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In the River Valley Furnace

In the River Valley Furnace August 21, 2021

I got the notification that my restraining order had been dismissed this week.

I was ready for that. The judge didn’t even look at my pile of evidence at the hearing. He didn’t even look concerned when she ranted about her hallucinations of us pressing our faces to the window at night.  And it wouldn’t have done any good if he hadn’t dismissed it, because the police flat out told me they refused to enforce it.

When I went out to get the mail yesterday morning, my neighbor was waiting for me, taunting, growling curses in that weird guttural voice. My stomach twisted up in a knot, as it’s been doing more often lately. I forget how long it takes for acute stress disorder to qualify as full-blown PTSD, but I think I’m there now. I can’t even catch sight of her without being sick for a few hours.

This week was bad in other ways– it was hot, but too wet to go to the pool even if we could have afforded it. The weekend was supposed to make up for the bad week. One dear online friend had gotten Rosie a guinea pig cage and accessories for her upcoming tenth birthday. Her grandfather, Michael’s father, who hasn’t seen her since her baptism, was supposed to come to town take us out to dinner and a park, and then buy us the actual rodent. We’d already cleared out a corner of the living room for the pig cage– it’s the corner that used to have my icon wall on it, the one that showed every time I made prayer videos on Facebook. I’m still going to have my prayer corner, more neatly organized, somewhere else in the house, but the pig cage needed to be in a warm, prominent spot where Rosie could clean it easily. The icons went into a box for me to sort later. It was the first time that wall has been empty since I happily hung up the icons to make myself a real Byzantine Catholic prayer corner when we tried to join the Byzantine Catholic church in 2016. I was already mourning that lost home, and on the verge of panic from the neighbor, when Grandpa Mike called and said that he hurt his back and couldn’t come.

Rosie cried for a solid hour.

I didn’t know what to do except to go for a drive.

The three of us crossed the bridge into West Virginia. We spent the thirty dollars we had for weekend groceries on sandwiches and snacks at Sheetz, and we went to Wellsburg Landing for a picnic.

I tried to look happy as we chatted and ate. Rosie wanted to float the model boat she’d made out of thickly folded aluminum foil in the river, attached to a string. Michael took her down to the pier, where the water was high and cloudy.

I sat with them for awhile, feeling the Ohio move under me.

Heraclitus said that you never step in the same river twice, and it’s true. Once, this summer, when I came to this landing, the Ohio looked so glassy clear that I could sit on this pier and watch the minnows. Sometimes it’s been so choppy we couldn’t stand up and walk around on the wood. Often it’s been welcoming and deceptively clean-looking, and Rosie has dipped a net to catch minnows to examine in a jar. Yesterday it was just stagnant. I think all the rain we’ve been having must have washed a slick of filth off the road into the water, but I don’t know what property of the river made it stay right in that spot for so long. There was foam and dead grass, bits of trash and even a floating tire, like an illustration out of a children’s book on pollution.

Rosie didn’t mind. She sat down and dangled the heels of her sneakers in the water, trying her boat.

I left her with Michael, and went to sit on a park bench.

I stared across the slick, slimy water to the town of Brilliant, opposite Wellsburg on the Ohio side of the river. A train snaked by close to the riverside, and trucks sped past on the freeway further up. Downriver was the Cardinal Plant with its belching chimneys, burning coal to smoke and ash to power the Valley, quietly poisoning the earth.

Unlike the river, the banks around here are always the same. The river changes but Wellsburg, Brilliant, Follansbee, Mingo,  Weirton and Steubenville are constant. They always look the same.

Tears started in my eyes for the first time in I don’t know how long.

A former friend associated with the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests used to gaslight me, telling me to tell people I was abused by “Steubenville” and not “The Ohio Valley.” She insisted that the Valley was a good place and only Steubenville was the problem. But it isn’t true. This whole region is rotten. My rapist was from Martin’s Ferry, her accomplice who threatened to have social services take Rosie away was from Wheeling, the other accomplice who molested me and blackmailed me into not screaming was from the woods outside of Wheeling. The religious sister who spiritually abused my family in the Charismatic Renewal was from Youngstown or near it. The whole valley is a scummy river and a seething coal furnace, poisoning the earth.

I have been in the furnace for fifteen years.

In the Charismatic Renewal we used to sing a song about “refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire.” I was wary about that song then, and I completely despise it now.  Gold and silver are refined in fire. I tried to be gold, but I’m not. I’m human. Fire doesn’t refine humans. It just hurts. Eventually, it kills.

I don’t want a refiner’s fire. I don’t want adversity to try my mettle anymore. I don’t want to have mettle. I want to go home.

I just want to go home.

I want to get away from the banks of the Ohio and go home to Pocahontas County where everything is alive or home to Columbus where everything is deceptively normal, and never see the noxious river again. No more of the chimney of Northern Appalachia with its angry people driven to feral desperation. No more of the despair  in LaBelle and downtown. No more Charismatic Catholics who pretend to be the best Christians in the world. No more false hope of finding a parish or a rite that will be different. No more trying to change things for the better because nobody here wants to change. Let them poison the earth without me. I want to go home.

I want God to open the furnace and find that, not being gold, I incinerated.  I want Him to feel responsible and sorry for that. I want Him to turn back time and let me go home.

I have wished so many times that I had another Mary Pezzulo to show you: someone courageous who could find her way out of the Valley and tell you all about my heroic adventures. But I don’t see the way out right now, and this is all I have.

I want to go home.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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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