The Valley is all I Have

The Valley is all I Have May 21, 2023



a bridge on the Ohio river
image via Pixabay

Jimmy came over to fix Serendipity.

The first thing he tried was putting in the new alternator. The bolts for that particular alternator and that particular bracket were not cooperating. At one point he ended up trying to use the 26-year-old alternator the Lost Girl’s family had stuffed into my car all wrong to see if it worked. I’m not even sure which alternator is in my car now.

“Yeah you pretty much got cheated,” he opined, taking a drag on his candy-scented vape. “They did whatever it takes to get your money and get you out the door, I seen it many times unfortunately.”

As he worked, he found other things the family had done wrong, and undid them. Toward the end, as he was putting the car back together, he realized that whichever of the family had doctored up the car to make it look drivable had broken my radiator gooseneck as well. Michael ran down to the auto parts store for a radiator gooseneck.

When the car was all put together, Jimmy started it. It came on just as it ought. When he put it in gear, he found that the motor mounts were starting to wear out– they’ll have to be replaced soon. He thinks they are dry rotted– I assume the same dry rot that the car dealer in Pittsburgh had concealed from me on the wiring harness. That will be another eighty dollars I don’t have. Besides the motor mounts, he couldn’t drive it more than a mile an hour backward or forward– that was the throttle positioning sensor, which will be in in no less than five more days. The old shorting wiring harness killed the throttle positioning sensor. And the brake and battery light were still on, and the keyless ignition was not working properly– whichever alternator was actually put in the car didn’t seem to be charging the battery. He left for the night, promising to come back and test the alternator tomorrow.

I could not sleep at all.

Around one in the morning, as I scrolled on my phone, I was reminded in my Facebook memories that this was the anniversary of holding a weekend GoFundMe to get the Lost Girl’s family a car so they could take their children places and get to work.

I had panic attacks for the rest of the night.

I had entertained fantasies about driving Serendipity out for a Memorial Day picnic on the lake, to celebrate finally getting her back up and running. That’s gone now. It’s gone along with all my plans to go to the museum and conservatory with our memberships in the winter so I wouldn’t get my usual seasonal anxiety. It’s gone along with my plans to go hiking at the state park all spring and see the wildflowers come up. It’s gone along with driving to Pittsburgh to a church where no one knows me to try to go to confession and Mass and start getting over my religious trauma. It’s gone along with weekends in Columbus visiting Holly and Reese and the chickens for five whole months. A trip to the lake is another thing I can’t have. The car dealership and the Lost Girl took them.

This morning, bright and early, Jimmy came back in his bath robe to tell us about his progress. He was going to test the alternator in the car all day today, to see if it was really powering the battery. And if the battery died, he would order this other alternator he found, designed for the exact make and model of car, for seventy dollars we didn’t have. He would put it in the car when it was delivered, along with the sensor and the motor mounts.  He would try to return the rebuilt alternator, one of the rebuilt alternators, to save us some money. He sounds sure that this next plan will work.

At this moment, I am sure it won’t.

The fact is, I don’t believe in serendipity anymore.

Not the lemon of a car named Serendipity, and not the concept of serendipity either. At this moment in my life, I don’t believe things will come together to work out.

I don’t believe that I can save people. I don’t believe that I can help a family get back on their feet and have an easier time. I don’t believe that cycles of poverty and addiction can be broken.

I don’t believe in wildflowers or trips to the lake. I don’t believe in Van Gogh paintings or shrines to Saint Joan of Arc. I don’t believe in lions and giraffes. I don’t believe in rose gardens and I don’t believe in pet chickens. I don’t believe in trying to make peace with the person God made me. I don’t believe that I can go back to the sacraments and try not to have panic attacks in church. I don’t believe in Pittsburgh and I don’t believe in Columbus. I don’t believe. Those things are fairy tales that can’t possibly be true. What is real is the Ohio Valley, Steubenville, the Rust Belt, the dark Satanic mills. What’s real is the unspeakably foul Ohio river. What’s real is generational poverty and abused people turning around to abuse others. What’s real is cruelty, and nothing working as it ought.

I am sorry yet again that I don’t have anyone to tell you about but me.

I am humiliated that there’s nobody’s story to tell you, but the story of one human being who went down into the Ohio Valley to try and serve Jesus, and lost everything including Jesus.

I wish I could show you somebody else, but I am all I have.

The Valley is all I have.

Maybe one day there’ll be something more, but not today.




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