When Life Is a Habit / Bill Vernon

The 12-year-old me was sleeping and the night was silently peaceful until there was loud banging on our front door. The clock said 3:00 A.M. I ran downstairs from my dormer bedroom, but no one else seemed awake. What or who could it be? I was alone and hesitated, but three more bangs made me open up for something I didn’t know and was half-afraid of.

Mike Torino was standing on our porch. In his white jockey shorts and nothing else. We’d been playing baseball together just this afternoon.

I stared at him and finally said, “Hi Mike,” as if we’d just met on the ball field and he was dressed.

Then Mom came up beside me. “What’s wrong?”

I pointed at Mike, who stared back at us.

She said, “Mike, are your parents okay?”

He kept staring.

Mom opened the screen door and reached for an arm. “What’s the matter?”

He pivoted around, descended our concrete steps, went to the sidewalk, turned like a robot, and walked away quickly although he was barefoot.

Mom grabbed a blanket off the couch, wrapped herself in it, and followed him. In pajamas, I hurried along too, but carefully because I was barefoot myself. At the corner of Orchard Avenue, Mike turned uphill, then took his family’s sidewalk to their porch, opened the screen door, and disappeared inside.

“Can you beat that?” my mother said.

I laughed, amazed.

She said, “We better tell his parents.”

She knocked, then rang the doorbell. I expected Mike, but it was Mrs. Torino who opened the screen door. She stepped outside and came up close to us trying to see who we were. She didn’t have her glasses on.

My mother said, “Betty, Mike was just at our house. Only in his underpants. Eyes wide open. Sleepwalking, I guess.”

“Oh my,” Betty said.

“He didn’t say a thing.”

“He never does.”

Mom said, “I was afraid to wake him. I’ve heard you shouldn’t do that. He pounded on our door, then turned around and marched right back here. I thought you ought to know.”

Betty shook her head. “We locked the big door so he must have unlocked it. Never did that before. I’ll have to hide the key from now on.”

Mom yawned. “Okay then, we’re going back home.”

“It drives me batty,” Betty said, “and he won’t remember a thing about it tomorrow.”

I went back to bed, but couldn’t sleep for a while. Mike’s mother was worried and why not? He might walk onto the highway some night and get run over.

I wondered, How could anyone be aware and yet unaware at the same time? How could he have his eyes open and not see what was in front of him?

But heck, on second thought, I’d done it myself lots of times, concentrating real hard, then suddenly realizing I’d walked somewhere or done something without one memory of doing it. As if life was a habit and the world was a dream.