Home isn’t a pleasant place this summer.
The menacing neighbor has workmen over every day, loudly clanking scaffolding and beautifying her house from nine until five. She insists on being outside during every daylight hour, screaming to the workmen and the neighbors about how evil we are, calling the police on us for the crime of mowing our lawn or going in the backyard. Her new fixation is that she’s angry with me for faithfully reporting to the judge every lurid and lewd thing she said about Rosie. I typed out her exact words on Facebook so there would be a timestamp as evidence. She keeps bellowing at us that she’s getting a lawyer to sue us for talking about her on Facebook, that she’s on the phone with her lawyer right now. But she doesn’t have a lawyer. She could never afford the retainer. She can’t even afford the noisy workmen– she screams to anyone who will listen that she’s going into debt to get the house painted. I don’t think the workmen realize that she’s insane, or that she’s dying.
Because home is so noisy and frightening, I’m having a lot of trouble writing there. I try to drive to the library to at least get some work done, when the acute stress disorder will allow me to write. I’ve given up homeschooling, which is usually a twelve-month endeavor, and told Rosie she can have several weeks off. She either spends too much time watching Power Rangers, or she goes on road trips with me. This wasn’t possible last year, or any of the other 14 years I lived in Steubenville. This is the first year we’ve had a car. Home is a nightmare, but we have road trips now.
We drive to Raccoon Creek Park, which has a lake where you can swim for free.
We drive to the pool in Weirton or in Toronto, which Rosie likes better, when we can afford admission.
Once we drove to Burgettstown for a truly silly tourist trap adventure: a temporary exhibit where you could drive your car slowly through a parking lot full of life-sized animatronic dinosaurs. The price for a ticket was so high, I almost didn’t do it, but we were desperate to get out of the house. And Rose, who has always liked dinosaurs, had the time of her life. So did I, truth be told. My favorite part was driving under the Brachiosaur’s lashing tail.
Today, we were going to go to the lake for free, but it was cool out and looked like rain. We were going to bite the bullet and stay in but it was just too loud. In desperation, we got a roll of quarters at the bank and drove up to Fort Steuben mall. Michael was going to take Rosie to the obnoxious neon-colored arcade for the afternoon while I got some quiet time and maybe even overcame my writer’s block in the library. But when we got there, the arcade was closed. I couldn’t stand the thought of going home, but I didn’t have anywhere to dump Rosie and Michael if I went to the library.
On a whim, we drove all the way to the other mall, the one that isn’t half empty and decaying. We drove all the way to Saint Clairsville to the Ohio Valley Mall.
Most of that stretch of the freeway is beautiful. You can hardly believe you’re in the Ohio Valley. It must be somewhere else, somewhere where interesting people live and do noble things. And then you drive by the giant smoking hulk of the coal power plant in Brilliant and remember you’re in hell, and then you keep driving through more beautiful green hills, and it seems all right again.
I dropped Michael and Rosie off at the arcade in the Ohio Valley Mall. And then I drove around the parking lot, wondering at things.
Half the buildings in Steubenville are empty and rotting. I’m not saying the rest of the Valley is doing very well economically, but it felt strange to see a place so full. There were ordinary chain restaurants and ordinary chain stores everywhere. I got iced cold brew coffee. I bought a bowl of burrito filling with way too much sour cream for my dinner. I bought Rosie a book at one store and myself some summer clothes at another. I shouldn’t have done any of that. We can’t afford luxuries. We’ll already be regretting the ticket to that silly dinosaur exhibit for the rest of the month. But it all felt so natural.
“I feel like I’m human again,” I said to Michael when he also got in the car with the comics Rose had picked out at the comic shop.
Michael reminded me that I’d always been human, and he’s right. Human isn’t a matter of doing things that feel normal. Falling into a rabbit hole and getting trapped in Steubenville in poverty and chronic illness, far from friends and family, for such a painfully long time, was also human. I’m human when I’m cringing from the menacing neighbor and human when I’m having a panic attack. I’m human when I’m in the hospital or having a dizzy spell. I’m human when I have a flashback. I was human when I was raped, when I was spiritually abused, when I was so poor we thought we’d be homeless. I am human now.
But I found it so easy to feel human when I wasn’t in Steubenville.
We got back on Interstate Seventy as the sun set– twenty minutes East to Wheeling or two hours west to Columbus. Wheeling is the beginning to what I think of as the normal part of West Virginia– not the apocalyptic valley of rust and poison but the good part of West Virginia, the Appalachian mountains where my ancestors had a farm, the glorious state park where I used to play with my cousins every year and once got trapped outside at night. Columbus is the city I grew up in, where I suffered so much but where there’s so much good to be done and there are still so many people I’d love to see again. And just for a moment, it all felt possible. I felt that I didn’t have to go home. Steubenville had never been home anyway. I was human, and I could go somewhere else.
The feeling lasted just a moment. Of course, we ended up back to Steubenville. The neighbor had finally worn herself out and gone to bed, so we had a quiet late evening.
One of these days I just won’t come back.
At any rate, those are the irresponsible things I have been doing when I’ve been too anxious and afraid to write.
I wish I had a more interesting person to show you, but I do have a human to show you. I’m human. Sometimes I even feel human.
Being human is enough for now.
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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