Cats, Buttons, and Other Hard-to-Break Habits

Fourteen years ago my wife and I got a cat. This was not one of those hand-holding trips to the humane society where some adorable little puffball rubbed its face on our shins and mewed until we wiped the cuteness tears from our eyes and took it home. This was one of those friends-of-a-friend had a cat that needed a home situations, and my wife conspired with the friend to bring the cat over, just to see if we liked it. Then, what the hell, as long as the feline was already there, we might as well just keep it. Right?

I had to agree. It was the least I could do.

Before we were married, when my fiancee and I talked about the future, she had big plans. Big big plans. Law degree plans and urban metropolis plans. She was going to travel. She was going to live in Europe. My vision for our life had much less traffic and many fewer planes. Fourteen years later, I still don't know the weight of what she gave up. I don't know if those plans were abandoned dreams, or placeholders she was happy to discard when I bought a ring. At the time, the cat felt like an appropriate thank-you gesture. And I had this idea - I would get her the juris doctorate, the J.D., she had always wanted. We named the cat J.D.

A few weeks ago, we had to put J.D. to sleep. She stopped using the litter box. She yowled to be let outside, and once outside yowled to be let back in. Her walk was shaky, her jumps missed the mark. We weren't willing to pay for more visits to the vet to be told, "She's getting old." It was a hard decision. Those decisions always are. My wife and I both cried, at different times, maybe for different reasons.

Over a month later, I still see J.D. out of the corner of my eye. I still open doors for her, still wait for her to jump up on the bed to lay between my wife and I while we read. I still head downstairs to check the absent litter box, and I still miss the weight of her laying on my chest while I watch TV. I tell myself, with each impression, with each firing of muscle memory, that those feelings will pass, that before long not having a cat will become the new normal. I wish I knew how long it will take.

Two years ago, I got a new iPhone 6, because my iPhone 4 was slow and old and I hadn't unboxed a new electronic device in almost eighteen months. Can you believe that? We live in the 20-teens, for crying out loud. The phone doesn't symbolize much, but it never leaves my pocket. One time I dropped it and the screen cracked. I raced to the shop and had the thing repaired in 90 minutes.

Then, just about the same time we put J.D. to sleep, Apple updated the operating system, and now, to unlock the thing, I have to push the button twice, instead of swipe the screen. In perhaps one of biggest studies in human behavior, or perhaps the biggest practical joke ever, Apple has elicited millions, maybe hundreds of millions of eye-rolls and moments of frustration as people swiped when they should have clicked. A month later, maybe some of us have learned. Most of the time, I have not.


Habits are habits because they persist, whether we want them to or not.  Some fade, and some can be overcome, but it's never easy or quick. I quit smoking after sixteen years. I still bite my fingernails. Sometimes I find myself driving towards my old house, the one we left five years ago. I eat Cheerios every morning, and have a sandwich every lunch. For most of my life, I shampooed my hair in the shower last. Not too long ago, I switched, and now I wash my hair first.

After a month, I still swipe my phone, and I still see my cat. Maybe in a week, I won't. Or maybe years from now, I still will.

Eric Rasmussen