We Will Be Examined In Love

We Will Be Examined In Love June 16, 2024


a patient in a CT scan machine
image via Pixabay

The message came as I was waiting for my scan.

I’m sorry that I’m still not able to write at a good clip, or about any news or anything that requires research. I’m still very sick from the colitis episode, and the antibiotics that they gave me to treat it. This has been going on for eight days now and it’s even more frustrating than you’d guess. The only writing I’m able to do is to pick away at the keyboard sentence by sentence, about things that are on my mind. All that’s on my mind is how sick I’ve been. This tiny article you’re reading now has taken me forty-eight hours to write.

In any case, on Tuesday I was sitting in the emergency room with an IV stuck in the back of my left hand. I have terrible veins, so the nurses often resort to sticking me in the back of the hand like a preemie. But they stick my left hand, meaning to be helpful, not realizing I’m left handed. My hand was trying to drink a bag of saline while I scrolled on my phone with one finger. Every time I moved my hand wrong, I’d set off the alarm and bring the kindly nurse running. Then I would say “thank you” and “sorry” to the nurse, and she would push a button, and I would go back to my phone.

That was when I saw the message from The Lost Girl.

I had unblocked her on social media in a panic, when I saw the eviction dumpster in front of her house and read in the paper she’d been arrested at Eastertime. I shouldn’t have done that. She was blocked for a reason. But all I could think of was her children, and how I’d helped out with them and grown to love them. I was afraid they were trapped somewhere without any supervision. I thought of what happened to that other lost girl, another of Steubenville’s hundreds of lost girls. And I peeked. The children were fine; she was only in jail over the weekend anyway. Then she got out, and messaged me trying to make conversation, and I tried not to see.

Now I was sitting in the hospital bed, trying to play a game with one finger without accidentally summoning the nurse, trying to ignore the grinding terror that I might have another bowel obstruction and yet another emergency surgery. And I kept getting notifications of new messages, one after the other. She is the kind of person who sends every sentence in her train of thought as a separate text.

She was asking me to get her a lawyer.

This was her first message, other than just trying to say hello, since June of 2023 when I discovered she and her family had taken my money, pretended to fix my car, and then encouraged me to take it on the freeway. And it wasn’t to say she was sorry; it was to ask if I could help her find a lawyer.

She messaged me a photo of a police report that I’d already seen, because as a writer I keep track of neighborhood happenings. It seems she and her family were found to be squatting in a house across town without the landlord’s permission; she had produced a rental agreement, but it was fictitious, and the police ordered her to vacate by noon. She claimed a person posing as the landlord had scammed her. $800 had been paid to that person. She wired it to the bank account he told her to wire it to and moved right in. He stopped returning her calls. And now she was on the street. She wanted me to get her a lawyer: for what, she didn’t say. To sue the landlord to allow her to stay? To get her money back?

I thought of all the trouble I went to to busk and raise money for the house she moved into in January of 2022, the one she’d been kicked out of. last March. I thought about bringing food there, scraped out of my own cupboard, half my food pantry box when I was so poor I was using the food pantry. It just didn’t seem fair to keep all the food for myself when she had five children and I only had one. And she always said “leave it on the doorstep, I’m busy” so I couldn’t visit the new baby. And I’d leave it on the doorstep.

Before I could think what to respond to the text, the nurse came to transport me to the CT scan room.

I like the new way they deliver contrast better than the old. It used to be that you had to force yourself to drink three big glasses of cloying liquid and then keep from throwing up for certain amount of time. Now they just inject the stuff into your IV. My IV was in that highly uncomfortable place on the back of my hand, where everything is more sensitive. The lady in the purple scrubs apologized as the shot of saline stung me, then apologized again as the actual contrast stung, and dissipated, and left my whole body feeling warm and shimmery.

The gentleman in the blue scrubs instructed me to pull my pants down around my knees so no metal interrupted the scan, in such a pleasant voice that I didn’t even feel awkward. He gave me a thin blanket. They all fled the room, leaving me alone with the scanner.

The scanner barked its instructions. I held my breath and let it out on queue as it directed. It scrutinized the inside of my chest and abdomen, taking an inventory of the battered parts inside. I knew some of the things it would see: the mild fatty liver which most people with poly-cystic ovary syndrome have, and which my careful diet and exercise regimen haven’t been able to reverse yet. The uterus doing God knows what on its own sweet time when all I’d like it to do is get pregnant. The place where my gall bladder used to be. The staples in my small intestine, where they cut out eight inches of dead gut to save my life. The place where my appendix used to be. And whatever was wrong now. Maybe a new chronic illness. Perhaps another obstruction and more dead intestine, another emergency surgery. Maybe nothing at all, and they’d laugh at me. But if something was present there, the scan would see it.

I wondered what the people who had fled the room were thinking. Could they see all this on a computer monitor somewhere? Were they puzzling on how someone ends up with so many damaged parts? Judging me for being fat? Had they already diagnosed some catastrophe with my digestive tract? Or worse, did my tract look fine, so they were judging me for complaining?

A saying of Saint Juan de la Cruz crossed my mind. “In the twilight of our lives, we will be examined on love alone.”

What is that supposed to mean?

Is God going to inject me with contrast and put me through a scanner? Will he stand in some other room, looking at my results on a computer, pointing out to the archangels that my liver and intestines and uterus are a mess? That this part of my soul is fatty when it ought to be loving, and this part of my soul is missing eight inches of love, and two love organs are missing altogether? Will he see the series of times I let myself be used by dishonest people who duped me with sob stories and give me some extra credit, or will he remind me that my autistic gullibility isn’t actually a virtue?

Is he going to show me little Mary, about four or five years old, in the late 80s when nobody knew what high-masking autism in girls looked like? Mary crying with shame because her exasperated mother burst out “you’re very, very selfish. You’re the most selfish person I know.” I tried so hard, from that moment forward, not to be selfish. I skipped over my desk until last when it was my day to pass out cupcakes in Kindergarten. I gave away my bag of chips at lunch every day in elementary school. I put my allowance in the poor box after Mass. But it didn’t work;  I was still branded the selfish one. Every time I had one of my neverending succession of medical issues, every time I had a meltdown, every time I cried because nobody loved me, every time I got in a fight with my siblings, I was called selfish. Every time I stood up to my mother’s bullying. I was selfish. Every time I cried at her accusations, she accused me of protesting too much, proving I was really selfish. One of the last times she ever spoke to me, wanting to condemn me for not speaking to her anymore, she informed me “your selfishness knew no bounds.”

What if God takes a look at the scan and informs me that every single time I’ve tried to help neighbors, give mutual aid and bend the arc towards justice, I wasn’t actually being loving? I was only desperately trying to convince myself I wasn’t selfish? Which, after all, is selfish. A truly loving girl would give up her cupcake out of pure altruism, not to stop her mother from calling names. A true saint would be loving time and again, even when it blew up in her face, even when an impossible person took advantage of her, even if it killed her. A really good person wouldn’t get herself into a codependent disaster with a neighbor and then give up; she’d save the neighbor and her children from that neighbor’s choices somehow even if it took years. Mary isn’t a saint. Mary doesn’t make the cut. Mary is selfish.

These were thoughts that swirled around as I finished my scan, and went back to my bed, and waited– n0t knowing if I was going to need another emergency surgery or just some antibiotics.

“So, how’ve you been?” texted the Lost Girl.

I left her on read.

The diagnosis, as I mentioned before, was colitis, probably from food poisoning. I probably  touched my face or absentmindedly nibbled a strawberry as I was weeding the garden, going back and forth to that lovely rotting compost heap with my dirty hands. They put me on a round of horse pills that made me sicker than ever, temporarily, cleaning the bacteria out. I was in bed for days. For days it was hard to think. For days it was hard to write. My last antibiotic dose will be tomorrow night, and it’s still hard just to stay upright.

For days, I left the Lost Girl on read, not knowing what to say.

Finally, I decided to be selfish.

I opened a tab and wrote a letter.

I started with her name, which I haven’t said in the longest time. And then I said, “You could have killed me. You could have killed my only child,” which is true. And I went through a list of all the things she lied about, of which I had proof from the mechanic or another source, all the mischief and insanity going back to spring of 2022. About how her choices has affected me and Adrienne. Emphasizing that I had been desperate too, and I knew how it felt, but you had to be honest. That I could not help her, because I had no money for a lawyer– but besides, I had no idea if she was telling the truth. I couldn’t know, because she didn’t tell the truth often enough.

I hit “send.”

I blocked her.

I called myself selfish a dozen times.

I took my antibiotic horse pill and went to bed.

I prayed to the Father that I’d failed utterly and I was sorry, and I wished He loved me. I wondered, if He was scanning my soul right now, exactly what the scan would bring up. If I died just then, what would he say? Would he say “well done” or “depart from me,” or something that hadn’t been scripted?

Maybe we can never know; we can only do our best. No one knows Love except God Himself.

I don’t know if this means anything, but that’s what I’ve been thinking of today.



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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