Progress is a Good Thing

Progress is a Good Thing February 5, 2024

a road winding downhill
image via Pixabay


This time, I KNOW what’s wrong with Serendipity.

My long suffering Nissan started limping again when I ran over  one of the locally famous potholes at the Walmart. Pulling into a parking lot and turning her off and on again several times fixed it; I drove all around town to see what would happen and the problem didn’t recur.  I almost decided to pretend it had never happened, but on second thought I drove her to the parts store and ran the codes, which diagnosed a loose wire to the CVT. No parts need replacing except the ones I already knew I would have to sooner or later, it was only a wire that jiggled in all the repairs. I drove cautiously home and told Jimmy the mechanic, who said he would fix the loose wire as soon as he has a free day. Every day, I expected to hear from him. The car drove beautifully after that, as if nothing had gone wrong. Nothing went wrong for a week.

This evening, we went to Sunday Mass– Michael and Adrienne inside the church and me outside, praying in my car, because the panic attacks at liturgy are still too severe to sit in the church. Last year at this time, I was so panicked with religious trauma that I spent Sundays in bed. Now I watch the stained glass windows and tell God just how I feel for an hour. It’s an improvement.

The parking lot of that particular church is very small and crowded, so I pulled out just before Mass was likely to end so I wouldn’t be stuck in a bottleneck. I drove around the oval-shaped neighborhood of Midcentury Modern buildings once, picked up Adrienne and Michael from the front of the church, and then drove around the loop again so I could get out onto the main road.

The church we’d attended was at the brow of a great big hill. Steubenville is on the bank of the Ohio river in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, so the whole city cascades steeply downhill from the village of Wintersville to the West Virginia border. The church is at least 200 feet higher above sea level than downtown. The oval-shaped neighborhood beside it is on the side of that hill. You have to drive sharply down to a ravine and then sharply up. It was while we were climbing uphill that it happened.

The car shuddered as if it had seen a ghost, and then it went into limp mode once more.

The little yellow key warning light taunted me on the dashboard. I’ve come to despise that light.

I turned the car on and off again, but it didn’t put it back into gear.

The three of us waited ten minutes, scrolling on our phones, and then I started the car again. I tried that procedure three times, but it was no use. We were trapped at the bottom of a steep dip in the road, in a car that would not go into gear properly, two and a half miles from home. We hadn’t had dinner because we were going to buy groceries at Walmart after Mass. We no longer had the AAA membership for a free tow because January was an extremely lean month and the annual membership hadn’t renewed. We had barely enough money for a few groceries and certainly none for a tow  at the regular price. And it was dark.

They don’t teach you what to do about this in adult driving lessons, but they probably should.

My first thought was that I ought to abandon Serendipity on the road to be impounded, and walk home.

My second thought was to use every skill I’ve learned to suppress a panic attack.

I’m getting very good at suppressing my panic attacks, but I’m not cured yet. Last year I was a complete basket case. I couldn’t even sleep through the night. I am much better now. But still, my mind started catastrophizing:  throwing a series of increasingly ridiculous images at my mind. My brain shifted gears through every scenario, from another car rear ending us to a semi truck rolling downhill to smash us to one of my angry Irish Catholic aunts appearing out of nowhere to confiscate my driver’s license. I treated it like a joke and tried to laugh at myself.

I put the shift into low gear. The L didn’t show up on the dashboard, so I don’t know if I technically went into low gear or not. But I know that I inched up the hill at about a mile an hour.

I sent Michael and Adrienne to walk to the other grocery store, at the bottom of the hill near our house, and walk the groceries home, just in case anything else went wrong.

The next part was easy because it was downhill. I zigzagged home through all the neighborhoods, in low gear. In whatever gear the car was stuck in. Stopping to park every so often so I could breathe out the panic.

I pulled up in front of my house, feeling like I’d run a marathon.

The house next door was dark. My stalker has been gone for almost a full twelve months. There are whole days when I don’t even think about her when I go outside anymore.

Last year at this time, Serendipity was completely undriveable, far worse than she is now; I wouldn’t get her up and running for months. I didn’t realize my “friend” the Lost Girl had gambled with my life and cheated me. Now she is gone and I have neighborhood friends I can trust. I’m grounded again until Jimmy can get to the car, but there’s actual reason not to worry now.

Last year at this time, I was suffering from severe panic attacks, and they are improving. I couldn’t go to Mass at all, and now I can at least pray near a Mass.

None of us are all better. But we’re getting there.

Progress is a good thing.



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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