She was just one of those people I met, a long time ago, when I was at Franciscan University.
She wasn’t somebody I knew. She was only somebody who hung out with somebody else I knew, so I saw her from time to time. Once I went with her and a group of friends on a hike at Raccoon Creek State Park, in March, when the world is returning to life. I was in my good shoes, which got horribly soaked and muddy, because I’d just come from class and didn’t want to go back to my apartment to change them. She was wearing jeans and a jean jacket– a little light for the late winter. She explained that this was new for her. She didn’t wear jeans when she was home with her family. At home, she wore ankle-length dresses at all times.
“My family lives way out in the country on a farm,” she explained. “It’s a sort of Catholic Amish cult. I call it ‘Camish.'”
I murmured sympathy. I was still in denial that the Charismatic Renewal was also a cult. That epiphany would come much later. It’s hard to realize you, too, are in a cult, at Franciscan University, where there are so many eccentric and abusive Catholics that your own abusive Catholic upbringing seems mild in comparison.
The air was warm that day, but there were still glassy snow drifts under all the trees. We came across a hollow log that had fallen over the path, and I was too timid to climb on it, but she got right on the top and walked from one end to the other.
“It reminds me of Narnia,” I said, gazing around at the snow. “Aslan’s come back, spring is coming, and the White Witch doesn’t understand that it isn’t just a thaw.”
The others agreed that it was just like Narnia.
Later, we sat on the fishing pier together, letting our shoes dry in the sun. Somebody lit up a hand-rolled cigarette that he promised was just tobacco, and we laughed. Somebody took his dog off the leash for just a minute, and the dog immediately went bolting onto the ice which was already broken in the middle. There was a sickening moment where we were certain the dog was going to fall through, but he didn’t: he ran right up to the edge of the ice and then back to the boy with the leash, wagging his tail.
“You should have kept him on the leash!” I scolded. “What would you have said if he’d drowned?”
“At least he went out with a splash?” joked the girl who was raised in a cult.
On the way back to Steubenville, the girl revealed she was homeless. Her name wasn’t officially on the lease of the place she’d been staying, and her housemates had thrown her out after she suffered a severe bout of depression and a week in the hospital. They said the depression scared them and she couldn’t stay. Since then, she’d been going from house to house of other people she knew, sleeping wherever she could.
She’d also recently had her car and her phone taken away by her parents.
“I didn’t burn any bridges,” she insisted. “I didn’t cut ties with them. I just asked them for some boundaries, that’s all. But they didn’t want boundaries. They said that wasn’t honoring my mother and father. I had to obey. So they came that weekend and took my car back because they were paying for it. And this week I found out I’d been cut off of their phone plan. They don’t speak to me anymore.”
“I don’t speak to my parents either,” I said.
She ended up staying at my apartment for a weekend and sleeping on the sofa.
I lost track of her for a few weeks, and then I saw her again on a hot day in the late Spring– happily driving a car, while I was walking to school on the sidewalk. She stopped and picked me up.
“This is my roommate’s car!” She said. “I’m borrowing it for the day. You know that feeling when you’ve got a car and you can just do whatever you want?”
I didn’t know, because I’d never had a car.
“So you’ve got a place to live now?”
“Yes!” she said, grinning from ear to ear. “Far away from campus. My roommate is a Lesbian and everybody knows it. Today she bent over to pick something up and accidentally elbowed me. And she said ‘Accidental boob caress! Accidental boob caress!’ And I laughed. I like her.”
I was shocked and, secretly, impressed. Nobody admitted to being a Lesbian at Franciscan University. It was forbidden to even think about such a thing. I wouldn’t admit I was queer, even to myself, for another ten years.
The girl was not wearing her jean jacket that day, and she was in shorts. I could the self-harm scars crisscrossing her upper arms, and the L-O-V-E etched into her thigh. All were months old.
I don’t think I ever saw her again.
Wherever she is, I hope she is happy.
I hope they’re all happy– all of the people I’ve met in this place, all of the people who have been destroyed by cults like those. I hope they all got away from here, and found happiness.
I hope I find happiness myself.
It’s easy to believe in happiness just now, in March, when the world is coming back to life.
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.