We went swimming.
We went to the small town of Toronto, Ohio, which would be just ten minutes up Route Seven from my house if they ever finished the construction and opened both lanes. As it is, it takes half an hour.
Toronto is much smaller and cleaner than Steubenville. It’s on a steep hillside cascading down to the Ohio, with West Virginia cascading up on the other side. You see rolling trees on the mountains instead of layers of colored shale: not stratum after stratum of red rock, but green rising up to blue and blue going on forever.
It hasn’t been very blue this summer. We keep getting caught in a plume of Canadian wildfire smoke, so a clear sky is the color of canvas. But on Thursday it was sparkling blue. The green on the Ohio side to my left rose up to curtain off the western horizon. The river was a thick band of tarnished silver to my left. The trees on the West Virginia side, beyond the river, appeared a lighter green.
When I came to this terrible place I thought it was so ugly. I kept reminding myself it would only be for two years of graduate school, and then I’d move on to a PhD program in a nice big city, win souls for Christ and help people.
It’s been seventeen years.
Columbus, the city I grew up in, is flat as a board. The green doesn’t rise up to the blue; it just stretches out. You can see the skyscrapers of downtown from miles away. Broad Street runs east to west, High Street runs north to south. The other roads are laid out in a grid in the same way. The districts are fairly regular rectangles. You could traverse the whole city without getting on the freeway, if you had the time, and it’s difficult to get lost. Here in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, you can’t see more than a very short distance. The roads dip up and downhill and zigzag around the shale cliffs. You can’t see your destination until you’re already there.
On the way back from a recent trip to Columbus, Adrienne says she knows she’s home when the flat land gives way to mountains again. I am the opposite. I know I’m home when I’m halfway to Columbus and the mountains flatten out. But I don’t live in Columbus and could never afford to. I live here, where the hideous coal plants are closing one by one, not nearly fast enough, and the dilapidated old steel mills are slowly dissolving into the Ohio river.
Still, it’s pretty up around Toronto.
We got there less than two hours before closing time, which meant we got the half off discount– luckily, since that was the last of the money. Adrienne had asked if she could buy a snack with her allowance afterward, and now I could treat her to one.
The pool is on the side of a steep hillside, as everything in Toronto is. On one side it’s green grass running up to the park, and from the park to the trees, from the trees to the sky. On the other, it’s downhill through a quaint little residential street, to the steeple of a Catholic church and then to the Ohio river and the tree-lined coast of West Virginia. The pool is a blue cup of water in between green. I swam back and forth as Adrienne played. When my head was out of the water, it was noisy with the sounds of children splashing and laughing. But when I ducked under, all was quiet. The blue was all around me. I might as well have been flying, up above the clouds, far away from the mountains.
I’ve been so exhausted, but I’m getting better.
The summer has been terribly quiet. No disasters. My harassing stalker is dead, and I’ve got my car back. I am no longer in that terrible codependent situation with the Lost Girl. I’ve come to a bit of a stalemate in my wrestling match with my Faith– I can never trust the Catholic Church again, but I know that I’ve met Christ there and I’ve been trying to go back to Mass to see if I can meet Him again. I have no idea whether I’m in mortal sin, or whether mortal sin exists, or whether I’ll burn in hell when I die. But I know that a just god would be far more patient with me than I’ve been with myself. And I know that if God is not just, I don’t want to spend eternity with him anyway.
When I came to this valley, from the place where the world is flat, I thought I knew everything. I was so excited to study at Franciscan University. I wanted to bully the whole world into loving Christ as I did. I was honored when Father Scanlan, thought to be a living saint, took a liking to me and agreed to be my spiritual director. I know better now.
I guess I’ll never know if Scanlan was deliberately feeding those young women to all those abusive priests, or if he really was truly that bad a judge of character. I’ll never know if the Charismatic Renewal really began with a movement of the Holy Spirit and devolved into the abusive madness I know, or if it was rotten from the beginning. I don’t know if the hundreds of us who lost everything to this insanity will ever see justice. I don’t know if I can ever be at peace in a church again, or if I’ll be forever seeking Christ while cringing in the back. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get out of here or if the mountains will seem like home someday. I cannot see anything. The world isn’t flat anymore.
Just then, swimming back and forth in the cup of blue between green hills, I didn’t mind not knowing.
It will never be right that it all happened. I will never not be sorry it happened.
Just then, though, I didn’t feel anger and I didn’t feel grief.
All I felt was quiet.
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.