“I am… um… parent. Every-thing changes.”
She stands at about my height. I rarely see much difference between me and other women, though: And unless they’re tall enough to grace the covers of beauty magazines — or the streets of Manhattan — I consider them pretty much my height.
Although born on the coast of Mexico, her skin bears the same caramel color as mine. Her face, I can tell, used to be very pretty, even doll-like. Her formerly black hair is snow streaked with gray highlights; and it is gathered in the back of her head into a thick ponytail of luscious curls. Rich women would kill for thick hair like that!
I catch myself wondering how much she would have aged — had her life not been so hard.
I bet there is an encyclopedia of domestic tricks up this woman’s sleeve: Washing her hair with egg yolks, making masks out of avocado and honey, moisturizing her heels with Bengay. I’ve seen my own motha invent a few of those. We are immigrants: We get crafty, in survival. For life is relentless: It takes a toll on all of us all, but it’s most unforgiving — to us, women.
“I come herre… twenty fah-yv jears,” she formulates her words slowly. “I am… um… sixteen jears.”
“Me too!” I say, and I begin nodding and smiling aggressively: Just anything to make her feel understood. “I was sixteen too!”
I want to tell her to switch to her native language, because I am pretty sure I get the gist of her already. Despite the difference between our birth coasts, we seem to speak of the same tales.
But then again, maybe not:
I keep flaunting my American education in order to impress employers with gigs at a higher rate. She — cleans houses for a living. I tend to get hired to work the phones and to organize the lives of others that have gotten cluttered with too many demands. She — creates order in other people’s homes, with her no longer soft, but womanly hands. Besides the existences of my bosses, I am responsible primarily for myself. She — has three kids to take care of, and a boyish husband.
“You? No marr-rried?” she asks me.
The importance of family defines happiness in her culture; so, I get slightly embarrassed for a moment. Despite the difference between our birth coasts, I so very much want us to be alike. Is it this woman’s approval that I’m striving for; or just her empathy?
In one breath, I deliver: “NoIamnotmarried.”
“In a couple more years, you’ll be middle-aged,” a man has declared the other day.
This woman’s arms are cradling a tiny dog; and in the folds of her stomach, he easily goes to sleep. Her figure belongs to a mother: She is fuller, curvier than my boyish frame. Her hands are more sure and seemingly more knowing than mine.
“Is good you no married so soon,” she says. She must’ve picked up on my embarrassment. “Life more hard. I am… um… parent. Every-thing more hard.”
I ask her about her kids: She nods and smiles when describing each of the three: a two-year old baby-girl and a little boy. Her oldest daughter wants to be a nurse. When she speaks of her husband, she averts her eyes; and despite the slow manner of her chosen worlds, she quickly switches the topic to his job.
“Is good…” she concludes. “Warehouse. Down. Town. Is good!”
The little dog shifts on her stomach and extends his fluffy paws toward me. I take them and rub the un-callused pillows on the bottom. She laughs and teases the bangs above his eyes; and when her hand brushes against mine, I notice that her skin is tougher than the one I’m rubbing in between my fingers.
“You… work?” she asks me.
“Of course,” I say and begin listing my gigs. This is the first time I doubt she understands me. To my own ears, I begin sounding busy, and slightly fussy. So, I stop.
I interrupt my list. “Everybody works here,” I conclude; and the woman begins nodding and smiling aggressively. She is getting the gist of me.
I study her eyes: She stands at my level, and most definitely — at my height! But then she leaves for work; and I reluctantly begin mine. It’s life — at work; and in its working, it is especially unforgiving to us, women.