It all counts.
Not long after the accident, I turned at the gate on my way to school one morning and looked back at the front stairs. There were only 10...normal-looking gray concrete, not like the 22 treacherous wooden steps at the back. The front stairs had a small set of lines and some gray sand set in the middle so you wouldn't slip in bad weather. Somehow it seemed wrong to have walked down them unawares. I felt bad about it. Ungrateful to those stairs that had borne my weight uncomplaining for all of my 8 years. I walked back to the stairs and climbed to the top. Then I started down again but this time I counted each one. There. 10.
The day went on but I couldn't stop thinking about those 10 stairs. Not obsessing. Nothing that kept me from schoolwork or skipping or talking, but a gentle teasing like the way your tongue is drawn to a loose front tooth. On the way home it seemed natural to count my steps from the school gate, down the path, over the footpath, across the road, along the street at the bottom of the hill, across another road, up the hill and then into our yard: 2,827.
A lot of steps for so short a distance, but I was smaller then. I'd like to do that walk again now that I'm 172 centimeters instead of 120, and I might one day. I can only remember lying in bed at the end of that first day, triumphant. I had measured the dimensions of my world, and I knew them, and now no one could change them.
Unlike the weather in Melbourne. 36 degrees and sunny; 38 and the same; 36 and the same; 12 and raining so hard I risk concussion getting the mail. This January has been like that, so far. When I was a kid Icould hardly stand it. From the age of 8 I graphed each day's max and min from the newspapers, desperate for a pattern.
In time, counting became the scaffolding of my life. What's the best way to stop nonchalantly, so as not to arouse suspicion should someone interrupt? It's okay to stop, it doesn't break the rules...the numbers are patient and will wait, provided you don't forget where you are up to or take an extra pace. But whatever you do, don't lose count or you'll have to start again. It's hard to stop the involuntary twitching, though.
"Grace, why are your fingers moving like that?"
Funny how I sensed this wasn't something to be discussed with other people, even when I was 8.
The numbers were a secret that belonged only to me. Some kids didn't even know the length of the school or their house, much less the number of letters in their own name. I am a 19: Grace Lisa Vandenburg. Jill is a 20: Jill Stella Vandenburg, one more than me despite being three years younger. My mother is a 22: Marjorie Anne Vandenburg. My father was a 19 too: James Clay Vandenburg.
10s began to resonate. Why do things almost always end in zeros? Crossing a road was 30. From the front fence to the shop was 870. Was I subconsciously decimalizing my count? Did I stop at the shop's doormat, rather than the door, so it would end in a zero?
Zeros. 10s. Fingers, toes. The way we name the numbers, in blocks. One day in math we learned rounding, changing a number to the nearest one divisible by 10. I asked Mrs. Doyle the word for moving a number to the nearest divisible by 7. She didn't know what I meant.
Why are clocks so obviously wrong? Counting on a base of 60 is a pagan tendency. Why do people tolerate it?
By the time I finished high school I knew about the digital system and its Hindu-Arabic history and the role of Fibonacci in gaining support for base 10 in 1202. There's still anger out there in cyberspace...flat-earthers upset that base 10 was chosen over base 12, which they consider purer: easy to halve and quarter, the number of the months and of the apostles. But to me it's about the fingers...it's the way the body's been designed. No debate.
Realizing the world was driven by 10s was a beautiful turning point, like someone had given me the key. When tidying my room, I started picking up 10 things. 10 things an hour, 10 things a day. 10 brushes of my hair. 10 grapes from the bunch for a little lunch. 10 pages of my book to read before sleep.?10 peas to eat. 10 socks to fold. 10 minutes to shower. 10. Now I could see not just the dimensions of my world, but the size and shape of everything in it. Defined, clear and in its place.
My Barbie Country Camper was out; my Cuisenaire rods were in. On the outside they don't look like much. Green plastic box; inside, bits of wood, cut and smoothed, in various sizes and colors. Invented by Georges Cuisenaire, my second-favorite inventor, while he was looking for a way to make math easier for children. I love them, especially the colors. Each rod has a number that corresponds to its length, and each number is a different color. For years into my adult life, numbers were also colors. White was 1. Red was 2. Light green was 3. Pink (a hot, sticky pink) was 4. Yellow was 5. Dark green was 6. Black was 7. Brown was 8. Blue was 9. Orange (although I'd always thought of it as tan, a small vowel shift) was 10.