Counting With Your Feet

losing the rhythm but staying on track

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I used to count how many steps I took within each sidewalk panel. Because walking home from school was so boring. The counting became a chant inside my head, and sometimes this chant fell down into a whisper, tumbling from between my lips as if I’d stuffed too many sugar cubes into my mouth.

One two. One two. One two.

I’d be staring at my feet as I passed green trees and yellow houses and clouds and  people. My sneakers touched down onto the concrete twice per panel ... but not quite. For as I walked I noticed how the rhythm of my natural stride (my wobbly, pudgy, duck-footed stride) would get off beat. My legs didn’t match the spaces between the cracks in the sidewalk. And slowly, my steps would inch closer and closer to the next panel, until I was suddenly forced to step on a crack. 

And we all know what happens when you do that.

So I could lunge forward over the crack, trying to keep things even. Or I could change my chant. And that’s why I started counting half steps – one for ending a panel and one for beginning the next. It seemed like the logical thing to do.

One two. One two. One two half, half one two. One two.

I actually said “half, half” in my head. And on long stretches of pristine sidewalk, it worked just fine. I could predict how many sidewalk panels I needed to stroll over before the half steps. But then I’d always hit spots where tree roots or winter weather had broken unexpected cracks into my path, shattering the fixed spaces. Only one step here, one and a half steps there.

I did my best to keep counting, even as the rhythm slipped away.

OK, is this boring? I think this is boring. Please tell me you people did stuff like this. Tell me you played weird little games on the walk home from school or wherever, forgetting about your failed tests and your confusing friendships and that thing someone told everyone else about you. Please tell me that.

One two. One two. Everyone else. But you.

The counting made me feel good. But it always kind of bugged me how my steps never really fit into the sidewalk, two per panel, always, every time. I wasn’t tall enough for that kind of harmony. Not old enough for that big sigh of relief you make when things fit perfectly together. When things are just the way you want them to be.

At some point in my life, maybe for just a few weeks, it’s fair to assume my legs had grown into the perfect length – two steps per panel. But if that ever happened, I must have missed it.

Sometimes I still do that counting. I still say the “half, half” in my head and everything. And it reminds me that things don’t ever fit perfectly together. Things aren’t ever just how you wanted them to be. Why would they be? Who promised you that?

There are many things to make a walk worthwhile, none of them perfect. All these things happening in your life, all day long, all year long, always – they rarely fit into an orderly rhythm. They are not evenly spaced. They are good and they are bad and they are yours. So you keep going.

You just keep going.

And you trust that you can one day get to where you need to be.