Habits

Basically everyone I know has little quirks that seem silly to everyone but him or herself. My math professor nearly has a stroke if we leave the little frilly bits on the ends of our papers when we turn in our homework. Occasionally I’ll catch my younger brother, Kyle, carefully stepping only on the white tiles in the hallway between the stairs and the kitchen. My friend Nick never answers to his first name, Joey. I only know the reasoning behind this last one: Nick’s stepdad shares his name, and that ticks him off to no end.

Sometimes I wonder what story hides behind the other habits. I tried asking Kyle about his “don’t step on a crack” mentality, but he denied having one. In regards to my math professor, a few kids in my class and I have made up little backstories that usually involve a secret affair between the professor and a student that consisted solely of romantic notes written on the frills of paper from spiral notebooks. It makes math more entertaining to picture that instead of simply imagining he’s crazy.

That’s probably the reason I never explain my own strange habits. I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I act the way I do when I leave someone’s house. I didn’t really think about my “excessive farewells”—a term I have courtesy of my parents—as an explanation-necessary habit, but it’s actually quite amusing when most people ask if I have attachment issues, and if roaming through someone’s house until I’ve double-checked that I’ve said goodbye to everyone is simply a way of delaying my exit. I always get a kick out of Nick explaining to strangers that I make my rounds twice because of my short term memory loss. The strangest and yet closest to the truth explanation I’ve gotten was at a fraternity party my freshman year of college. As I went around saying goodbye to my friends and a few friendly-looking strangers, a graduate girl who had obviously had a bit too much to drink reached out and grabbed my arm before I could leave. “So, tell me. Who died?” she asked. At first I thought she was just babbling, but after failing to pull away from her I looked into her eyes and saw she was legitimately asking me this question.

“Uh, no one?” I responded, glancing at the door. “Why do you ask?”

She released my arm and shrugged. “I just figured…I do that too, you know.” She gestured towards the people around her. “Make sure you say goodbye to everybody? My whole family’s been doing that ever since my brother died.”

I mumbled some kind of a lame apology and stumbled out of the house. I realized I was a bit weak on my feet. I hadn’t had the heart to tell that girl that I couldn’t relate to her situation, not really. None of my family members were dead, it was just a dumb dog. Besides, it had been almost a decade and my family has had a couple of pets since.

Wendy’d been with us since I was a toddler, so I didn’t really know how living without a dog felt. I do remember when she grew bigger than me. I’d seen a few movies where people rode horses, so 3-year-old me would run around the house chasing after Wendy and grasping at her tail so I could ride her. She snapped at me a couple of times, but I wouldn’t let a couple of scratches slow me down.

The dog my parents bought a year after Wendy died was a golden retriever like her and similar in everything but the snapping habit and the eyes. I’m not sure why they decided to stick with the same breed, considering a neighbor had warned us not to. I didn’t understand why until after we got her. My older brother Christopher named her Cookie, and it took us half as long to train her than Wendy, probably because my family knew how to do it the second time around. I tried to love her the same as Wendy; I’d stare deep into her eyes, probably to try to make a connection with her like I always read about in books. They always say the eyes are the gateway to a person’s soul, or something like that. But all I’d get from staring at Cookie was confirmation that she wasn’t my Wendy. She’d trot into a room and my heart would skip a beat because it was like the ghost of Wendy come to play with me one last time, but then a second would go past and my heart would start beating again and I’d look into her eyes and see only Cookie.

Wendy was a runner. We never let her out of the house without a leash, but sometimes on those magically perfect summer days that happen only a few times a year Wendy would bolt out of the door before any of us could stop her. She’d run laps around the yard, tongue lolling to the side, tail streaming behind her. It’d take us at least twenty minutes to get her back inside, and that’d only happen because Wendy grew tired.

The winter of my third grade year, my parents decided the five of us would vacation in Florida for Christmas. I’d never spent Christmas away from home, but I’d also never been to Florida, so I was willing to give it a try. We asked our neighbor Adam to take care of Wendy for us while we were gone, and we packed up the car and drove to the airport while visions of palm trees danced in our heads. We spent the night of Christmas Eve in our hotel room playing Uno in front of the television, which was playing The Santa Clause on repeat.

Bedtime was at 10:00, so I was already in my pajamas and about to crash on the bed when my mom got the call. When I heard her say, “Adam? It’s late at night, is everything all right?” I didn’t even think about Wendy. I just wished the call would end soon so I could sleep. In the ensuing silence, though, I suddenly felt empty, like I was hungry. I sat up and looked at my mom, and when I saw the look on her face the edges of my vision turned gray. Everything was moving and swaying and shrinking except for my mother. Eventually she said something I didn’t catch into the phone, hung up, and glanced up at all of us. When she looked into my eyes, it was as if I was no longer sitting on the bed but floating feet off the ground, seconds from crashing back down to reality.

I think there was some hugging after that, and some crying and talking, but all I could think about was how hungry I was. I remember pushing away from my parents and going to the table where we had snacks and grabbing an entire bag of Cheetos. My mom tried to coax me back to bed, but I said I was hungry and couldn’t I just finish my Cheetos?

By the time my parents and brothers were snug in bed, I had finished half of the bag. I was warm and surprisingly comfortable in the wooden chair I was lounging on, so I set the bag on the table and sat in the dark for a few seconds. It only took that long for my hunger to come back, worse than ever. When I finally burst into tears, I realized that it wasn’t really food I wanted.

I’m not sure when my habit of making sure I said goodbye to everyone started, but I’ve no doubt it’s because of Wendy. I don’t even remember if I saw her at all the day we left for Florida. My last distinct memory of her is refilling her water bowl and giving her a quick pat. That’s it.

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