We went to Toronto. Not the one in Canada, but the one in Ohio.
I had driven through Toronto a couple of times, on my drives through the Ohio Valley. I’ve taken Rosie to the pool there quite a lot the past few weeks because it’s not very expensive. But this was the first time Michael had been. It was the first time we’d gone there just to go exploring.
It wasn’t a good weekend. The Menacing Neighbor continues her free fall into madness. Her workmen never finished the house and haven’t been back in weeks– something to do with a contract violation, if what she yells into the phone is true. I suspect it might be more to do with the fact that she can’t afford repairs, or that she yelled at them and insulted them the last time she had a paranoid spell. There’s still a big ugly patch of peeled paint on the front of her house which I suppose will stay there forever. She is taking this out on us. On Friday she stood on the lawn screaming insults and obscenities for an hour. She stepped over the property line to yell under windows. She committed assault once. She keeps babbling that she used to “feed” us as if she’s Mother Teresa, because she once badgered me into taking a few cans of mushy vegetables a cancer charity had given her off of her hands– she didn’t want them, and I threw the cans out because they weren’t fit to donate. And she’s recruited the neighbor who lives across the street into her madness as well. She goes over and sits on the gullible woman’s porch every morning, whining to her about her hallucinations, so now the gullible woman yells obscenities at us too. And the police have already told me they refuse to do anything about it. I have nowhere to turn. I just have to wait until she tires herself out.
The panic and anxiety are so bad, they’re causing flare-ups of my old fibromyalgia pain. I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been beaten up. We’d planned to go to a vigil Mass but my arms were so sore I felt like I couldn’t hold a steering wheel, so I stayed on the sofa in my pajamas. The flare wore off at about six in the afternoon, when it was too late.
I was desperate to get out of the house. What I wanted to do was abandon the house entirely and move back to Columbus, but of course that wasn’t possible. I also wished we could get a hotel room for the week until the neighbor tired herself out, but we can’t afford that either. But there was already gas in the tank. It wouldn’t cost any money to go for a drive.
I changed out of my pajamas. Rosie got her tablet and headphones. Michael got a mask. I peeked out the front door, glanced around the yard for the neighbor or her dog, and ran to the car clutching my keys. And then we were off.
Route Seven from Steubenville to Toronto is actually pretty. It doesn’t look like Steubenville. It looks like mountains and trees. You can see the river almost the whole way– dotted with coal barges and dark, Satanic mills, but also dotted with marinas and pleasure boats. By the time you get to Toronto, around a few bends of the river, it looks like a totally different body of water.
Toronto is a much smaller town than Steubenville, and noticeably cleaner. There are poor streets but not a reeking slum like two thirds of LaBelle are. There are tired, sarcastic Appalachian people, but I haven’t seen any publicly abusive monsters like my neighbor and her gullible friend. There is a tiny library the size of a McDonald’s with helpful, smiling librarians and a bright copper roof. There are plenty of Sears and Roebuck pre-cut foursquare houses from the 1920s, just like there are in LaBelle, but they’re quaintly painted and have colorful gardens. There is a church that looks inviting, though we got there after it was closed for the night and could only admire the outside of it. There is a “business district” consisting of about two blocks of old fashioned brick buildings with a bakery and an antique shop. There are several well-kept little playgrounds, but Rosie wanted to stay in the car with her tablet.
It’s not exciting or exotic. It’s not a vacation spot. It was just somewhere to go to get a breath of fresh air.
We drove up and down the hills, people watching.
Eventually we got to Newburg Landing.
Newburg Landing is a tiny park on the shore of the Ohio. There’s a picnic bench, and a place to park your boat trailer, and a pier shaped like the letter Z that goes out onto the river.
I parked the car. We got out to watch the water. Even Rosie got out– at first, staring down at her tablet, but then she put the tablet away and went out to play on the pier. I don’t know anything about piers in general, but this one was a series of floating wooden platforms chained in place, so they rocked when Rosie ran back and forth on them and when a speedboat drove by too close. She rocked on the pier for a long time, and then she made tracks on the patch of muddy sand by the shore. She threw sticks into the water to watch them float away toward Wheeling.
I got down close to the water as well. It was hard to believe this was really the Ohio. I’m sure it’s still horribly polluted in Toronto, but it’s upriver from Steubenville so it doesn’t reek like sulfur and decay. It’s brown instead of red or quicksilver. And it has living things in it. I saw a forest of flat grass waving back and forth in the Ohio’s current, just like kelp in the ocean.
A boat hummed up to the pier just then. I don’t know anything about boats so I don’t know what to call it: just a small boat with three happy people in it, a steering wheel at one end and an outboard motor at the other. We watched as the boating party got out. One of them got in their pickup truck and somehow backed the boat trailer down a ramp into the water, and then another person drove the boat up onto it. I’ve never lived near water that had boats like that in it, so I’d never seen a performance like this. It looked like magic.
Maybe it was.
I felt happy and relaxed sitting on the bank of the Ohio river, after all. That’s got to be a kind of magic.
The sky went orange and periwinkle gray as the sun set behind us, and the river went from brown to charcoal to black.
We got in the car and went home.
I parked in front of our house, glanced around for the neighbor or her dog, and sprinted inside my house again. The panic settled back in. It was a hard night, and today isn’t so good either. But we got an evening out.
It’s not a very good story, but it’s what I did this weekend.
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.
Steel Magnificat operates almost entirely on tips. To tip the author, visit our donate page.