they are arrogant. But having known a few, they really are like little people. Certainly more interesting than dogs.

  5. “So I shout, ‘Berry, your boyfriend’s here!’ and she comes running.”

    This is so cute I can barely stand it.

    Awww. Her first crush. Your little kitty girl is growing up. (:

  6. Erika Rae says:

    I’m just so relieved to hear that you actually eat, David, that I hardly know what else to say.

    Oof. The Chinese crooked tail. I’m guessing you know the story behind these, yes?

    Too cute, this sad, sad story.

  7. Update: This story now has a HAPPY ending. Berry’s boyfriend bravely entered our apartment building and came to the door to apologise to Berry. All is well in kitty land.

  8. angela says:

    aww, in so many ways!

    that cat in the bag picture is hilarious.

  9. Oh, I just love your cat stories! And your cat pictures! And you should keep writing cat stories and taking cat pictures because I said so! I see in the comments this has had a happy ending after all. Thank goodness. I imagine “sorry” is just one tiny, nuanced mew away from being “it’s over.” I mean, you could have really bungled that message had you tried to decipher and deliver it.

    • Thank you, Cynthia. With cats as crazy as mine I’ll probably have no choice but to continue writing about them. They’re always getting into strange little adventures.

      I actually wrote a short story (that no one dares yet publish) about a man who tries to learn cat talk. It came from my own attempts to decipher what their meows mean.

  10. Zara Potts says:

    Sorry I’m late! But I’m glad I got to have the happy ending update.
    Between you and Simon -you might turn me into a kitty fan yet!
    Sweet story, david. You know, I love every word you write.

    • I wasn’t a big kitty fan until I ended up living with one. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m really very allergic to them. But they grow on you with their adorable (and sometimes not so adorable) personalities.

  11. New Orleans Lady says:

    I love your cat stories!
    This one is no exception.
    Kitty Romeo and Juliet…too sweet.

  12. Joe Daly says:


    So glad I combed the comments first to find the happy ending. Animal melancholy does not sit well with me at all. Love the story of Berry and relate to so much of it. My dog Lola was plucked from the streets of Tijuana, covered with parasites and dying and now she’s happy, active and well fed. She occasionally flashes behaviors that most certainly came from her time in the streets, which always cracks me up, although I have that undercurrent of sadness that comes with the uncertainty of what she had to endure before we found each other.

    I’m stoked that Berry has a beau who has the good taste to share his intentions with you. Please keep us updated. And give them a little privacy every once in awhile, willya?

    • I wonder how much they remember their time on the streets, and how much is implicit memory. Certainly it shows from time to time. We can’t free feed our cats or they’ll eat themselves sick. Because they each spent a short amount of time on the street, they think that they’re going to die every time they get hungry.

  13. pixy says:

    i like kitties.
    i LOVE cats in bags.
    i love love.

    therefore, this piece rocks.

    • Thanks, Pixy.

      You’d love Berry. She’s a box cat and a bag cat. She loves playing with anything, and diving into boxes and bags is just about her favourite. She’s a crazy little kitty.

  14. “It’s over”, well, let’s hope so, boyfriend!
    I love this. And Berry is so cute. I remember our girl cats would cry over this stray cat we named
    Herman, who had thumbs. They were fixed, but they totally wanted him. He was such a tease.

    I had apartment kitties for 12 years while living in the city, as well.
    I always had a feeling they were sending psychic kitty emails when they would
    look out the window. And when our dear old Bob had to put to sleep, it seemed
    like the cats on the street were going out of their way to seek me out and rub up against my leg.
    I always felt like they were trying to give me a message from beyond from Bob to the tune of,
    “I’m ok! Thanks for giving me so much love and catnip. Don’t worry – I’ll see you again one day!”
    Cats rock.

    I hope Berry and her boyfriend patch things up soon.

    • Unfortunately I discovered today that Berry’s boyfriend has CHILDREN. He has a bunch of little kittens that live nearby. They’re adorable and I’ve begun putting food out for them. Poor little buggers. It’s not easy growing up around here.

      Berry doesn’t know yet… She hasn’t smelled it in the air, and when she and her boyfriend got together today there was no sign that she knew. Everything seemed back to normal.

      Herman had thumbs?!?! There’s a popular advert for milk in the UK these days about what the world would be like if cats had thumbs. In short, it would be a terrifying place full of constantly opened refrigerators.

      That’s cute that Bob was able to use his kitty powers to talk from the great beyond. I reckon animals know a lot more than we do about that sort of stuff.

  15. Dana says:

    I love how she looks so unperturbed in the first picture. Cats are undoubtedly fascinating creatures. If they didn’t destroy the furniture, I’d probably consider them the perfect pet.

    And yes, they most certainly all have their own personalities. We have three now and have had three others over the years and each one had something silly or remarkable that we adored about them.

    • Fortunately our cats have never really been into the whole furniture destroying thing. Eddie once ate some paint and got it all over most of the house, but that was really the floor that was destroyed. She’s not into scratching.

      My experiences with cats have been sadly limited, but I’m starting to realise that every kitty has some kind of quirk of personality that makes it special.

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