Two days ago was the best day I’ve had in years, and I am thankful.
Today was one of the worst in recent memory.
I was supposed to get the oven I bought with the Biden money in April delivered, but they told me at the last minute it was yet another victim of the nationwide appliance shortage, and had been postponed until almost July. The ancient oven that came with the rental house has a busted door and only one working burner. If we demand our Biden money back we’ll lose our place in the endless queue and never cook again. We’ll have to make do.
I had to get up extra early for a doctor’s appointment; I got through it by reminding myself that I could go straight home and take a nap. But when I got home, the Menacing Neighbor was putting on a show. She kept standing under our window and yelling to anyone who would listen how evil we were. She kept it up for seven hours. I don’t even think she paused for breath. I couldn’t sleep for all the noise.
And then, when Michael went out to mow the lawn, she pitched a fit and called 911 on Michael with a false charge of trespassing. I spent three hours sitting on the concrete steps watching Michael mow the lawn so I’d have a witness to the fact that he wasn’t trespassing, and that our neighbor was violating the restraining order by making a scene. It took that long because three separate times I had to show the restraining order to the police officers she summoned to hurt us and draw their attention to everything it said, but they kept declining to enforce it even though she was standing right there jibbering. Once they even said “you’re right and she’s wrong, but here’s what we’re going to do for now” and declined to enforce it. They kept telling me it was only a few days until the hearing anyway. I don’t understand what a restraining order is for or why I was advised to get one. It doesn’t seem to restrain anybody. They listened patiently as the menacing neighbor screamed that we were actually the harassers and that we steal her mail, spook her dog, keep her under twenty-four hour surveillance and never sleep. Eventually they took our written statements and left.
When the police left for the third time, took Rosie on a long walk so I could soothe myself watching grown-up television, but it didn’t take.
Michael texted me at sunset because the walk had been too long. I drove to pick them up.
I dropped them off at the house, but I didn’t want to be in such proximity to my worries. I watched them lock themselves in, and went for a dive by myself.
I have gone for walks in LaBelle at night so many more times I can count. This was the first time I’d driven around LaBelle at night.
This was the first time I’d driven as easily as walking.
I passed the park that used to be a playground where Rosie would slide down the slide, but then they took out the playground equipment and closed it to the public to deter drug dealers.
I turned a few corners and drove downhill on a whim, on a pockmarked and dimpled corduroy street, one of the worst streets in LaBelle and the one that backs up against a really expensive street. I don’t ever walk on that street because it’s too dangerous, but I suppose it’s safe to drive.
I used to live there.
I pulled up in front of the slum apartment building where the landlord wouldn’t repair the bathroom floor even when we could look through the cracks beside the tub directly into the downstairs neighbor’s place. The kitchen floor was rotten too. I begged the landlord for some peel-and-stick vinyl and said I’d repair the kitchen floor myself for free, and he accepted, but he never brought them to me. The upstairs neighbor had a drug problem; she used to scream at us and pound the ceiling– once so hard that the light fixture came off and got broken glass in our dinner. Once another tenant upstairs held a party and a young man urinated off the balcony, where it splashed against my window. Once the downstairs neighbor banged on the door and ranted at me that she was having fantasies of hitting Rosie so she wouldn’t make noise, and then the landlord called and said he wanted us OUT, and we fled.
That was the building I got raped in.
That was the building where I had to sleep in the bed I got raped in for three years, until we moved with toddler Rosie to the house two blocks away for just eight months before that landlord announced she was leasing it to some Dominican nuns instead of us. And I cleared my things out of the house so the nuns could move in, and moved to my current house, from a furnished house to an unfurnished, and then the Menacing Neighbor bought the house next door three months later. She has been there since.
I drove further down and around a corner to the nice block, past the failed “House of Prayer and Peace” where the spiritually abusive Sister Angeline used to live. She is in a nursing home now, her false order of nuns a failure, but it doesn’t seem like enough justice.
I drove through the nicer neighborhood where I used to go jogging when the fatigue wasn’t crippling, where I sometimes pushed Rosie in the stroller, numb with post partum and PTSD, asking God to let me die.
As I drove, I talked to myself.
That’s what writers do. We talk to ourselves. We take in the words that permeate the world around us, we chew them up, and we regurgitate them in interesting patterns that are called called books, essays and stories. I am always talking to myself and it’s never about anything relevant. It’s randomly chewing on interesting things people said to me years and years ago, which I remembered on a whim.
This time, I was chewing on something that a rotund professor of world religions with a thick Kentucky accent once told me in undergrad, before I fell down the Franciscan University rabbit hole and got trapped in Steubenville in the first place. “People who say ‘the patience of Job’ have never read the book of Job, because all Job did was complain.”
I liked nothing about that professor or that world religions class except for that one miniature sermon, and I liked that sermon a lot.
It could be that I have exactly one virtue: I have the patience of Job. When Job fell down the rabbit hole and lost everything, his prayer was most irreverent. He cried and complained in reams and reams of maudlin poetry, cursed his own birthday and wanted to die; he begged God to leave him alone long enough to swallow a mouthful of spit. I do this as well. I do it all the time. I tell God and His blessed mother to leave me alone. But in equally irreverent terms, I also beg Him to come back.
I believe that all the books of the Bible are true. There isn’t a single word in the Bible that isn’t true. Many parts of the Bible are historically true. The Book of Job is true in the sense of myth– it’s an ancient folktale written down with Divine inspiration to illustrate the most profound truths. One of those truths is that bad things happen to good people. Another truth is that when bad things happen to good people, mediocre people will show up and try to convince the good people they deserve it. Another is that it’s a perfectly acceptable form of patience to cry and complain and write bad poetry and ask God to leave you alone long enough to swallow a mouthful of spit. God finds the mediocre people who blame the victim sinful. To the people who complain nonstop, pray irreverently and and want to die, He doesn’t exactly tell them to stop. He just presents a mystery: He remains God Who created Behemoth and Leviathan, the events of our lives are an enigma which cannot be explained, and the people who tell us we deserve our suffering are in sin in need of our prayer. And then He makes it right somehow.
Not the same as it was before things went wrong, just right.
I drove up toward my house, on another street in LaBelle. This one has a nice old 1920s foursquare with a big front porch, and on that porch is an astonishingly tacky decoration: a giant heart as big as I am in Christmas lights. And in the center of the heart, a luminous cross. And on either side of the cross: not John and Mary, but Mary and Saint Francis in cheap plaster lawn statuary. The whole thing is decorated with faded silk flowers.
I prayed a prayer most impatient and irreverent, the only prayer I can find inside: “I will try to forgive you anyway. I will try to love you anyway, if I can. But can’t you make it right?”
And then I went home.
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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