for the first time in a long time.
At the bottom.
I had cause to go to the second floor of a building, a building I’ve been in countless times. The elevator was being inspected, so I took the stairs, again, as I had done countless times.
I usually always take the stairs, but was feeling lazy and not in the mood today, but fate would have its way.
It always does.
I walked up the two flights of stairs, ending with my right foot on the second floor landing, just as it was supposed to. I started to step towards the door and realized, with something akin to terror, that I hadn’t counted the steps.
Oh shit, I murmured under my breath.
I know how many steps were there. I’ve counted them hundreds of times. Every time, as a matter of fact. I always count steps. Not just stairs, but steps.
I know how many it takes to get to the second floor of this building, or the third, for that matter, just as I know how many it takes to get many places.
I am a counter. I count. But it hasn’t been an issue, other than counting just to be counting, for years.
On this occasion, however, I had, for whatever reason, not counted them; it had become an issue.
Maybe at another time, it wouldn’t have mattered, but this time, I was frozen. I had to be sure. I had to be certain and it had to be right.
I turned around, careful to start out, left foot first, on the first step down and emptied my mind of numbers, for it is against the rules to count going down if I didn’t count going up.
I sang, in my head, Beast of Burden, to keep the numbers out of my head.
Apt, I think now, looking back.
Once on the first floor landing, I pivoted around, careful to not make an uncountable step and began my assent with my left foot. It is, even when things are going well, a rule. And counted.
Right foot on the landing.
But … and isn’t there always a but?
Had I taken a step between the first and second flight and forgot to count it? I could not be certain.
So I turned around, careful to pivot and not make an extra step that would need to be accounted for and started down. Since I had counted going up, I counted going down.
Right foot on the first floor landing as expected.
I turned around.
Left foot first, I began up the steps again, careful to note that an extra step was not taken on the platform between the first and second floors. I arrived on the second floor landing with my right foot.
I was certain of it. I knew in my mind and my heart that it was twenty-four.
I couldn’t move a muscle.
I felt the tears begin to burn behind my eyes as I realized that I could not go on with my task until I had assured myself that I had done it correctly.
So back down the stairs I went. Left foot first, counting as I went.
Twenty-four. Twelve on each level. It was right. I knew it was right, but I turned around and began up again.
I counted out loud this time and squeezed my fists together, left, then right, to correspond with my steps. I made certain to not take an extra step between the first and second flights and continued to the top.
In the end, I completed this sequence eight times.
My legs were so tired.
My thighs are strong from frequent, arduous hikes, but now, they were aching and cramping from the absolute concentration and focus on making certain to hit every step just right and say the number, out loud, as my foot hit the step. Too soon or too late and it meant an automatic do-over.
Tears of frustration and shame poured down my face.
Once I had successfully accomplished walking up the stairs and taken care of the business at hand, I stopped by the elevator to ask the man how much longer it would be.
I felt fat and lazy asking such a thing and he looked at me as though I was fat and lazy to ask such a thing. He said it would be about five minutes, so I sat in the lobby of the second floor of the building and waited.
I didn’t have the courage or the strength to attempt the stairs again.
While I sat there, waiting under the condescending eye of the elevator inspector, I thought about what the trigger might have been. What had caused this unexpected moment of panicked relapse.
I was fooling myself, though. I didn’t need to think about it. I knew what the trigger was.
I always, irregardless of the catalyst, know instantly.
I felt the tingle on the back of my neck as soon as the moment occurred. As a matter of fact, when I felt that tingle, I wondered what would happen.
When nothing did for a few days, I felt like a super-hero. I had avoided a calamity.
Not true. It seems that, at times, my brain has the most fun when it can torture me. It is almost as though it is not a part of the whole, but one of the bullies that tormented me through elementary and middle school.
I’m too old for this nonsense. I have come too far to go back. I refuse to go back. I couldn’t survive it again. I barely survived it the first time.
No. I won’t go back.
When the elevator inspector was finished, he said, disdainfully, to me “ok lady, load up”.
I didn’t look in his direction. I looked at the floor as I counted the steps to the elevator.
Once home, many hours and much counting later, (art class, which is always a joy, was almost unbearable. I counted every circle, every line drawn, every pencil stroke, doing my best to hide that I did so and still not certain if I succeeded) I came into the house, after walking up the four porch steps six times. I came in and prepared to take a shower hot enough to blister my skin.
But I couldn’t. I kept wondering if I had counted the cinder blocks that keep the first step on my porch from being too high, as a step.
Eight more times. Eight. Fourteen total.
I was wasted.
I came inside, locked the door, sat down on the floor and sobbed.
After I had cried myself dry, I put on a pot of coffee. I love the smell of coffee. Smells, good ones, soothe me. I found myself wishing, even while I was hoping it wouldn’t, for rain. The smell of rain in the mountains in springtime has a way of calming me.
In the end, I turned to words. As they poured out of my traitorous mind onto the page, they fell, in a way, like rain. I like the sound of words and I like saying them.
They have soothed my wounded pride, my damaged confidence and my weakened spirit. God knows of that which I need and gave me the words to get me through the torment that this day wrought upon me.
Tomorrow? Well, it will be what it will be and I will face it with courage. I panicked today. I won’t panic tomorrow.