On the Last Day

On the Last Day August 24, 2023

the Appalachian mountains in summer
image via Pixabay

 

We went to Belmont County, on the last day.

It was the last day before Adrienne’s first year at a public school began. I will never be a homeschooling mom again.

We had to go to Belmont County because I am a fool. I got a phone call on Monday from the friendly school secretary, telling me that Adrienne couldn’t start school until they saw a social security card and a birth certificate. The card, I had. I didn’t have a copy of the certificate.

Adrienne was born in Martin’s Ferry, under the most horrific circumstances, at the crack of dawn on the first day of Autumn. I was in such terrible mental and emotional shape afterward that I took home the crib card and the “baby girl Pezzulo” handwritten certificate, but never ordered a copy of the real birth certificate. Now school was about to start in less than 48 hours, and I didn’t have one.

Martin’s Ferry is not in Jefferson County. It’s in Belmont County, which goes on for a ways inland, almost to the point where the Appalachian foothills disappear and Ohio becomes the Midwest. I ordered a copy of her birth certificate from the Belmont County health department, only realizing afterwards that this wasn’t necessary. I could have gotten it from the Jefferson County health department a mile away. But I’d already paid my thirty dollars, and I didn’t have another thirty. This has been a terribly tight summer, and I still have to buy school supplies. I decided to drive to the Belmont County health department– not the sensible way, taking route 7 all the way up to 70, but the scenic way on Route 22.

Adrienne went with me.

I have written so much about the ugliness of Northern Appalachia. Sometimes, living in Steubenville, jammed between the Sammis Coal Plant in Stratton and the Cardinal Coal Plant in Brilliant, overlooking the wreck of the Steubenville mills and just upriver from Follansbee, I feel like beauty has died. Beauty is a memory of something I used to know, in Columbus at the Park of Roses two blocks from where I grew up. Beauty is something that flickered at me in the dark, in Pocahontas County where everything is alive. Beauty is a fairy tale we make up for children so they won’t despair. There’s no beauty here, in Northern Appalachia. Northern Appalachia is a grown-up place.

But Northern Appalachia looks beautiful on Route 22.

The hills are so green, and there are no coal plants or mills blocking the view.

We took 22 to Cadiz,  the most picturesque of small towns, and then we meandered down almost to Saint Clairsville. Everything was green and warm. There were farms and cattle. There were red brick churches with strange names. There were double-wide trailers with great big American flags on flag poles out front.

You could think America was what America claimed to be, out around Cadiz.

Adrienne dozed off, and I pondered. I began to wonder when, exactly, I had changed. At what point had I gone from a dogged homeschooler to someone who was looking forward to putting Adrienne in a public school?

I grew up thinking public schools were the Whore of Babylon. When did I change?

At what point did I realize that I would never have a home among the Catholic parishes of Steubenville, nor the Catholic homeschoolers either?

I tried so hard. I took Adrienne to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd when she was three, but she wouldn’t let go of my hand or join the other children in playing in the atrium. She scribbled on the coloring papers instead of drawing reverent pictures of the Eucharist. She didn’t play with the “works” correctly. We soon gave up. I didn’t know about her neurodivergence at the time, any more than I understood my own. I kept trying to get involved with Catholic groups in the area so she could learn her catechism, and it kept not working out.

When did I know that it never would?

Was it when the devout lady from the rich part of LaBelle snarled about how angry she was to have poor people on Welfare in the neighborhood “when my husband works for his money?” Was it when I saw all the Trump signs going up in the yards with the plaster statues of Mary and Saint Francis? When I published an article critiquing the hypocrisy pro-life movement, and got asked not to come back to the secular Carmelite meetings, and the formation directress snootily said “It wouldn’t do any good to tell Mary the reason why?” Was it when the usher from the Byzantine Catholic church started commenting crazy things in my Disqus comment box because I dared to be against Donald Trump? When that pastor bullied us out of that parish? When the Pennsylvania report on child abuse was published? During the 2020 lockdown, when I saw the local Catholics insisting they had no duty towards their neighbor?

By the time the horrific scandals at Franciscan University began to be made public one by one, I think I already knew that they were a cult– not the Catholic Church in general, not even this diocese, but the close-knit Catholic community around here. The people who revere Mike Scanlan are a cult. His abusive Charismatic freak show is a cult. And whatever else may be true about the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church is culpable for not reining him in.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the only way to raise Adrienne with any respect for Jesus at all, was to keep her away from the Catholic community in Steubenville. She believes the Gospel is about solidarity and caring for your neighbor. She wouldn’t have learned that from Steubenville catechism lessons. The only way to stay a Christian is to disregard the culture of Steubenville.

Just then, that day, I realized that this is another way being neurodivergent is a blessing. It saved Adrienne and me from fitting in.

I finally pulled up to the health center, which is nearly invisible over the brow of a small hill in the middle of nowhere.

The friendly receptionist handed me the certificate. There was the date of the worst day of my life, Michael’s name and mine, Adrienne’s name.

We drove home on 70 to Route 7, going up along the Ohio river.

Whatever happens next is in the hand of God, and I am at peace.

 

 

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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