My dad wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when the car rental clerk told him, “I’m sorry, sir, this is the only car we have available right now.” Even though I was 10, I could feel the tension between the two. He glared at the clerk and said he would take his business someplace else, then grabbed my hand. We quickly stormed away from Enterprise.
In the parking lot, I asked him why he didn’t want to rent the car. He pointed at the license plate, “Look, mija, look at the numbers.” In the midst of random letters and numbers was “666” — an omen, my dad told me.
He taught me that there are certain numbers that are signs. Some numbers you avoid, such as the number on the license plate, and some numbers you embrace and seek. These numbers are hidden messages. Sometimes, they can determine your fate, or at least your day.
From then on, it felt like a game. These numbers were telling my dad something, so I felt like if I really tried, they’d tell me something too. Like at the supermarket, we would avoid aisles six, 13, and 18. After the number “6”, “18” was my dad’s least favorite number because it was the sum of three sixes. Or if we got $25 dollars in change, my dad would give me a dollar to give to a homeless person nearby, so that we would have $24 dollars instead. Actually, we would generally avoid odd numbers. If we got a “22” in our fortune cookie lucky numbers, it would be a good day. 22 is a good number: a number my dad always picks in his lotto tickets.
It wasn’t just numbers, though, but other bizarre antics. My dad would only walk into a building with his right foot or would never put his left hand over his right. When we would drive past a church, we would turn the radio off until the church was fully out of sight — out of respect for God. Or if a plane soared overhead, we would persignar four times: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Truth is, the superstitions didn’t really impinge on our daily lives. Until someone points them out, they’re just my dad’s habits, and he just does them. I guess I never really gave it a second thought until I realized that people don’t normally act this way. People don’t go through their lives acting as if the universe and God were constantly sending signs through numbers and coincidences.
My dad doesn’t even go to mass every Sunday anymore. He stopped doing that before my grandmother passed away, but he continues to believe in these numbers and these rituals. Now I wonder if he continues it more as an homage to my grandmother, rather than because he truly believes that something terrible will happen if he drives a car with “666” in the license plate.
When I denounced Catholicism in high school, I stopped taking the numbers and habits as seriously as I did when I was a child. “They’re just numbers,” I’ll tell my dad. “They don’t really mean anything.” Yet in two months, I turn 22, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel like it was a good sign.