By Anna Yao
Old habits die hard, goes the idiom. But what drives us time after time back into the arms of habits that we’re sick of ourselves? Be it that sugary macchiato you’ve got to have every drowsy morning, that route you always take through Astor Place to get to school, or that boy who probably loves you as much as he loves bagels (he thinks bagels are ‘aight’).
“What’s up?” You call him at 10:30, sitting in a seat by the window, where grey rays of a tepid January sun slants in and makes the whole scene feel like an unremarkable end to a mediocre movie (I’m talking about you, Spider Man 3). He clears his voice, “Not much. You?”
You heave a silent sigh of exasperation. Could a conversation between two people be any blander? He’s asking to know ‘what’s up’ when on the other end of the phone he’s clipping his toe nails with both hands and the phone is held between his left cheek and left shoulder. In the brief moment of silence between his half-hearted question and your response, you remember the better days.
He brought you a bouquet of wisterias on your first date. Those watery lilac petals looked so dear that you tried to preserve them by planting them into a flower pot. They died after a week, and when he saw your fruitless efforts, the botanic major laughed and brought you another one. But every time, you watched helplessly as its once vibrant buds wilted and turned into an acidic-looking brown. Knowing its inevitable end in the trash, you watered it again and again. Now you wonder why you even try.
But you still remember the days when you loved his raspy voice, its tender larynx scrubbed over by harsh inhales of Marlboro Reds, the sweet words he spoke like swirls of honey dissolving in coffee. The poems he scribbled on napkins from his favorite lunch spot, lines from The Age of Innocence that he texted to you lest you forget your own beauty, kisses he showered on your forehead after you raced through the rain — like children who’ve never played in a pool. Strangers, friends, best friends, lovers, strangers again, you think. Are you even strangers? People say the opposite of love is hate, when really, it’s indifference. You don’t hate him, but when he’s in your living room, you’re indifferent to his presence on the couch he likes. Your heart no longer beats like an Inuit drum when he speaks the tender words that once sent your thoughts to flight and your face to flush. You have sex, but you know his body and his tricks in the sack like the back of your hand—you know every bluish vein, every pulse that runs through it, and there is no more to be learned.
You think about your parents and their uninspired marriage that has lasted over 30 years. To you, they lead boring lives, letting the days pass by like warm water through a bog. You don’t even think they have sex anymore (not that you think a lot about them having sex). You’ve always wondered why they stuck to each other despite the utter absence of passion in their relationship. But each time you picture the way your dad makes French toast just the right crispiness around the edges, just how your mom likes them; the way your mom slips a few napkins into dad’s pockets before he leaves for work because he has bad allergies; how every single sunrise they bid each other good morning in unison. Mostly, you remember feeling jealous a few times and thinking maybe one day, when you’re really fucking old, you’ll be like them.
Perhaps time sheds a certain rose light on old things, like that dogeared copy of Alice in Wonderland you’ve had forever. Old habits die hard, you think, but you’re too comfortable to ever want to leave their warm familiarity.
You take a sip of water, and you say, “Just wanted to say I love you.”