Weights and Measures


Since January 1, I’ve walked 153 miles, more or less. I’ve lost ten pounds. I’ve consumed an average of 55 grams of fat a day that account for roughly  30% of 1,440 calories net, per day. I’ve lost the tips of three different fingers on my left hand to knives wielded by my right.

I lost a friend.

I’ve caught a single cold that lasted for 10 days, driven 262 miles to the UCLA campus in Los Angeles by myself to spend two days with over 200 women writers at BinderCon. I’ve read seven books and bought or borrowed 10 more.

I didn’t lose my friend, she died. Every time I look across the yard separating ours from hers, I expect to see her shoving her walker along the edge of her retaining wall where she planted fennel, a plant that was supposed to be a yellow tomato, and ran her hands through the dirt which anchored blooms planted by her daughter-in-law.

I am not walking to lose weight and I am not restricting fat in order to fit into a pair of jeans. The walking project was planned before an unexplained, out-of-the-blue bout of pancreatitis in December altered my dietary habits. The kitchen accidents, one every ten days over the past thirty days leave me mystified and make it really hard to wash the dog. And my hair.

Once, I watched through the window over my kitchen sink while my friend stepped out onto her upstairs porch and bowed to the morning sun. Her long wet hair spilled forward in a shimmer of white gold.

Counting does not come easily to me. I tend to think in round numbers, approximations. I never know how many gallons of gas our car holds, or how many people live in our city, or any of the other numbers that many people note and retrieve.

I don’t remember how many minutes I stood at my sink, watching my friend shake her hair, then brush it, then twist it into the bun she wore every day that I knew her.

When I set the goal for my walking project — 800 miles for the year or a bit more than 15 miles a week — it dawned on me that I had no idea how many steps it took to get from my house to the cliffs or from the cliffs to town. I had even less idea of how many miles I could walk in an hour. I needed tools. I started with the pedometer I gave my husband a couple of Christmases ago. Now I have two apps on my iPod Touch that help me track my steps and miles. I have another app that tracks my caloric intake. We returned from our last trip to Costco with a sleek scale that is see-through and flashes my weight to the tenth of a pound in brilliant blue digits. The old scale, it turns out, was fine but that needle wavered too much. We were constantly fiddling with it to make sure it read “0” before stepping on.

I count with the fervor of a convert. I count everything, even when I know the numbers will tell me I failed to meet my objective. My weekly mileage is closer to ten miles and most of the miles I have walked have been in January, February, and March. I count with optimism. The year is only one quarter over and I’ve already walked far more than I ever would have if I hadn’t set the goal in the first place. I count the fat grams convinced that keeping the count low will ward off a recurrence of the pancreatitis and a return to the far more restrictive diet of boullion, tea, water, and other see-through liquids.

When I first started drinking tea with my friend, I had two dogs and she had one husband. After she became a widow, we visited more often. I would walk over at “the usual time” once or twice a month with my  terriers and we would sit in her backyard or at her dining room table, sip, and talk. We talked about our gardens, our children, her frustrations with the insurance industry, and we took turns tossing a ball for the dogs. Then the dog who loved the ball the best died. My friend gave me tea. She held my hand. We sat in her backyard sometimes not saying much of anything.

No matter how closely I believe I am keeping track, some numbers slip away from me. I can never remember how many steps equals a mile according to these apps I have. I can never be sure they are telling me the truth because they each say something a little different. Sometimes I guess at the calories and fat of the various foods I am eating because the app I use for that doesn’t have the exact thing its database. More and more, I test the limits of my tolerance. After all, the pancreatitis didn’t kill me and more and more it appears to be a fluke that will not repeat itself.

It’s becoming clear that recalling the numbers is not the same as remembering the sights that greet me as I walk, or the laughter over a meal I shared with my family without obsessing about what might happen. The number of books by my bed is meaningless when I am deep inside the world of each one.

I forget when my friend stopped making stars at Christmas. I forget when she started to let me make the tea for us. I forget how many times I meant to call her but let the moment pass.

I remember her laugh. I remember being enfolded in her large, welcoming arms. I remember the warmth of her cheek against mine each time we greeted each other and each time we said goodbye.



11 thoughts on “Weights and Measures

  1. Damn, Betsy. Sometimes your writing blows me away. This is one of those times. This eloquent post should be turned into an essay and submitted to a magazine. It would get published. There must be half a dozen periodicals that would publish it and beg you for more.

    My condolences for your loss of a dear friend. My congratulations on meeting your goals, and on your diligence. And my fervent hope that you are working on another novel. The one about grandmothers would be awesome.

    I’m very happy to hear that you are healthy again and there will be no repeat of the pancreatitis. But please, please stop cutting off your fingers!

  2. Ahhhh, now I understand.So good to hear from you again.m From: Elizabeth Marro’s Blog To: mr121@bellsouth.net Sent: Friday, April 17, 2015 12:51 AM Subject: [New post] Weights and Measures #yiv2477554453 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv2477554453 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv2477554453 a.yiv2477554453primaryactionlink:link, #yiv2477554453 a.yiv2477554453primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv2477554453 a.yiv2477554453primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv2477554453 a.yiv2477554453primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv2477554453 WordPress.com | Elizabeth G. Marro posted: “Since January 1, I’ve walked 153 miles, more or less. I’ve lost ten pounds. I’ve consumed an average of 55 grams of fat a day that account for roughly  30% of 1,440 calories net, per day. I’ve lost the tips of three different fingers on my left hand t” | |

  3. Well geez Betsy, I’m so sorry about your pancreatitis and hope that nasty stuff never, ever, ever comes back. Thanks for sharing your touching story, so well written of course as always. I related to all of it, although I’m a numbers girl because I was born that way, not because I want to be that way. I’m also sorry for the loss of your friend. Life is tough some times but I’m here for you if you need me. Please, please try not to cut off any more of your finger tips. It was really great seeing you twice this past week. I hope we see each other more often.

  4. Oh my goodness, this blew me away. These two sentences: “Then the dog who loved the ball the best died. My friend gave me tea.”

    And then this: It’s becoming clear that recalling the numbers is not the same as remembering the sights that greet me as I walk

    This felt very familiar and dark to me, but not in a bad way. Just today I was thinking that we all know we are going to die but most of the time, we distract ourselves from this fact. This essay was just the most beautiful way of remembering that our time here is short and fleeting.

    God, this is really gorgeous. Thank you for writing this.

  5. Betsy, this piece is beautifully written, and I can feel its rhythm–a kind of ebb and flow. I’m happy to have an update on your walking–wow. It’s so amazing how sometimes something unpleasant can send us off in a new direction. Glad you’re keeping the pancreatitis at bay. And what lovely memories of your friend. I can see her there across from you, swinging her hair around.

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