I wanted to tell you about Columbus.
I just got back. I was going to write about it every single day of my trip, but somehow my voice dropped off after Monday night. I’ve just been driving around the area, getting out of my car and remembering, getting back in and driving, going back to my friend’s house to walk the dog. Sometimes grief wells up and sometimes panic, but most of the time I have been happy.
I wanted to tell you that Columbus is nearly infested with libraries. There’s one branch in every neighborhood, pleasant buildings with helpful staff. I went to Whetstone branch, which was walking distance from the house I grew up in, on Saturday. Parts of it are unchanged, but there’s an unnerving open space in the middle where the librarians used to stamp your books with that great big rectangular stamper that went chunk. I went to the children’s section, which is laid out a bit differently than it used to be, and touched the space where my book was going to be: the book I was planning to write, when I was twelve years old and wanted to be a famous author of middle grade science fiction novels. I used to fantasize about seeing my own surname on a book’s spine right there in the children’s section. I also walked past the computer section where I’d hide out until closing time, when I was a miserable teenager and the climate at home was too tense to feel safe.
I went out to the parking lot, which is twice as big as it used to be. Half the Whetstone library playground has been moved to over by the Casting Pond, the equipment behind the library is all new, and I couldn’t find my horse, Boober. Boober was my name for the bright red plastic pony I used to ride on at Whetstone Park when I was a preschooler.
I wanted to tell you that the main library downtown is in a gigantic building, a cathedral for books. The front hall has a lofty ceiling with a curious piece of modern art hanging in it: a collection of gigantic bronze spheres, dotted all over with markings that might be Braille, hanging from thin wires. I used to run through that hallway as fast as I could when I was little enough to ride Boober the pony. I was afraid that the bronze spheres would break off of their wires and come crashing to the marble floor at any moment.
I took Rosie to that library just yesterday. I showed her the spheres which are unchanged. I showed her the children’s section, which is completely different than it used to be. She liked the new benches that look like a school bus. I felt a little lost, personally.
I wanted to tell you that out behind the library, there is a park where somebody decided to build a replica of Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte in topiary. There’s a topiary lady with a topiary monkey on a leash, topiary boats, the whole composition, with some of the figures monstrously tall and some quite small so the perspective is right. I took Rosie and Michael there after the library. I remembered accurately how silly the whole project is. But I didn’t remember how beautiful the park is. It’s breathtaking. I wanted to stay there all day.
I have missed beauty so much, it physically hurt. It hurt until I learned to ignore the hurt the way chronically ill people must do– going about my business as if nothing is wrong most of the time, the knowledge of the pain rushing in all of a sudden every once in awhile with extra fury for having been ignored. It’s not that it’s bad to learn to look for the beauty hidden in places like Northern Appalachia, where beauty is so hard to find. But I’d forgotten what it was like to live in a place like Columbus, where breathtaking beauty is available to the public right on display in the park, as easily as books in all those libraries.
I’m not saying Columbus is a perfect or even a very good place. I’ve written about how it’s not. But it is beautiful.
I wanted to tell you that the art museum on Broad Street has a metal sculpture of an enormous floppy abstract woman’s body out front, and when I was little enough to run across the front hall of the main library I wanted to climb on her and slide down her leg like a sliding board.
I wanted to tell you that there are extravagantly gorgeous churches in Columbus. I went back to the cathedral where I was baptized, but I didn’t dare go back to the church that seemed beautiful, the one that was our regular parish for so long. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back.
There are gorgeous houses as well, though they are expensive. My parents sold our old house about fifteen years ago before the bubble burst, and now there is a new, more swollen housing bubble. The house is valued at twice as much.
I drove past that house, every time I got the chance in the past week. I saw that the white oak sapling I’d been given to plant after the Oklahoma City bombing had grown taller than the two-story building, and the new owners hung a hammock on it. I was pleased beyond measure that the side yard is full of gardens that are terribly unkempt. I hope the owners are like me: zealous about gardening and unusually messy about aesthetics. I hope they’re pleasant, laid-back hippie people who don’t notice if the other neighbors despise them for the weeds in their garden. I hope they never get involved in something as abusive as the Charismatic Renewal, never meet a manipulator like Sister Angeline, never become the black sheep of their family. I hope someday they scrape the paint off of the walls in the basement and find my art projects, the ridiculous mural map of the universe I painted in acrylic and the secret code I wrote in crayon in the closet.
I want you to know that I despised Columbus, when I was that ridiculously sheltered child who drew on the walls of the basement closet and didn’t dare come out of the metaphorical closet for fear she’d go to hell. I thought it was the most boring place in the world. I wanted to be a missionary and go to exciting foreign places and teach them about the love of Christ, even though I was the one who needed to be taught what that Love really is. I wanted to go someplace interesting. I had yet to find out why “may you live in interesting times” is a curse.
I wanted to tell you that I miss my family terribly, more than I can ever express, even though the situation growing up was not good. I even got to make contact with a few members and some friends during the trip. Some were glad to see me. Some would love for me to come back and see them at Christmastime. I want to. I’m going to try to make it work.
I hadn’t been home in fifteen years.
Now I am back in Steubenville, pondering, mourning, waiting for Christmastime.
Columbus no longer seems so far away. It’s no longer just a far away land where I used to live. It’s one of the places I go from time to time.
And now I’m crying for the first time since we left Steubenville a week ago.
I want you to know that there is nothing in the world more beautiful than the day to day life of a ridiculous little girl who rides a plastic pony, wants to be an author, and deeply loves Christ, though she doesn’t know how. There is nothing in the world more tragic than growing up to be an embarrassment and scapegoat, losing a home and a family, having to start over in a dangerous place where beauty is misplaced. There is nothing more moving than coming back a grown-up, and finding that the libraries have rearranged the bookshelves and gotten rid of your plastic horse. There is nothing in all the world more sacred, terrifying and exciting than a human being living a human life.
That’s what I did when I should have been writing this week. I was in Columbus, and I found my childhood.
I will be home again soon.
Image of the topiary park in Columbus, taken by the author
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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