I woke up to the purring of a black cat who was climbing on the guest bed.
We were at my friend the witch’s house, where I’m taking refuge for a few days.
Holly calls herself a hag, from the Greek word “Hagia” for “Holy.” She loves the Virgin Mary more than anybody I know, and wants to make a temple to her, though she isn’t herself a Christian. She owns several peaked witch’s hats and has the phases of the moon tattooed on one arm. Holly’s partner Reese is a tomboy like Adrienne; she has a Rosary tattooed on the back of her leg. They are the kind of people my mother would have physically pulled me away from, if they had walked too close to our house growing up. Now I am estranged from my entire Catholic family, but Holly and Reese are dear friends.
A few days ago, she found that Facebook post I told you about, the one where the priest claimed that witches pray to the devil. She corrected his misconceptions politely. Immediately, the priest’s Catholic followers began pouncing on her, attacking with weaponized Bible verses and being as cruel as they could be. One commentator even said she deserved to be burned alive. The priest, to his credit, apologized and said he was going to delete the abusive comments, but Holly said to let them stand.
The harassing commentators are the people I once looked at as “my side,” the people of light in the war between light and darkness.
Adrienne and I got up and had breakfast. Holly had invited another little girl just Adrienne’s age over to play. Adrienne has been terribly lonely, ever since the 2020 lockdown took away her after school activities. She is back in sports and taekwondo now, but she doesn’t have many close friends to play with. The girls played outside with the chicken coop, and then Holly brought out paints.
“My garage looks too plain,” she said, setting down acrylics and two jars of brushes. “I want you to decorate it.”
They painted beautiful art all over the bricks on one side of the door. Then they mixed the paint on the palette until it was an even gray, and came in to get washed up. They played side by side on their tablets, lying on the guest bed, facing opposite directions like the yin and yang.
Reese took me to the body shop and the mechanic to see why the Check Engine light had come on. I don’t know the first thing about cars, but mechanics don’t intimidate her. It felt like having a big sister.
The number p2859 came up on the sensor, and when we googled it I saw a picture of a car part that looked like it came out of a sci fi movie. It will take days, and cost more than a thousand dollars. I don’t even know if I dare drive it back to Steubenville before trying to get it fixed.
For a moment, I was happy. Maybe I’d be trapped here and not have to go back. But my husband and everything I own are still in Steubenville.
At six in the evening I forced myself to eat my first meal of the day, coaxing food down my throat as if it was medication. The anxiety hasn’t really let me eat much, lately. I administered cheese curds and ketogenic cookies with absolutely no pleasure, until my stomach was full.
Then I went outside.
I went to the other side of the garage door, and I painted a decoration of my own.
I hummed and sang while I prayed, as if I were painting an icon. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, through the prayers of the Theotokos have mercy on us. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, through the prayers of the Theotokos have mercy on us. Beloved, let us love one another. Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and everyone who loves surely knows God. For love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God. For love is of God, and everyone who does not love does not know God. Beloved, let us love one another. Beloved, let us love one another. Beloved, let us love.”
A big yellow nimbus with brick red rays.
A teal blue oval with a clay-red face.
Two hands folded in prayer.
Beloved, let us love.
For love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God.
My family never loved me. Well, maybe a little at first, when I was a toddler and a preschooler. Before I started having a personality. I don’t know when they started thinking of me as a problem instead of a person. Maybe in the first grade. I remember feeling loved in Kindergarten. Between first and second grade I broke my ankle and had to walk around on it for five days in agonizing pain before my mother would believe I wasn’t exaggerating for attention. She told everyone I was “being a total brat.”
For love is of God, and everyone who does not love does not know God.
I think it was in second grade that my mother started calling me a selfish spoiled brat. In second or third that she said I wouldn’t be so sad if I didn’t think so much about myself. Then I got fat and the gluttony comments started. It all went downhill so fast from there.
For love is of God, so let us love.
Know, know for sure, my dearest, littlest, and youngest son, that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives.
I am nobody’s daughter.
I don’t deserve to be anybody’s daughter.
When I tried to be the Virgin Mary’s daughter, everything went terribly wrong. Now it’s hard to trust her.
Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy?
Once, in about the third grade, we were all supposed to decorate a t-shirt for some school project. I wanted to paint Our Lady of Guadalupe on a t-shirt, but my mother kept snatching the t-shirt away and painting it herself. I was angry, but she took the shirt and wouldn’t let me paint it. I screamed and pitched a fit, but I didn’t get it back. My mother painted the t-shirt for me, and I brought it to school as if it were my own work. She was always doing things like that. She couldn’t stand for me to make mistakes; she had to snatch my work away and fix it so I wouldn’t be a failure. Once I called her a control freak and she didn’t speak to me for days. Now, here I was, estranged from my mother, stranded on the south side of a city I don’t live in anymore, painting Our Lady of Guadalupe on the wall of a witch’s garage while her chickens foraged in the yard at my feet. And I was on the verge of tears, panicked, afraid that my mother would somehow appear and take the garage away.
Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?
I don’t want to be in the crossing of your arms, Your Majesty. I am afraid you will hurt me. I am afraid you’ll turn out to be the Mary of my childhood, the Mary who wants witches to burn, the Mary who cries if a girl is immodest or says a bad word. I’m afraid you’ll be the Mary of the Charismatic Renewal and the Three Days of Darkness instead of somebody kind. You scare me to death.
Who are you, Mother of God?
Are you here to hurt me like every other mother? Or are you somebody else?
Beloved, let us love one another. Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and everyone who loves surely knows God.
Was I singing?
Or was she singing to me?
I finished the painting.
Nobody took it from me.
I went inside and washed the brushes, and got ready to put Adrienne to bed.
Holly and Reese were upstairs watching Shark Week, but they came down to admire my work. I sat on the sofa, a lump in my throat that I couldn’t swallow.
“If you are kind, and if you are nice, I want you to be my mother. If you are love, I want you to be my mother.”
I hardly know what’s true anymore.
But if she is love, she heard my prayer.
Image via pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, 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.