The power of habit: when you need it most, change happens without your approval

I was 16, living in an old two story house in a poor neighborhood where everyone else got squeezed into 5 feet bedrooms for their entire lives. It didn’t sound so obvious that I had a privilege breakfast by eating cheese every morning and watched shows in another language from cable TV, simply because the hidden rule that says “the younger, the dumber” hadn’t come to a point of necessary clarification, and so I found myself going to the local market to buy Nutella by day, imported beer by night, collections of bottles decorated with plants later, snacks on all trips to the big city and every other little expense to cover up the fact that none of us was really in the mood to take care of everything from the bathroom to furniture, from the pots to the ceiling fans, from the marble sink to the dog paw marks on the floor. We were happy, but annoyingly, insultingly lazy. And I’m the one who reached that conclusion, but I can’t tell much about my own participation in little rituals like buying yogurt and cereal instead of getting in line for bread and working on a resumé, the sort of thing you’re supposed to be ready to do when you’re about to reach legal age.

In Brazil, your car is a sign you’re doing well, but everyone has standards. We chose public transport, but looked at Amsterdam life with resentment for the fact we’d never ride a bike while carrying all our belongings, so we were stuck with the driver with a beet tattoo over the back of his hand, which we’d make jokes about. Up at 3am for a long shower, sheets and sheets of xerox files from college, spilled hair conditioner in the bag, new shoes every two weeks, we’ll read what we can and get our grades through group work. Meanwhile, torrents of TV series from America’s current pop show and the Oscar list always on our shared laptop. The music was a small detail, but the weekends sometimes ended up with bottles emptied, confessions of all sorts, pictures of us hugging, hanging in our bedroom, which we never really left. People don’t understand we weren’t rich, and wherever we were going, there was the constant potential to be tired and overwhelmed. We’d get back to five cats and a boxer at home, none in the small apartment given as a favor, until graduation. When you don’t have stuff, it’s easier to get laxy, but it was too confusing when we were near the spin that made this all look meaningless.

Sex was good. It’s not something I miss, particularly, but it balanced the mood and made us stronger to face crowds of people who didn’t really want to engage in conversation, but instead make us learn how to actually talk about what mattered. Bars and food on the menu, eventual cooking sessions, vegetables only, please. So much pasta you’d ask a doctor what the hell was wrong with the couple. She never watched porn, contained herself, but I don’t judge. We’re all holding different things inside. Her text references were good, mine were a spark of desperation facing deadlines. Dad drinking, mom working her ass off, fraternal bonds that made us all look a little mad, but a friendship I thought I could count on.

I don’t know what separated us. Was it the first cats dying of poisoning? The first old lady who saw dog poop over the side gate and thought we didn’t care and complained to authorities? The security guard who shot at the window when we got too noisy after 10pm celebrating with no reason with the friends we still had? Was it when the younger one started to realize she needed detachment or she’d be sucked into a void of excuses and pattern behavior she couldn’t escape? Was it the funeral? One of the bands, a bad drum solo, not tying my hair, being late for the last fucking time, failing with wording, asking for another favor?

I know I spent 7 years as a vegetarian. When I saw that an innocent living being doesn’t need a reason to meet its worst fate, and woke up to a kitten family gone because someone else didn’t think it was right for them to be in a happy place, I thought I had to change. Saw on TV an industry footage, saw stuff on the old filterless internet where they used to scare the shit out of everyone, and decided to go dairy only. I was choosing love, but it wasn’t enough. I’d learn that they were wrong in not looking up to the man who built their ideal life, but I’d forget it was only good before me, in a wild theory, so when I was gone it all normalized and they were who they always wanted to be all over again. That’s when I knew I came from the bottom, and my place was never at the top of higher education efforts, diploma on the wall, pages and pages of published work, recognition, inspiring stories and know-how, speech skills, funny jokes, nicknames as defense, contagious laughter and good taste in art, with a full repertoire.

This side is not mine. The change I’m talking about is only seen by those who make sacrifices for people. Whatever you do, when you put someone else’s priorities before your own, someone else is going to suffer. But realizing that, accepting that and moving on, is definitely not for kids. What I learned from being at the top and then back to the start of the climb again is you can put trust on people to let you be who you wanna be, but they always expect you to be more than you can. They can give you a push, but you’re supposed to come up with something else, retribute it and start something from scratch, for once. Have ideas and share them. You’re supposed to make a real difference in your actions. You’re supposed to understand and lift each other up. A meal is just a meal, but you can make it an occasion, you can make it a habit, you can make it interesting. A couple is just a couple, unless you wear a ring, they say. A house is just a house… except when you’re sleeping all alone, with nowhere to go, right in front of it.

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