Harbinger of Spring

Harbinger of Spring March 28, 2023

The panic was severe for the longest time, and then it evaporated.

The insomnia went on and on, and then I fell asleep.

I was more afraid than I’d ever been, and suddenly I couldn’t feel fear even if I wanted to. I felt the opposite of fear, which is not well-being but despair. I felt depression. It wasn’t very bad depression, just the few days of emotional exhaustion that always follow my most severe OCD and anxiety. I didn’t feel like anything terrible was going to happen; I just felt like nothing good would ever happen again.

I felt that I would never drive again, that I would never get out of Steubenville again, that I would never visit Holly the Witch or go swimming at the rec center again. Serendipity, my car, had been a doorstop for three months. Whatever the Lost Girl’s uncle did hadn’t worked. The battery continued to slowly drain, even though it was parked and completely turned off. I couldn’t afford a new car any more than I could fly. I couldn’t even afford to tow her to a competent mechanic. I was trapped.

But the world was so beautiful. The snow was gone and the sky was bright and sunny. That helped, a little.

I went for my walks up and down LaBelle, just as I had when the anxiety was severe. I had been walking to keep pace with my terror, and now I was walking to tread water with the despair. As I walked, I admired things. I saw the red-shouldered hawk time and again, and got acquainted. I admired the daffodils and crocuses all over the raggedy flowerbeds. I welcomed the first dandelions and the delicate lace of harbinger-of-spring. All the while, despairing. All the while, feeling like I would never get out of this ridiculous neighborhood again. Just appreciating things for what they are, free of any hope to have anything else.

Somewhere in all of this, an online friend who knows about cars offered to talk me through inspecting Serendipity. I thought I would be performing a post-mortem. He suspected a blown gasket, a death sentence, so I taught myself to check all the fluids for signs of a leak. No, there was no oil in the antifreeze. No, there wasn’t any antifreeze in the oil, but the oil was filthy and needed a change. No, it had never overheated before. There was just a big poof of exhaust as it died.

The next step was to take the plastic off the motor and alternator and photograph them, so my friend could tell me if anything was visibly wrong. He said I’d need a socket wrench, so I asked around and borrowed one. I brought it home, not expecting much, half afraid to take off the plastic for fear of what I’d find. And then I realized I didn’t know how to use a socket wrench. I leaned over the engine, frowning, my purse still on my arm, my good jacket dangling close to greasy things, holding that odd metal lollipop as if it was going to burst into flames.

The man who mows our lawn, Jimmy, came wandering by with his son just then. He lives a few doors down. Adrienne used to chase the son around the yard when he was in diapers, but he’s a big boy now. Jimmy always goes to the market at that time of evening, to get dinner and to visit his wife who works there. He smiled politely as I fumbled with the wrench.

He saw me on the way back, waiting at the bus stop with Adrienne on the way to her martial arts lesson.

“What’s wrong with your car?”

“I don’t know,” I explained. “It’s something to do with the wires but I can’t even get the plastic off.”

“If it’s still nice tomorrow, I’ll come do it.”

And that was that.

This afternoon he was at my door, the little boy still in tow. I babbled about wiring and alternators and junkyard motors, and he just nodded. “I went to college to do this. I’ll know.”

I had no idea he’d gone to college to be a mechanic. I’ve barely spoken with him except about the lawn.

“Come on,” I said to the boy, “let’s make a sand castle.”

We went around the side to the back, where I have been scared to go for so long. Our stalking neighbor used to harass and torture every time we went out there. At first we ignored her, but in 2021 the situation bubbled over. I still have nightmares. But somehow, the panic attack I expected didn’t come.

Harbinger of spring spread across the whole yard, looking like foam on a waterfall.  Harbinger of spring instead of grass. Harbinger of spring getting mixed up with the wild chive, dandelion and creeping charley. It was beautiful, in a different way than lawns are supposed to be beautiful.

The neighbor hated our yard. She wanted lawns to be green and shorter than a rug. She hated our garden: she had paranoid delusions that I was poisoning Adrienne by feeding her fresh garden vegetables. She beheaded my sunflower after her rampage because she hated me. And now she’s gone. The city took her municipal garbage cans away. One of her children comes every few weeks to bring in the junk mail. I never thought LaBelle could be so quiet.

The little boy chatted with me as he filled the pail to make a castle.

“Do you think you’ll be a mechanic when you grow up?” I asked.

“I already am,” he said.

In only a few minutes, his father called me back. The plastic cover was off, revealing the guts of the machine. He showed me where the wiring harness was severely dry rotted, shedding the plastic, exposed wires everywhere. He explained how the pop and the puff of exhaust months ago wasn’t a gasket blowing but a spark plug misfiring. The smell I was worried about wasn’t an exhaust leak but just oil and antifreeze leaking through the part under the motor, which he would tighten up and fix as soon as he got us a wiring harness. The alternator was fine, just needed a bracket tightened. The battery could probably be jumped instead of replaced. The pricey mechanic was wrong about the junkyard motor. He may have been wrong about the alternator as well. The only problem was the wiring harness. He could source the parts on Ebay for two hundred or so and get it all done in a day or two.

I didn’t have two hundred, but I said I’d pay him right back, and he agreed.

He didn’t expect to be paid for the labor, but he will be, somehow.

He handed me the plastic cover and said that it was part of the problem; it was holding in moisture which hastened the demise of the wires. I clung to it like a relic.

I hadn’t bought a lemon of a car after all, just a fixer upper.

I was going to have my freedom back within several days.

Not today, but very soon.

I’ll be driving again by Easter. I can visit my chosen family and go on hikes and go swimming again.

I started to feel a sensation I hadn’t had in the longest time– something I barely remembered from a life I’d lived a long time ago. Something that welled up in me when I sang Praise and Worship songs years ago, before Praise and Worship songs were hopelessly associated with the abuses of the Charismatic Renewal. Something that used to tickle me when I was gardening the back yard, that fist year we lived in this house, before the stalking neighbor moved next door. Something I felt when I saw two lines on a stick and knew Adrienne was coming. It overtook my soul like the harbinger of spring filling the whole garden bed.

The name of that feeling is “hope.”

Despair is the opposite of fear, but hope is the opposite of both.

It’s going to be all right.



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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