The First Crocus

The First Crocus March 6, 2021

There is nothing colder than a forty degree day, when it was in the sixties earlier in the week. Something about that contrast is a sharper, more painful cold than the cold of a day with a much lower temperature earlier in the year. In February, I was excited for the weather to get above freezing. Now, at the end of the first week of March, it feels cruel.

Every patch of snow has finally melted away. The earth is noisy and wet– not the crunch of fresh powdery snow nor the crack of snow that’s fallen and half-melted and then frozen over, but the slap of dirty shoes on saturated earth. The grass is still brown. The air still smells like frost. The dandelions aren’t out yet and the bulbs haven’t come up. But we’re turning a corner into the Spring. The temperature inches up and then it crashes, leaving us shuddering cold.

I put on my thick coat and went for a walk.

I should have walked yesterday. Walking is another strategy for protecting my health, along with diet and medication. But yesterday I was terribly sick.

My period had been a little late– a symptom of POCS, I know. I was having particularly bad PMS and starting to get a little nauseous– something else that can happen when your hormones don’t work as they ought. I didn’t have a pregnancy test in the house because I’d thrown them all away in frustration the last time I was a little late. The dipping, waiting, praying, mourning when I saw  it negative and then doing it again the next time I had to use the bathroom was just too painful. I didn’t want to look at them. I hadn’t kept them in the house since the false alarm I’m pretty sure was a “chemical pregnancy” back in September. So I said I’d buy a test the next time I went to the store. I told myself again and again that it was probably nothing. But at the same time I was telling myself, I was window shopping at online clothing stores for pretty maternity outfits. I was googling feast days and saint’s names nine months from now. I was plotting out a blog post announcing good news, with the line “the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name” in it. I’m far from the first woman who has struggled with fertility who’s blogged that line. But I want to be one of the women who gets to say it.

Yesterday I got my period, heavy because it was late, particularly painful and with flu-like symptoms a bad period can cause when you’ve got PCOS and fibromyalgia. I was sick in bed for a day and didn’t get my walk, but I’m better now.

You’re not supposed to talk about periods.

You’re not supposed to talk about the grief that comes from mourning possible children who never existed, not even for a few seconds, no matter how hard you wished. Nor children who did exist for a few hours or a day, but bounced off the endometrium and splashed into the toilet unnoticed. Nor the anguish of not knowing which it was– a soul to call you “Mother” on the other side, or not.

You’re not supposed to talk about the grief of wanting a great big Catholic family, all laughter and chaos, one beautiful baby after another, and only getting one child. Not when so many women want a great big Catholic family and got no children at all. It’s spoiled.

I watch Rosie grow up such a fierce and wonderful, beautiful person. I am proud of every new stage of development she’s entered, but every time I’ve mourned who she used to be as well. I woke up from nightmares about losing a baby and found the baby gone and a preschooler with me. I woke up from nightmares about a preschooler running away and found the preschooler gone forever, replaced by a vivacious older child who won’t sit still to read. And now she’s almost ten. But she gets annoyed with me when I talk about missing her when she was tiny.

These are sufferings that shouldn’t be voiced.

I walked through the shabbier streets where the poorest people lived. It was sunny, impossibly bright without a cloud in the sky– rare, for Steubenville. There is no weather that feels as cold as forty degrees in March, and there’s no weather that feels as sunny as a sunny day in LaBelle when there aren’t any leaves on the trees yet. The sun made eerie shadows out of everything, as if everything was a cardboard cutout and not real at all. It felt like the curtain would open in a moment, and I would take a bow and not be Mary Pezzulo anymore but an interesting person. And then a stage hand would clear away these set pieces and all the mud and dirt and brokenness of LaBelle would be gone forever. I’ve wished for that to happen. I’ve wished for the annihilation of LaBelle and Steubenville and Mary Pezzulo more often than I can ever express. I want to be somebody else.

I rounded the bend to the street called LaBelle View, where the beautiful mansions sit on the cliffs overlooking the downtown slums. This is the only part of the LaBelle neighborhood where people have money. Franciscan University professors live there, mostly. They put big statues of the Virgin Mary in their yards, and they’re always trying new tactics to force the poor out of LaBelle so the value of their properties will go up. I’ve heard professors’ wives with a whole gaggle of children declare that God rewarded them with a mansion, because they had faith in Him and didn’t use birth control.

The real reason they can afford a mansion has nothing to do with birth control. It’s because nobody wants to live in Northern Appalachia, so the cost of buying a house is miniscule. They don’t use birth control and they buy a mansion on a tenured professor’s salary. I don’t use birth control and I rent a three-bedroom house for six hundred dollars a month, with a little help from friends. I don’t know whether my landlord uses birth control or not, but I know that he bought my house for fifteen thousand dollars when it was a derelict crack house. The poor in the downtown slums nail blankets over their windows in winter and sleep in their coats because they can’t afford to turn the heat on, whether they use birth control or not. The woman who starved her son to death this summer surely wasn’t on birth control: that was her ninth child, the first eight had been taken away for neglect, and the tenth was taken from her when she was arrested. She lived in the nastiest cheap apartment you ever saw, and now the town gossips say the landlord can’t rent out that room anymore because it’s too notorious.

Neither a mansion nor a pregnancy is a reward for good behavior. I wish they were, but they’re not.

I have spoken many times with God about just this topic, but He hasn’t replied to me. Not in words, at least.

Today, He replied in crocuses.

I turned the corner to a poorer street and found a front yard full of crocuses. No other yards had their crocuses out yet, but this one had them in abundance. They’d popped  up suddenly since the last time I’d walked, all through the brown grass, bloom after soft purple bloom, the very first flowers I’d seen since last Autumn. They hadn’t returned to the wealthier side of LaBelle but here on the shabby side where we can’t pretend God rewards our obedience. Life returns. Times and seasons change. New mysteries replace old mysteries. What the future holds I do not know, but it won’t be winter forever; someday, it will be something else.  Living things burst out of dead earth into a world that doesn’t deserve them, for the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.

The winter is almost over, and life is coming back.


Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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