Habitual

Nearly five years ago – wow, five years already? – I had just left my house to go and study with a friend at a coffee shop we often spent time at. I had my backpack and I had my mind set to study, but first, I had to stop at Walgreens to pick up what (I think) was either a new folder or some other school-related item. Keep in mind, I was already running late, so I was frantically trying to hurry before I showed up an eternity later.

Because I was in a hurry, I stopped at the Walgreens I almost never went to. Ironically, it was the one closest to my house at the time, I just never really liked it. (Anyways, that aside from the point.) I got back in my car, turned into the intersection, made my turn, and bam – I was stopped by a policeman.

He was very kind and could tell I was dumbfounded when he asked, “Do you know why I pulled you over this evening?” Turns out, I didn’t have my headlights on at dusk – specifically, I just hard my parking lights on –  and he simply stopped me to prevent any sort of accident as it got darker. I thanked him, he thanked me, and I went on to meet my friend with relief that I only got a warning.

It was a night I’ll never forget, but one that I wish would go away.

Ever since that night, I have religiously checked to make sure my headlights are on, regardless if it’s 6 a.m., 11 a.m., 3:13 p.m., or 11:46 p.m.

With my Ford Contour, I’d feel the knob with fingers anytime I panicked and wondered if my lights weren’t on. With my Volvo 960, a.k.a. Go-Kart Engine, I’d make sure the knob was in its correct spot at all times, and with my current car, a Honda Pilot, I make sure the switch on the steering wheel is either all the way on or all the way off. No halfsie B.S. The running theme here isn’t that I have a fascination with car knobs, it’s that I’ve become so used to ensuring my headlights are indeed on that I begin to doubt myself, even if I can see them on as clear as day.

Next to chewing my fingernails, I can comfortably say my worst habit is my paranoia with checking my headlights. More times than not, I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I glance at my hand, and I think, “Oh my God, Joel. Give it a rest.” It’s especially bad when I see a police officer drive anywhere near me. Again, I don’t even mean to – it’s quite literally like my hand gravitates towards the headlight switch with unfortunate ease.

But is what really gets me about my unintentional fascination with headlight switches is that it didn’t come from a traumatizing event, and it didn’t come from anything special. Instead, the habit was birthed out of the most mundane and dull event. It’s like, realistically, had I not been running late, I would have never even had the need to use my headlights, hence stopping five years of annoyance in its tracks. But, you know, I guess that’s the way the cookie wanted to crumble.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURES

Nowadays, my newest habit is my drive home from work and the way I spend the night trying to sleep. Barring a few months between April 2015 and now, I almost never get home until around 11 p.m. It’s the new normal to me. I can’t complain. However, I can complain about the literal path I choose to take home each and every night. To help you visualize…

  1. Leave work. (The easiest part.)
  2. Take the entrance to the non-scary highway. (Up for debate.)
  3. Drive a long way until I’m at a crossroads. (Not literally.)
    3a. Turn, and take a long road that’s super relaxing. (Clear my head, take my time.)
    3b. Keep going straight, connect to the other highway. (Get home in record time.)

I can’t think of a night in recent memory where I’m not trying to figure out which path I want to take home that night. The closer I get to that area, it’s like I weigh the pros and cons of each way. Come to think of it, I subconsciously have three criteria my decision.

  1. Was my day stressful, or was it good?
  2. Do I really need to get home that fast?
  3. Is it worth putting up with the highway traffic or constant stoplights?

Each of these crosses my mind the closer I get, and the decision I’m weirdly so anxious to answer almost becomes entertainment to me. There are benefits to the highway(s) – fast-paced, easier, shorter – and there are benefits to the scenic route – comforting, relaxing, therapeutic – but I quite literally weigh all of these options solely based on how I’m feeling. If there is something that even slightly annoyed me that day, or really just sat with me in an unpleasant way, I’ll take the highway 9 out of 10 times. But, if I had a good day, or if I’m in a mood that’s leaving me to be in no big rush, I’ll always take the scenic route. There is just something so beautiful about my drive home through various neighborhoods, downtowns, city centers, etc. that absolutely and completely puts me in a different state.

WINTER NIGHTS AND SHORTER DAYS

I naturally thrive the later the day gets, so, my guess is that I wind up taking these different routes to interpret myself and my day through the use of altering my ways home after work and after school. Even on my worst nights, there’s something I pull away from the same drive home, whether it be a new billboard, a car that passes me, an abandoned building, a person walking down the street, or parking in a different spot by my house. I adore the fact that, for once, a noticeable habit in my daily life teaches me more about myself than I teach it.

I thrive off the new that comes from the familiar.

It’s why I eagerly wait for fall and winter each year. There’s an eclectic atmosphere to the world when the weather takes a trip down south. And even though I find myself in awe of its rude bitterness in the Midwest, the release that comes with winter nights is cathartic. It helps that some of my favorite memories come during the winter season, but there is just so much to be learned and viewed in such a different light.

One of my most memorable encounters with anyone  came from a night with a friend two years ago. Despite the time gap, I can still remember what my friend and I were talking about, I can still remember the emotional pain that guy was attempting to hide as he talked to us, and I can distinctly remember the look my friend and I gave each other when he pulled out multiple cards to pay – but none of them worked. I still feel so incredibly awful for that stranger just based on the last 15 minutes of interaction we all shared. Yet, the reason it’s stuck with me for as long as it has is due to my habit of unintentionally searching for the winter to remind me just why it’s such a physically harsh season.

I look at the world during the winter in ways that makes me believe in what I believe. There’s hope blowing around in the silent gushes of wind, there are dreams of tomorrow with each early sunset, there are goals and aspirations clinging behind every heavy, hurried footstep taken in the cold, and, most importantly, there’s the knowledge that the world as we know it is still collectively ours – even if it is baked in chain reactions that give us things what we don’t want to see, hear or do.

And yet, here we are. We’re all together. We’re all benefiting something off of one another. We’re all forming habits of learning and frustration and love and chaos. It’s worth it, yes?

Mr. Bob Dylan was the one who once said, “…we sit here stranded, though we’re all doing our best to deny it.”

Well, Bob, ain’t that the truth.

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