Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

It won’t be long before we all emerge from our pandemic dens, sluggish and fluffy after so many months of languishing. How challenging it must have been for those who count their footsteps, aspiring to the healthy 10,000 a day.

Most evenings I’ve taken a walk around the hilly neighborhood, a path that needs about 4,000 steps. But that’s an estimate; I start counting but, by the time I head up the first hill, I get distracted by an untied shoelace or an invasive worry and lose my place.

This is what pedometers are for, but the cheap knockoff I bought was no more reliable than my own brain. It told me my two-mile walk took 700-some steps, but that was just stingy and wrong. With the useless pedometer in the junk drawer, I devised another way to count.

One icy night in January, I slipped going up that first hill and tweaked my knee. The next morning the knee was swollen and popping. Never Google symptoms, they say, but of course I Googled and (incorrectly) diagnosed myself with a torn meniscus. Two days of limping around led to a round of online shopping, which brought to my doorstep a stretchy knee brace and a purple aluminum walking cane.

Such an injury would be worth an extra five pounds of fluff for me, and not wanting to risk another sidewalk slip, I decided to do my nightly walk indoors. This would happen in the cleared space next to the bed, with the wall TV pivoted toward me. That first night, I marched in place, counting the steps while watching mindless things on Netflix. I would get to step 120 or so and then get distracted, lose count and have to start over.

I thought about the little counting clicker the ushers at church use to keep track of people as they walk through the door: just push the button once for every head. Something like that might be helpful on my bedroom walk, but yikes, the sore thumb.

A chalkboard and tally marks came to mind, but I don’t have a chalkboard. But I do have a dresser top scattered with things. I know – I would use those things to keep track of my steps. It would be an analog counting system.

First hundred steps: phone charger. Next hundred steps: bottle of nail polish. Next: comb. Then rubber band, nail file, bottle cap, black Sharpie pen, bottle of vitamin D, bottle of Advil, Kleenex box, hand cream, hair tie, mask, iPod – each tossed onto the bed as I finished a hundred steps. By the time I’d reached 2,000 steps, the bed was cluttered with a line of various objects and the dresser, for once in its life, was cleared. Only halfway there, I reversed course and cleared the bed and filled up the dresser, a hundred steps at a time.

And that is how I mended my knee. It no longer hurts or pops, and I am back to walking outside. Sometimes, if it’s raining, I’ll still do the bedroom march – a reminder of how weird but innovative I am. It’s also a reminder that I own too many little things.

After the spring snow this week, I marched inside. Feeling especially spry, I committed to 5,000 steps, a task that sent me looking beyond the dresser for things. Coat hanger, slipper, T-shirt, book. And for the last 200 steps? I grabbed the knee brace and the purple cane – not to help my steps, but to count them. That’s all I need them for now.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej@aol.com/.

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