I took the Neighborhood Trolley to the doctor today– thanks to all my readers who gave me some help to get the repairs done.
It was surreal dropping my car off at the body shop for several repairs, and then walking down to the bus stop. I haven’t taken a bus in four months. And then I waited in the library for hours, like I used to do after I missed the bus. And I took the bus around in a big time-wasting circle, chatting with old acquaintances and listening to bus gossip, just like I did for the first nine and a half years of Rosie’s life.
Something about the trip, the smell and the sound of the bus after so many months without it, made me a little sick. I felt like I was having a flashback.
Poverty is traumatic. I hope my body of writing has made that clear, if you didn’t know it before. It’s not the same kind of trauma you can get from being assaulted or being in a war; it’s a different trauma. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had lots of help from family and friends to shield me from a lot of the most terrible things. I don’t know what it’s like to be homeless. We only got a utility shut off once– the gas in the summer, which is pretty painless as long as you don’t mind cold showers. We got rescued from our slum apartment and moved into a better place when things went from bad to worse, and some people don’t have that help. Still, living from day to day, having to stretch out the EBT benefits to get through the last part of the month, having to catch buses all over town when the town is too big to comfortably walk across yet too small to have good transit and the bus only comes once an hour, dealing with agencies, living in a scary neighborhood, not being able to move when neighbors are abusive, trying to help neighbors and failing, these are traumas. The worst part about the trauma has been watching Rosie grow up in this mess. I’ve felt terribly guilty about her having to defend herself from neighbor children and learn to ignore the menacing neighbor’s madness, rarely getting to go any place exciting, no vacations except an overnight in Pittsburgh when I was at a conference.
This is all very scary. I felt anxious riding the bus. I started imagining worst case scenarios. When the mechanic called me, I fully expected him to say that the car had blown up and I’d never be able to drive again. But he just said it was finished and ready to go.
I walked from the last bus stop, two blocks to where the Neighborhood Trolley stood waiting for me. The mechanic had done a great job. I paid, patted his dog, and drove off.
The clouds burst as soon as I was halfway home: a severe thunderstorm, rivers of pewter-gray water rushing down the one-way streets of LaBelle, my neighbor dashing around her yard to bring her potted plants inside as if they’d drown. I got soaked merely by walking from the curb to the house. My secondhand red shoes, the thin comfortable ballet flats I call my “driving slippers,” were bleeding dye so my feet looked like I’d run a mile over glass. Rosie was there to meet me, and laugh at how wet I was.
I apologized, with more than the usual Mom Guilt, that now we couldn’t go swimming as we’d planned to do as soon as the car was fixed.
I asked how her day had been: “Boring,” she said, and my heart sank.
We watched the sheets of rain until they stopped abruptly an hour later. The cloud front rolled away across the Ohio as quickly as it had come, and there was still plenty of sunshine left.
“You PROMISED you’d take me someplace fun,” Rosie needled.
“I did,” I admitted. But the pools were all closed for the day because of the rain. There’s really nothing fun to do in Steubenville, especially when it’s muddy. “Well… you said you wanted to see what a car wash was like. Want to do that?”
Rosie scampered to get her sneakers on, and I crammed my red feet back into my soaked driving slippers.
We went for a drive.
The car wash I’d looked up directions to was closed, so we drove further on. And then we drove further, way past the end of the usual bus route, to the place we never could have walked to.
“Let’s see what the next part of Wintersville looks like!” I said. “I don’t think I’ve been out this far before. It’s a whole new world!”
Wintersville is a much smaller, quieter town than Steubenville. It’s basically a housing development, a high school and a few shops and diners, along a single stretch of road. There’s not really a business district or anything exciting to see. But that wasn’t the point. We were going for a drive, on a sunny evening, and every few minutes of driving made the weight of fear and poverty and Steubenville slip off my shoulders. And we were up out of the river valley at a higher elevation, away from the cliffside at the end of LaBelle. It felt like being in a different world.
After awhile we stopped at Big Lots.
That’s not terribly exciting, I know. But if you’ve been trapped in one town for more than a decade, raising a child, hardly ever doing anything fun, always shopping at the same grocery stores, going to a new store is an adventure.
We sat in the recliners and chairs for sale, testing them out. Rosie fell in love with a memory foam mattress much more comfortable than her own bed, and I had to keep her from lying down on it for a nap. We found an aisle full of tacky pink unicorn-themed decorations for a girl’s bedroom, which made Rosie gag, and I teased her that I’d redecorate her superhero-themed bedroom if she wasn’t good. I bought a box of gluten-free pancake mix with sprinkles in it for Rosie’s breakfast tomorrow. They don’t sell that locally. The saleslady signed me up for a free Big Lots rewards card, which I took reverently as if it was a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.
We drove back towards Steubenville, to another car wash.
“I haven’t been in one of these in twenty years,” I said.
Rosie watched with interest as I swiped my card and pushed buttons. She giggled when the light turned green and the robot voice told us to drive forward, stop, drive backward, stop, put the car in park.
We both squealed when the machine passed over the Neighborhood Trolley again and again, spraying clouds of soap, until it was so covered that we couldn’t see.
And then came the curtains of water, just like the curtains of rain that had fallen earlier. And finally, a blow-dryer that made the droplets on the windshield climb straight up in defiance of gravity.
I drove around the side and fished in my purse for two dollars to use the vacuum. Rosie was a lot more meticulous than I was about cleaning out her backseat.
“Can we do this every few months?” Rosie asked.
“Yes. We can.”
We got back home, just as it was clouding over again. I think you’re supposed to be annoyed when it rains just after you paid for a car wash, but all I felt was joy.
It’s going to be all right.
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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