What Did You Do That Was Brave?

What Did You Do That Was Brave? February 8, 2022

I played in my own backyard this weekend.

This may not seem like much to you, but it was something to me.

You may recall that at Christmas, my neighbor who has been making our lives hell for years threatened to “get back at Mary.” I found out later that she made good on her threat. We were served a summons for a restraining order. She wrote on the forms that Michael was stalking her through her yard in the dark, I was accusing her of raping Rose, and that we were banging on the windows to scare her every single morning at four AM for the past three months.

We showed up at a hearing and explained to the judge that we hadn’t done any such thing. The neighbor couldn’t prove that we had, because we hadn’t. She had no evidence whatsoever. The order was lifted as I knew it would be. I waited until I got the official notice of this to say anything publicly. The notice came this weekend, in the first batch of mail to get through after the big ice storm.

The three weeks we waited, the neighbor made lots and lots of noise on “her” side of the house, to try to make us look out the window so she could claim we were harassing her. She banged on her walls and dragged her big rumbly plastic trash can back and forth over the ice. At one point she stomped through the snow making big obvious tracks to trespass on our porch when we were sleeping, then called the police to say that we had come over to her yard and made the tracks ourselves.  I kept quiet. I stayed indoors with the blinds drawn. When I went for a walk I left through the side door and snuck around through the other, friendly neighbors’ front yard to get to the sidewalk without any possible semblance of being near “her” side of the house. I didn’t give her the satisfaction she wanted.

A friend sent us a security camera which I was afraid to use, because we were waiting for the official word the order was dismissed.  I was afraid there might be a rule against photographing her even while she was trespassing. But now the case is dismissed, and the camera is up and running. It texts my phone every so often with the urgent message that something has moved on the porch, and I jump, and then I get a ten-second video of a stray cat or the UPS man or Rosie going out to play. Another friend set us another set of cameras which I’m trying to set up indoors, looking out windows. This rickety old rental house will be as secure as Fort Knox, and I will get my exercise by jumping a hundred times a day.

This would all be hilarious if I didn’t have panic attacks at the sound of my neighbor’s voice or the rattling of her German shepherd’s chain.

I’ve been having a lot of panic attacks lately. I haven’t been able to go into my own backyard without triggering panic since the neighbor’s meltdown in May. I’m going to the doctor this week to see what he can do. But if the doctor prescribes a move away from LaBelle and the harassment, I don’t think my Medicaid will cover it.

I daydream about just that course of mental health treatment.

I go for drives by myself, and take the long way home, and think about what it would be like to just not go home at all. I imagine myself getting on Route Seven to Saint Clairsville and then on seventy all the way home to Columbus where I grew up. Lord knows what I’d do when I got there. It’s a very expensive city to live in, and my friends in town don’t have guest rooms.

I fantasize about a house on a double lot in a nice city. I pore over real estate listings and plan my perfect home. I recite my plans over and over again like a mantra, as if saying them could make them true. Rosie’s bedroom here in the front, with her posters hung nicely and a place for all of her things. My home office here where it’s quiet.  Here is Michael’s and my room, with the crib for the baby I wish I had right here next to the bed so I don’t have to stand up. The bed is under the window so I can look out at the garden first thing in the morning, and remember I’m no longer in Steubenville. Here is the guest room where we’ll welcome any friends without a place to stay, so if they ever get on seventy and just keep driving, they’ll actually have a refuge to escape to. Here is the pantry, well stocked, with a separate shelf of things to give away to the homeless. Here is the dining room where we’ll welcome people in for meals. Here is the icon corner where we’ll pray and thank God for taking us to safety.

Here is the backyard which is mine, where I don’t jump in shock and run if I hear a dog bark or a neighbor’s door slam. Here is the deep litter chicken coop and my beautiful flock of easter egger hens. Their names are Huginn, Munnin, Roc and Phoenix. Here is the rough collie who likes to herd the hens. His name is Silmaril. Here is the koi pond. The names of the koi are Yin and Yang. Here’s our dwarf peach orchard and over here is the purple grape alley. Here is my tower of ever-bearing strawberry plants. Here is my vegetable patch with three different colors of cauliflower.

Here down the street is the public library, nice and quiet. Here is the park, clean and well manicured with no graffiti. Here is the nice safe public pool. Here is the church where I feel safe and at home and am learning to overcome my religious trauma. Here are museums, shows, farmer’s markets, antique shops, bookstores, interesting foreign restaurants with gluten free menu options. Here is a nice, normal, ordinary life, never seeing a small town in northern Appalachia again.

No mountains. No bridges. No cults. No dark, Satanic mills. No Franciscan University. No desperate angry people. No slashed tires, no vandalism, no threats, no court dates, no LaBelle, no Steubenville.  Never, ever again.

And then I look away from the real estate listing, and I am still here.

I wish I had a different Mary Pezzulo to show you.

I wish I was brave and could solve my problems like a hero in a folktale. But it isn’t working out like that. I need the other kind of bravery, the kind where you endure instead of solving.

On Saturday, Rosie went out to play in all the deep fresh sparkling snow. The neighbor leaves Rosie alone, but usually comes out to yell when she sees me in the yard, so I stayed in. I watched Rosie from the back window for awhile, wistfully. And then, on a whim, I joined her. I walked into my own backyard for the first time in awhile. I didn’t just hide by the back steps, but I went into the middle of the yard. Every so often I looked up at the neighbor’s backdoor, hand on my phone in case I had to take a photo and call 911,  but miraculously, she was having one of her tired days and didn’t come out to harass us. We played in the snow. We admired the icicles. We laughed at each other as we tried to climb the slick icy back steps on hands and knees like adventurers approaching the top of Mount Everest.

That’s the brave thing I did this weekend. I played in my own backyard.

What did you do that was brave?



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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