First Second and Third Jim Ross Essay

person_pin First Second and Third

by Jim Ross

Published in Issue No. 261 ~ February, 2019

To a dog lover like me, the notion of seeking consolation from a cat is comparable to seeking compassion from a pathological narcissist. Nevertheless, my father alleged that, as a pre-teen, he found solace in his family’s cat, Peter. There’s even a photo of Dad trying to show Peter how to walk on his hind legs.

One day when I was a pre-teen, Dad announced, “The day has come for Peter the Second.” And so, I too learned to seek solace from a cat. When Second lay on my belly and began an alternate paw motion, pressing in and out with left then right, hypnotically, Dad announced, “And now Peter the Second is making bread.”

I especially sought consolation from Second when I wheezed, gasped, teared, and had red vampire eyes. As Second entered a trance, I joined him there, but my physical complaints didn’t diminish. Dad would interrupt, “Are you feeling cat-a-tonic yet?”

Second died while I was away at college, where I rarely wheezed, gasped, teared, or got vampire eyes. My parents remained cat-free until the month before my graduation and return home.

Third, a long-haired Russian blue, was a gorgeous poser. Unlike Second, Third didn’t seek a personal relationship. I spent as much time as I could outdoors because, Dad claimed, I was hyper-sensitive to indoor air. In due time, I moved out on my own, cat-free.

When I came home for visits, the longer I stayed, the more labored my breathing became. Mom beguiled, “Stay. You’ll feel better.” I said, “Gotta go.” Eventually, Dad deduced Third was allergic to me.

After I married and we had children, Mom and Dad wanted us to visit more and stay longer. No matter how well they vacuumed the carpets, in no time, I was gasping. Dad typically said, “Have a beer.” Mom said, “You can’t go, you just got here.” I said, “Let me outta here.”

Eventually, I consented to undergo weekly injections to change my chemistry so I would no longer provoke Third to, in self-defense, cause me to wheeze, gasp, tear and get vampire eyes. I played along until my injected left arm blew up like a softball. My allergist visits went on indefinite hiatus.

None too soon, Third no longer purred. The Russian blue joined Peters One and Two.

After decades of being remarkably free of gasping, wheezing, tearing, and vampire eyes, I visited friends in southern France. The wife had no children of her own, so the cats they took in became her beloved children. In the upstairs guestroom where I was assigned to sleep, my first bedtime I found two cats lounging in my dresser drawers. A third joined them during the night. I expected to gasp, wheeze, tear, and maybe heave, but no. I slept through, peacefully, and come morning had no vampire eyes.

I’ve considered three explanations. One: people change. Two: French cats are cool. Three: Those cats had allergy shots so I couldn’t provoke them.


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After retiring from a career in public health research in early 2015, Jim Ross resumed creative pursuits in hopes of resuscitating his long-neglected left brain. He's since published 75 pieces of nonfiction, several poems, and 200 photos in 80 journals in North America, Europe, and Asia. His publications include 1966, Bombay Gin, Columbia Journal, Friends Journal, Gravel, Ilanot Review, Lunch Ticket, Kestrel, MAKE, Pif, and The Atlantic. In the past year, he wrote and acted in his first play based the essay Getting the Last Word, published in the August 2014 edition of Pif. In addition, one of his nonfiction pieces led to a role in a soon-to-be-released major documentary film. His goal is to combine creative nonfiction with photography. He and his wife--parents of two health professionals and grandparents of four wee ones--split their time between Maryland and West Virginia.