On the Road to Getting Better

On the Road to Getting Better January 25, 2024


We went to Robinson in Serendipity.

In the past several months, I have learned much more than I ever wanted to about jeans. Back in the 90s when I was a child, there was one type of jeans: thick, blocky, utilitarian garments you wore with plaid flannel to show you didn’t care about anyone or anything. It’s not so in the present day. Nowadays, jeans are a status symbol and they come in more styles, cuts and waists than I can possibly remember. Like most adolescents, Adrienne prefers a single variety of jeans, and the last time there was a clearance sale I’d bought the wrong kind. I had to take three pairs of jeans back to Old Navy.

This was bad, because I’m sick to death of trips to Old Navy to admit defeat. But it was good, because I got to go on a long drive to Robinson on a snowy afternoon.

There’s not much shopping to be done in Steubenville, because nobody has much money. To get to an Old Navy or most other chain stores, you have to drive for forty minutes to the sprawling paved paradise of Robinson, Pennsylvania. Driving around Robinson can be frightening. I’ve had terrible panic attacks there, and January is usually my worst time of year for panic attacks. I would do just about anything to go for a nice long drive, but Michael came along for moral support, just in case.

We crossed the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, where the construction has finished but nobody ever took away the orange cones. I waited for my heart to race in my ears, but it didn’t.

We continued down Twenty-Two, where steel mill towns give way to clean wholesome farmland which eventually gives way to a gigantic shopping complex. The last full fifteen minutes of the journey was just looping around Robinson,  trying to remember which odd side street to take. Like everything in the Pittsburgh area, Robinson is built on a series of hills, avoiding a series of ravines. Most intersections are not at right angles. There are great blobby parking lots surrounded by stores, more squiggle malls than strip malls.  There are places where you have to drive across an intersection that is at the top of a hill, so it appears as if there’s no road on the other side and you might just drop off a cliff. I held my breath for the panic attack, but it didn’t come.

We eventually found the correct parking lot.

We went in and returned the jeans. I browsed the stacks of blue denim and, to my great surprise, I eventually found one pair of the exact size, style and color she requested. A miracle; usually I have to shop online to get those petite sizes. I was returning three pairs of deeply discounted jeans and bringing home one, but it still felt like a victory. It felt like my whole life had turned around. I wanted to buy a lottery ticket.

There was still time before I had to go back and get Adrienne from school. Not enough time to do anything and not enough money for lunch, but we had a few dollars and twenty minutes to spare. Michael and I ended up at a gas station, sipping  coffee and people watching.

I felt like something was missing, and then I realized that it was the fear. I wasn’t anxious.

I drove home without incident; I was just in time to drop Michael off so he could get Adrienne’s after school snack together while I drove to the middle school– and still, no panic.

It wasn’t until I ran one more errand that I panicked.

I went out to Walmart so Michael and Adrienne could run in and grab a few forgotten things for her lunches before it closed, and when I got back, at ten o’clock at night, I lost my mind.

There was a light on across the street, and it shone on my next door neighbor’s window– not the man who brought water but the stalking neighbor who went into hospice care a year ago.  For a moment, it looked like someone was home. It looked as though she was in the house again and had just turned the light on. I’d only imagined she was gone. My hope that the harassment and constant abuse was wishful thinking. She was back.

I knew this was absolute nonsense, but for just long enough, I couldn’t not believe it, and then the racing heart and the stomach ache started. That was two nights ago. I’m almost completely recovered since, but I’ve been miserable.

This is just to say that healing isn’t linear, but I am getting much better. Trauma is a physical injury, and I’ve had several life-changing traumas. My brain is taking its time to get better, but I’m getting there.

This is just to say that I’m so grateful to everyone who was concerned about me when I was at my lowest.

This is just to say that if you’ve been through a really hard time, and then another and another and another, it’s still possible to find a place where nothing is going terribly wrong, and then you can start to heal up. It won’t happen all at once, but it will happen.

There is so much more progress to be made, but I’m getting there.

That’s what I did when I should have been writing lately.



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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