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Feline Alopecia and Other Psychological Tremors

by Kathleen Kersch Simandl



Our Siamese cat lost a quarter-sized patch of fur on his back.  And, all the hair around his neck had fallen out, too.  "Cognitive dissonance," muttered the vet under his breath.

"What?  Cog what?  Is that a serious disorder of some kind?"  I asked, backing away from the examination table.

"No."  Dr. Reyes peeled back Ghost's ear and peered inside.  "It's not a disease at all.  Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon - the result of something happening that's logically inconsistent or incompatible with your own past experience."  He sounded like a textbook.


The vet ignored my question as he squeezed a half inch of ointment on his finger.  "You say Ghost's hair began falling out a couple of days after you brought him back from Manzanillo?"  The doctor didn't wait for an answer, either.  "That fits."  He nodded his head sagely and rubbed the antibiotic on our cat's spreading bald patches.

I was becoming impatient.  "What was that 'dissing' thing again?  And what does Manzanillo have to do with Ghost's problem?  Doctor Reyes, just pretend you're talking to a ten-year-old, okay?"

Dr. Reyes looked up when he heard the sarcasm in my voice, and with one hand on our cat's back, he explained.  "Okay.  Cognitive dissonance is when everything you believe is turned upside down, and inside out.  Ghost here has the firm belief that the earth is unmoving.  Yet you were just talking about the big earthquake you felt when you all were at your condo?"  He slipped his index finger under the Siamese's collar.  "When the earth DID move, your poor kitty freaked!  And his cognitive dissonance was a big enough stressor to cause his fur to fall out.  It's that simple."

I stared at him.  "But, he was okay!  He'd gone under the bed."

"A 7.8 earthquake just off the coast of Manzanillo, you say…"  The doctor's voice trailed off, and I experienced a delayed after-shock of the panic I'd felt when my beer had slid off the counter, and the condo's floor had started pitching like the deck of a ship in high seas. 

Jesus!  I couldn't imagine my own mental state if my husband hadn't been there with me!  He'd been my rock.  When I was standing outside in my nightgown, panting in fear, shaking more than the ground itself, he was locating and lighting candles.  When I was afraid to go back into the building, he gently reminded me that Ghost - our cat who was more like a child than a pet to us - was still in there.

The situation was unsettling and uncertain.  For weeks after the quake, I felt my heart race every time a heavy truck rolled by.  But, I knew I could rely on Jim.  For support.  For solace.  For "happily ever after."


In fact, the only time when hazy, but unsettling, questions about fidelity had entered my mind was some twenty years after we were married.  By then, Jim was doing very well in the business, which was great financially, but he was spending more and more time at the office. 

Our sex life was beginning to suffer and...  well...  I'd read enough women's magazines to know I should wonder.  There were a lot of young, attractive secretaries at his office.  Could he be spending all those late hours with one of them? Had he, at this late date, decided he really wanted children, or something?  Finally, the Cosmo-inspired suspense got to me, and I called his boss.

"Why, yes, Lori!  He was here with me talking over the Riggs account until midnight!"  Harold confirmed.

Silly middle-aged doubts.  "Ridiculous!"  I said to myself.

I pushed my ugly suspicions off the edge of my world.  We persisted in our marriage, and I firmly believed that Jim was the model of the faithful husband, and our marriage a latter-day copy of "Ozzie & Harriet," minus the kids. 


That's why my husband's declaration came as such a shock.

He sat across the breakfast table from me - twisting his glass of orange juice.

"Lori.  We have to talk," he said.

Shit, I thought.

"I...  I want a divorce," he blurted out.

I stared at his blasphemous mouth.

"I just can't continue with this sham any longer," he mumbled, using his napkin to wipe between his fingers.

"WHAT sham?"  I shouted.

Jim swallowed hard, then said, "Remember all those long nights - putting in extra time at work?  Well, I wasn't exactly… working."  He dropped the napkin and twisted his wedding band.

I was beginning to feel like I was in somebody else's nightmare.  Surreal.

"Who is she?"  I asked, repeating the words of thousands of betrayed wives before me.

Jim looked down at the table, smoothing the damp napkin flat.  He paused, and then looked into my eyes.  "There is no 'she.'"  He paused again.  "I'm in love with my boss Harold."

I felt as dizzy and disoriented as I had during the earthquake.  I managed to stand and walk toward the living room, stopping at the door long enough to look over my shoulder and ask, "Are you still here?"


When I heard the front door close, I slumped into the couch, from which vantage point our pet had been observing his humans.  "Cognitive dissonance" I whispered into Ghost's now-naked ear.  I hugged the cat like I would our child, and I wondered when my hair would start falling out.



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