The first thing that happened when I got home from Columbus was a miracle. A few friends pulled together to gift me the small amount I needed to keep that one student loan from going to collections after all, as an early birthday present. I’ll be in debt for my failed attempt at graduate school for the rest of my life, but that one irritating little loan from undergrad, from the pleasant university near Columbus I actually liked, will probably be paid off this year– unless something else goes terribly wrong. My credit will never be good, I’ll never have savings or a luxurious life, but this particular crisis was averted.
The second thing that happened was that I called the Nissan dealership, who told me that the Neighborhood Trolley would cost over six thousand dollars to fix, take five days, and they didn’t have a car for me to borrow while it was in the shop. My life flashed before my eyes. I started to have a panic attack. I only paid five thousand for the Neighborhood Trolley. It’s a scratched and dented mess but it’s our lifeline. The thought of going back to the lazy Steubenville bus route made me physically sick. Fifteen years in Steubenville without a car, a year and a half with one, getting used to helping other people and choosing when I’d show up and leave rather than begging for help. I couldn’t go back to the way things were before. I just couldn’t.
I took several deep breaths, and made another plan.
I asked around for a recommendation for anyone who fixed transmissions in town. Sometimes it’s possible to find a talented hillbilly mechanic who resurrects dead cars. I ended up with the name of a gentleman in Wintersville, who chatted on the phone with me for twenty minutes and referred to a transmission as a “tranny.” Apparently nobody sells parts of Nissan trannies, they just sell the whole transmission, hence the enormous cost. Apparently Nissan transmissions are the same as snowmobile transmissions. Apparently the code my car had given me wasn’t a “death sentence code” and I should take it in to him tomorrow to see what he could do.
I took it in.
He sat in my driver’s seat with a little machine attached to the dashboard while I ran the engine, still chatting about Nissans and snowmobile transmissions again. I told him about what had happened. I’d been driving to Columbus on the verge of yet another panic attack, with the tank low on gas, when suddenly the car had started to slow down. It sometimes does that when I’m driving on the freeway with less than half a tank. It slowed down until it almost stopped, right on Route 70 with cars flying by in the fast lane. I’d slammed on the gas it to get it up to speed, terrified that the truck behind me would crash into me, and the “check engine” light had come on just as the Neighborhood Trolley started moving again. He said that explained it; there’s just a little wear and tear on the transmission that meant when I floored it, the clutch disengaged and turned the light on. He turned the light off and it stayed off. He didn’t even charge for the diagnosis. We can drive the Neighborhood Trolley for at least another year at this rate, as long as we keep the gas tank full when we go on the freeway.
I don’t know how we’ll ever get another car. I am even less certain than ever how we’ll live from one month to the next. But those two crises were averted without a struggle. I hope that’s a harbinger of further good things.
I noticed, as I backed out of the lot, that I was right next door to the Ameridrive driving school where I’d first brought my application in 2018, a thirty-four-year-old woman without a driver’s license trying to overcome her fear and be independent.
I remembered taking the Wintesrville bus out to the middle of nowhere and walking the last few blocks up and down severe hills. I found I’d gotten there too late and the building was closed, and I had a panic attack.
I am always having panic attacks.
But I didn’t have a panic attack as I drove my own car home in the early morning quiet.
I am still sad and overwhelmed about the events of the past few weeks, and I don’t know why. I’ve been estranged from most of my family since Adrienne was a baby. I’ve had a tense relationship with my grandmother all along. I could never communicate with her. She could never accept me or believe that my relationship with Christ is real. She would say “let’s move on” or “enough of this heady stuff!” when I tried to talk about how I was spiritually abused in the Charismatic Renewal. I love her, but I was afraid to be honest with her.
My aunt who lives with Granny kept popping up, shaming me for cashing the checks my grandmother sent without asking if I needed them, accusing me of being ungrateful. She would remind me again and again that all the help would be cut off when Granny died, relishing my fear. She is sadistic like that. I was afraid to even block her because I didn’t know how she’d retaliate.
Another nasty aunt, the one who said that the US should nuke the Middle East after 9/11, was watching my Twitter to report back everything I said to the family. I caught her in the act just a bit ago when she accidentally liked one of my tweets in passing. She’s silly enough to go by her full name on Twitter as if I wouldn’t recognize it. I blocked her. They can keep tabs on me some other way– and I’m sure they will.
Why was I so scared of these people who cannot hurt me anymore?
Why am I always so afraid of everything?
I have learned that things have a way of going so horribly, horribly wrong, wrong in a way that leaves permanent scars, wrong in a way that leaves your whole future in shambles.
But haven’t I learned that things can also go right?
Haven’t I found that crises can be averted, and that even when they can’t, they can be survived? That even when life seems to be one great prolonged disaster, God is with me in the disaster?
Haven’t I discovered that for every person who ought to have been trustworthy and wasn’t, there was somebody else, often I a person I was warned not to trust, who became family? Isn’t that a profound grace, knowing that anybody can be family?
Even though it’s hurt to deconstruct the faith I was raised in, isn’t it wonderful to build this new theology: that God is love and accompaniment, and everything that is not love or refuses to accompany can be cast aside?
Even though the Ohio Valley is a cruel, ugly place, isn’t it beautiful to find grace hidden here?
Is it not a true miracle to discover that everything is grace? Not the kind of miracle we were raised to expect: angels appearing with dire prophecies, statues crying blood, Rosary chains turning to gold, stigmata, praying in tongues, the sun crashing into the earth, three days of darkness and an era of peace. I have discovered a less gaudy miracle, but a deeper one. Anything can happen, but out of the anything, grace will abound. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t need obvious charisms or a showy apostolate or a mission to be your excuse to exist. You just have to find ways to live the Gospel, here, in your ordinary life, dark or bright, without fanfare.
I drove back home to dirty LaBelle, where nothing is as it should be.
But I was closer to the person I should be than I’ve been in a very long time.
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.
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