I woke up at noon, still exhausted. Adrienne was sleeping in, as usual. Michael was in the kitchen, throwing away the coffee.
We brew cold brew in a lemonade pitcher: a twelve-ounce bag of grounds soaked in water for twenty-four hours, then drain it all through a coffee filter and sieve. He’d fallen asleep when he should have been draining the coffee and then forgot about it. It was now forty-two hour cold brew, far too strong and sour to drink. He apologized about that, and that he couldn’t go right out and buy a new bag or any dishwashing liquid either, and that my phone would no longer work for a few days except on the house’s wifi. There just wasn’t any money.
I went to wake Adrienne, who loves to sleep in. I fed Lady McFluff, feeling guilty, trying not to make eye contact. I wonder if we’re going to have the talk about giving away the guinea pig to someone who can afford the monthly Chewy order. I had to ask for help with that this month. One friend sent Lady Mcfluff food and three different friends sent cash for the garden and the never-ending car repairs, and I’m embarrassed.
I deserve to be embarrassed.
I deserve to be humiliated to death.
Spontaneous tips to the blog’s tip jar slowed down when the people who follow me on social media were helping The Lost Girl. Now, after the fiasco with the car, I don’t think they trust me anymore. I don’t really blame them. I don’t trust myself. I am a fool.
I am certain that any money I raised for her really did go to her and her family. I even believe that all of it, until perhaps the last few weeks, really did go to keeping them housed and the utilities turned on. I believe that five children suffered less because of what I managed to do. I also know that her abusive addict boyfriend is back with them as of March– something she also declared in public; she even changed her Facebook profile to a photo of them kissing. I know that she refused to cut off her mother and left the children with them again, which is why I decided I couldn’t help her anymore. I know that she drove my car without permission when it was not roadworthy; I have the screenshots of me texting her not to and the message from her that it was back in LaBelle. I know, from Jimmy the mechanic’s careful post-mortem, that her family further broke my car after taking my money and doctored it up so it would run once.
Everything is back to the way it was for her, and worse for me. A year of trying to help, and I accomplished less than nothing. I only hurt my own family.
I walked to the community garden to check on my plants. The corn and sunflowers in one of my raised beds haven’t sprouted yet. In the other bed, I’ve swapped out my cauliflower and things that groundhogs like to eat for tomatoes which they don’t like, moving plants from the home garden. The bed next to mine, the only other bed that’s been planted, is full of broccoli, cauliflower and greens. It’s being used as a buffet for the groundhogs as if the owners of all that food don’t care. Everything has at least one comical bite out of it. The weeds in the disused raised beds are getting high again. The compost hopper we were putting together is still half constructed. The bags of compost are still unopened, next to the beds of the other gardeners. The back portion of the garden, which one other neighbor tried to mow before her weed eater broke, is still half mowed. The poison ivy is beginning to creep.
It’s as if all of LaBelle died one night, and only I am left alive.
I was already angry enough. I didn’t linger there.
I came home to fuss over the backyard, and found that the robins had been at the strawberries. I’ll need netting to keep them off, when I can get it. The leaves on the tiny sunflower seedlings are nibbled as well, but they’re still there. Both of the sprouts have four leaves instead of two. Soon they’ll have six. The corn was just above the ground and indistinguishable from grass a few days ago; now it’s two inches high, and starting to look a bit like cornstalks. Next week it will be higher. The squash are getting their real, spiky leaves, and those first smooth seedling leaves are dying off.
Forces besides entropy do exist. Things do survive, somehow.
I am a failure in every way. I have lost my faith in humanity and my Faith in general. I deserve everything I get. But I still have great admiration for things that grow and thrive when everything around them says they shouldn’t.
The wind bent the grass and rustled the leaves of the lilac bush, where every blossom has died away for the summer.
“Neither do I condemn you,” said God.
Or maybe he didn’t, but that’s the Bible verse that came to mind just then.
Sometimes I get Bible verses stuck in my head, and just now the verse is “Neither do I condemn you.” I’ve been thinking about it all day.
Somewhere in all of this, not just then, but at some point while I was going back and forth between gardens, Jimmy came by with his little son. Both of them were on scooters, taking a trip around the neighborhood. His son wanted to pet the guinea pig, and Jimmy wanted to remind me that the sensor for the car was on its way. “I expect it today or tomorrow,” he said hopefully. He’s been tracking the shipping like it’s a full-time job. He reminded me that he’s trying to get his money back for the alternator that didn’t work out so we’ll have to pay him back less. The minute he had the sensor in hand, he’d put it in the car and then try to charge the battery. If that didn’t work, he’d get the proper alternator. And then the motor mounts. He couldn’t be certain the car would be all better then; it’s a matter of fixing one thing and then seeing if it ran. But he was pretty sure, and he would keep trying.
I think he’s more determined to resurrect my car than I am.
I reminded him we didn’t have a penny to pay for any more repairs, and he said “Oh that’s okay, I don’t need it yet.”
I suppose that if there is a God– and I’m still more than 80% sure there must be– that God is not like the voice inside myself, telling me I’m a failure. That God is more like Jimmy refusing to give up on the car, tending to it piece by piece until it runs again. Or like the force of nature that insists squash put out spiky leaves and sunflowers double their size again and again, in spite of all odds, in a universe governed by entropy.
I suppose that he looks at a cosmic failure like me, and says “neither do I condemn you.”
I suppose he looks at the mess I’ve made of everything, and says “neither do I condemn you.”
He sees that I can’t even walk into a Catholic church without a panic attack, and my attempts to get through a liturgy at an Orthodox and an Episcopal church have been equally fruitless, and says “neither do I condemn you.”
He sees that I am so completely worn out and exhausted that I never want to try to help a poor neighbor again, and says “neither do I condemn you.”
And he goes on healing things that others have abandoned for dead, and willing that gardens grow even though they shouldn’t.
And we who try to honor Him should do likewise, and I’ll try.
“Neither do I condemn you,” I said to myself, to the Lost Girl, to all of LaBelle. “Neither do I condemn.”
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.