I dreamed I was trying to get to Columbus.
My first morning back in Steubenville, Saturday, I woke up smiling. I was ready to walk my friend’s dog, grab coffee, and sit in the Park of Roses for awhile. But then I heard the menacing neighbor‘s dog’s chain rattling next door, and remembered where I was. There was no friendly snuggly medium-sized dog who greatly enjoyed her long morning walk, just the German shepherd on a chain who likes to get into our yard and bark at us. There was no pleasant place to grab a coffee, and certainly no Park of Roses. I was in Steubenville.
We were busy all day with Rose’s party, a few days early for her tenth birthday. She got to have her grandfather and two friends in the park in fresh air, since none of her friends are old enough to be vaccinated yet. Then one of the friends took her to play mini golf, carefully masked. Then it was time to go to the pet store and get her the treat she’s been looking forward to all year: a guinea pig named Fluffy. And then it was bedtime again.
That night, the night of my first full day back in Steubenville, I had a nightmare. I dreamed I was on the highway in an unfamiliar place, with the skyscrapers of a city that was neither Columbus nor Pittsburgh and certainly not Steubenville looming up in front of me. And then I was in the middle of that unfamiliar city, driving up and down crowded main streets, trying to figure out where I was. I parked the car somewhere and walked into a building with a waiting room. I tried to pull out my phone and google the directions to Columbus, but my fingers felt numb. I kept mashing the screen ineffectively, typing gibberish. I turned to a person who was with me and asked the way to Columbus, but she couldn’t help. At some point somebody handed me the pin pad from the coffee shop and I tried to write “route to Columbus” on the signature screen with my finger, but it wouldn’t write. And all the while I was conscious that I was getting on the nerves of a young priest who had walked into the waiting room in his Roman collar and tried to start saying Mass.
I woke up in a panic, at ten o’clock in the morning.
“Seven to seventy,” I said to myself. “That’s the way to Columbus.”
Seven to seventy is the way to Columbus. You get on Route Seven in Steubenville, and take it south for about an hour to to the town of Bridgeport. It’s right along the Ohio river so you can’t miss it. The only hard part is getting off of Route Seven in Bridgeport, because Bridgeport is a bit like a maze. Then you get on Route Seventy which goes straight through the center of Ohio, through the foothills of the Appalachians and into Central Ohio where it’s flat as a board and the sky looks totally different. You cut right through Zanesville and pass the Dawes Arboretum. And then, abruptly, you’re in Columbus.
Seven to Seventy is an easy number to remember.
I got up to feed the guinea pig, who doesn’t know us yet. She was hiding in terror under her ramp. The ramp leads to the part of her cage with bedding and fresh water, timothy hay and a bowl of salad greens, but she had wet herself on the bare canvas flooring of the cage under the ramp and stayed there. Prey animals act like that for a few days before they get used to you. I know this very well. I, myself, have been a prey animal. I like to hide.
I put a piece of broccoli and a shallow cup of water under the ramp for the pig, until she got up the courage to explore.
I reminded myself that we could go to Columbus any time we wanted now. Rosie’s friends could watch the guinea pig. If I had the money for a cheap motel I could leave right now. I am not trapped, as I feel. All it takes is a tank full of gas, an hour on Seven, and two hours on Seventy, and I could be home again.
My neighbor ranted and slammed her door. My stomach groaned with the usual Steubenville anxiety. The police have done next to nothing about the constant harassment and vandalism except telling me to de-escalate and to find my own witnesses. We’ve had to hide my car in front of a friend’s house in a different part of LaBelle to keep it safe. But they are very particular about lawns. This is all part of the city council’s attempt to gentrify LaBelle and make it nice for richer families. We get harassed and sometimes assaulted by our neighbor nearly every time we go into our backyard, especially if we start the weed eater, and she often takes vengeance on us afterwards by vandalizing the house and car. But if we don’t get the grass mowed every so often, we get a ticket. A lawn has value here and we don’t. We are going to have to mow the lawn in the next day or so, or face the consequences. My whole body started to shake with anticipation of what would happen to us when we mowed.
The guinea pig ventured out of her hiding place. I picked her up and placed her in the bedding in the comfortable part of the cage. She responded by hiding from me again, burrowing into the hay and pine chips until just the top of her back showed.
I wished I could join her.
Seven to seventy, and I could be home again.
I busied myself as best I could until it was time for Mass, at a church across the river where they’re observing social distancing and masks. Architecturally the church is a nightmare, but the pastor is friendly and remembers to reserve a low-gluten Host for me. Rosie likes to play in the church playground afterwards. The Mass was uneventful and the music was just fine. I smiled at how they projected the songs’ lyrics on the wall with the mural of Christ’s Passion on Calvary, so it looked like the words to modern worship music were appearing in the sky at His right hand.
Seven to seventy, I kept telling myself. I can go home any time I want. Seven to seventy, and I’ll be home again.
The Offertory hymn was that highly edited Prayer of Saint Francis about being a channel of peace. In my mind, I glared at the Poor Man of Assisi, the appropriated mascot of that university which is the reason I got stuck living in Steubenville in the first place. In my mind, he gazed back at me.
In my mind I berated him for calling me here and then leaving me, and he gave me hug.
In my mind, I felt the Presence of a compassionate God Who is so appalled by the injustice of this fallen world that He demands to suffer with us in it. A God Who knows it isn’t fair but asks us to bear with Him in the mystery for a time, and forgive, and wait upon Him. A God Who is shaking in terror with me. A God Who became helpless for my sake.
This isn’t enough for me. I imagine that when I finally meet Him face to face, I’m going to yell at Him about this mess for a very long time. But it’s something.
I found myself leaning on Saint Francis in my mind’s eye and crying into my disposable paper mask.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
In giving to all men that we receive
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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