On Monday, we went to the pool for the first time this year. We walked, because Jimmy was still working on the car I so naively named Serendipity, and I was too nervous to watch.
I hadn’t been swimming in six months. Thanks to the car trouble, I hadn’t had a single trip to the rec center for laps. My arms felt floppy and heavy at my sides; I ended up trudging through the hip-deep water in the shallow end, as if I was hiking in the snow.
“I shouldn’t be this tall,” said Adrienne, trudging next to me. She is exactly my height now.
Someone called my name: I looked up, squinting without my glasses, and saw a shape striding toward me. I could tell it was Jimmy by his gait. He said he’d driven the car back to me, good as new; he had even gone on the freeway. It worked perfectly. The master warning light was still on, probably something to do with the spark plugs, but the car was in working order.
I drove Serendipity to the grocery store after we finished our trudge, and after I bought our groceries I couldn’t get it started again. Everything worked except the engine. Taking a tow truck home is much less exciting when it’s the second time you’ve done it in a week. The tow company left the car in front of Jimmy’s house, facing the wrong way on a one-way street and several inches away from the curb.
The next afternoon, Jimmy took her apart one last time. He thought he might have to buy a whole new starter, but eventually, he found that loose wire. The whole car started up. The warning light went off. Somehow, he turned her around in the tiny street and brought her round the block back to me. He reminded me about the torque strap and how I’d need new motor mounts this summer and new sparkplugs before long. I took the key fob. And I was driving Serendipity once again.
The brakes didn’t grind. The air conditioning was ice cold. The accelerator responded to a slight tap of my foot. I kept waiting for a warning light to come on, but it didn’t. I was free. I could go wherever I wanted– to Pittsburgh, to Columbus, to Pocahontas County. I drove up Coal Hill Road and around to Walmart, then up to the soccer field in Wintersville. I zigzagged around country roads where I didn’t know where I was until I popped out on route 43, and headed home.
That was when the sadness set in.
Most of the people I know who suffer from anxiety have a burst of sadness after they’ve won a victory, and so do I. I’d been sick and scared about the car for nearly six months, and now the burden was lifted. Sorrow, depression, emotional exhaustion– one of those things rushed in to take the fear’s place.
I stopped at a few stores and wandered up and down the aisles, looking at all the toys that Adrienne used to give a hug. It felt so strange to not buy any bubble soap or sidewalk chalk. She used to cover the whole sidewalk in dusty pale colors, then sit in it and leave a mess on her clothes. She used to blow bubbles with half the soap and make messy potions with the other half. Now she plays Minecraft on her tablet, and watches videos on her phone, and swims shoulder to shoulder with me in the pool. I miss her. I miss the hope that there will be another little one like her. I miss thinking of myself as a mother. I’ll be forty next year.
I thought of the fact that I could now go all the way to Pittsburgh and find a church I could attend. I could go to Mass and Confession in a Catholic church if I ever felt that I could enter a Catholic church again. I could find another denomination. I could keep trying to find a reconciliation between the God of Love I’ve known and the Christians who seem to revere somebody else. And I was so sad I wished I could cry, but tears didn’t come.
I made my way back home. I parked in front of my house– no danger from the menacing neighbor now. She’s dead or in the very last stages of hospice, and never ever coming back. I don’t have to hide my car anymore.
I came around to the backyard and tended the garden. Adrienne was there, picking strawberries. The guinea pig was under a laundry basket eating clover.
I have six sunflower seedlings there in my yard, safe from harm. The June crop of strawberries is already nearly spent; there’ll be an Autumn crop in a few months. The tomato plants are budding. The popcorn is several inches high.
I came to this Valley sixteen years ago, to study philosophy and Catholic bioethics at Franciscan University. Since then I’ve lost everything and found something else.
I will never be the person I expected to be. I will never be the saint or the hero I thought I had to be.
I will never trust the Catholic Church again, not in the way I thought I had to.
I will never see the family I came from again.
I will never have the immediate family I wish I could have.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clamored at God to give me back what he stole, but he hasn’t.
He’s given me something else: myself. This person that I am instead of someone else. This journey I’ve taken instead of the one I expected. This terrible dark valley to try and do good in, instead of the place I wanted to do good. The truths that I know, instead of the things I wanted to believe. Me, and not somebody else. I found me.
This is another kind of serendipity.
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.