We stayed in Columbus two days longer than I’d expected.
This wasn’t because I wanted to. It was because of a disaster. The Neighborhood Trolley was totaled and undriveable, a story I’ll tell another time. The car already had only a year or so left in it, and Columbus put it to death in spectacular fashion. I couldn’t even sell it for parts because the title to the car was in a drawer back in Steubenville, three hours’ drive away.
I found myself stranded in a city I haven’t lived in for a decade and a half, with no transportation and no idea what to do.
I’d been wanting to make Columbus my home again for longer than I can say, but not like this. I wanted to somehow win the lottery and buy a three-story foursquare on a double lot in Clintonville or a mansion on Schiller Park in German Village. Instead I was staying in a blue cottage in a pretty part of Linden, until the friends I was dog sitting for got back Sunday night, with no plan at all on where I was going to stay after that.
“You have crash landed on an alien planet,” said a friend. “How do you adapt to your new home?”
My friend knows of which she speaks. She is from the United States but ended up living in a terrible part of Mexico with her husband’s family for awhile, and learned to adapt. Now I had to adapt in much easier straits.
The first thing to do was walk the dog.
The family’s adult children were supposed to take over walking the dog twice a day after we left early Friday morning, but we told them not to bother and that we would care for the dog over the whole weekend. She was a medium-sized dog, bouncy, friendly, fond of barking at squirrels. I’ve never had a dog before. I felt like an imposter, a middle-aged lady in conservative clothes walking a pleasant dog I didn’t own through a pleasant neighborhood that wasn’t mine. I wasn’t an astronaut who crash landed on an alien planet, but an alien trying to pass as human.
Other dog walkers gave me a polite, respectful, Midwestern Nice kind of smile and nod as I walked the dog up and down the pleasant street. I wanted to tell them they had it all wrong. I didn’t deserve a nod. I was a fake, a pod person, an invader crash landed from a bad part of Northern Appalachia, someone pretending to be normal.
I wondered, for the ten thousandth time, what I would have been if I hadn’t been Mary Pezzulo. If my family had been an ordinary family. If I’d never heard of the Charismatic Renewal or any other brand of cultish, reactionary Catholicism. If I’d been raised a run-of-the-mill lukewarm liberal Catholic or Episcopalian or going to the Unitarian church over in Beechwold; anything other than the chronically ill, anxious mess who went to Franciscan University in order to give her life in service to a capricious and demanding God, became estranged from her family, and got trapped in a poor neighborhood in a terrible derelict steel mill town for sixteen years.
What if I had never, ever been to the hellish place where the rust belt collides with the Appalachian mountains?
What if I had always been a perfectly normal lady, smiling and nodding at perfectly normal neighbors, walking my dog in a pleasant neighborhood?
When I got back, I got on social media and found messages.
“Do you have enough to eat?” said several friends at once, some I’ve met in Steubenville and some rabble rousing social justice friends from a different part of Columbus. They thought to ask that because they’d been poor too. People who have always had enough to eat don’t usually remember that having enough to eat can be a challenge. I admitted we only had enough groceries to last until our planned Friday departure. Suddenly I had a ride to the store for a few more dinners and somebody else was Doordashing us Wendy’s. Just like the times my friends and I pulled together to take someone else to the store or Doordash them an emergency meal lately.
The friends whose dog it was were also checking in, asking if we had enough of everything, making sure we were comfortable. I’d known these people only casually back when I lived in Columbus, because we went to the same parish, but we became fast friends when we met again years later through the blog and through social media. They’re like family now. They also went through a long, difficult time where they were terribly poor with no way out.
Holly the Witch arranged for the car to be towed to her house, until I could come back to Columbus with the title and sell it for parts. She sat with me several times while I cried uncontrollably and panicked at the prospect of ending up homeless in Columbus, or back in Appalachia with no transportation. She baked Adrienne a gluten free cake as well, and promised to take care of McFluff until we could get him home.
Someone pointed out that I’d crowdfunded for the H family to get a car and gotten them one in a weekend earlier this year. Couldn’t I do that for myself? And I started a gofundme. And people whose names I recognized, people who read the blog, other former Charismatics who relate to what I have to say, started helping.
Two different people in Steubenville offered to give Adrienne rides to soccer and martial arts while we looked for a new used car.
Other people, people who know about cars as I don’t, gave advice about how to get one and not be stuck with a lemon like the Neighborhood Trolley this time.
I got in the neighborhood buy nothing group on Facebook and invited the neighbors to harvest all the ripe tomatoes from my community garden boxes back in Steubenville, so they wouldn’t go to waste.
On Sunday, one new friend gave us a lift to church, a pleasant Columbus church where the priest gave a homily on Mammon not being important. He said we had to live for God through helping one another because the resources we have are given us to share.
And then Adrienne received her second Holy Communion beside me, and everything seemed all right for a time.
And then another friend, someone I met through Holly, drove us all the way back to our house, hours out of her way. We chatted the whole time as if we’d known each other forever. She has PCOS and knows just what it’s like when you’re chronically ill and the doctors don’t know why.
I am back in my house now.
If I had been an ordinary person, somebody other than myself, I might not have known all these other out-of-the-ordinary people.
If nothing out of the ordinary had happened to me– if I had never been an alien but just a normal lady walking a normal dog on a pleasant street– I might not have known how good people can be.
If my life hadn’t been such a disaster, I might not have known so many miraculous rescues.
“O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, that won for us so great a savior,” I keep thinking over and over again.
I’m still in that terrible deconstructing place where I don’t know exactly where God is.
But one of the places He is, is here in the faults and disasters. In the faults and disasters you meet the saints. The saints aren’t the people I thought they would be. They are different and better.
Maybe my life hasn’t been so bad after all.
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.