This may not seem like the most obvious choice for a photograph representing habit, but I will explain.
This week’s challenge asks that we show “something that’s a HABIT. It could be your daily walk to the bus stop, or your daily paper lying on the doorstep. Maybe it’s the guy behind the counter at the deli you always visit for lunch, the stuffed bunny your child must have at bedtime, or the view from your desk as you sit down to blog.”
Habit, the challenge says, “the stuff of the everyday.”
I lost my cat, Watkins, this week after being together for sixteen and a half years. It’s been a week of recognizing habits only because they are gone – waking up in the morning without him, coming home from work each day to an empty space next to the door where he always used to wait for me; seeing what is not there, rather than what is. The habits of feeding, watering, and cleaning the litter box. And other habits, too, necessitated by his decline, like giving him vitamins and medication and, toward the end, fluids. I loved that cat. He was worth every one of these habits, both old and new. There’s this perfectly cat-sized hole in everything around here, which I thought was captured neatly, if sadly, in this ordinary photo of an impression of Watty’s paw.
This is habit to me – the tiny kitten paws that crawled all over me when he was little, that skittered across the hardwood floors as he raced around the apartment, those furry paws, depositors of little clumps of stray litter in the sheets, on the rug, sometimes all over the couch. He made countless biscuits with those paws – on blankets, on cushions, on my leg. Those paws swatted at shiny ribbon on Christmas morning and scratched many miles on his scratching post. I loved watching him lick and lick and lick his paw and then raise it to clean his face and head; and how they curled beneath him when he slept, or sometimes stuck straight up in the air. His paws felt like the pointed tips of a pick as he stood on top of my chest while I lay in bed or on the couch, before he settled in for a snuggle and a big long purr. And later, the distinctive sound of those wizened paws, the paws of an elderly cat plodding arthritically down the hall before climbing into my lap to sit with me awhile.
Watkins was cremated, but before he was they took an impression of his paw; I received it on Thursday. When I look at it, when I think about this week and the sixteen and a half years that preceded it, I understand something about habits: that some of them are incredibly hard to break.