Sunday, September 13, 2009
"I had a terrible mother," the woman sitting across from me in the Pep Boys waiting room said.
Her own daughters, one eight years old and the other thirteen, clung close to her side. The girls were dark-skinned, small and beautiful. The woman was large and blond, with poodle-thick-curling hair and a quick smile.
We both--this friendly woman and I--had blown-out tires, that afternoon. The Pep Boys waiting room in Fort Worth was our refuge: cool, unexpectedly clean, and with a TV remote resting on the table between us so that we could turn the volume down on the set bulking over our heads. The elder girl turned it very slightly up again.
I asked what it was like raising two children these days, and my companion admitted it was difficult; her elder daughter, especially, didn't like school, and so was required to read books in order to score points to earn her cell-phone minutes.
"I don't see why," the elder girl pushed the buttons on the remote. "I already do chores around the house."
"Which pays for your rent and meals," her mother said simply.
"She doesn't want to give me any privacy," the girl grumbled.
I had the feeling I was hearing a conversation that had wheeled around the block a few times.
"When you sign a lease, you can have privacy," her mother explained. "Until then you are in my care."
That was when I had asked where she had developed such sturdy parenting skills, and she'd told me about her "terrible," drug-addled mother.
"She had me when she was fourteen. She didn't even try to take care of me. So I lived with my grandmother until I turned ten. Then all of a sudden I was sent back to live with her. It was horrible. I left when I was sixteen. I got a job at Jack In The Box, found a cheap studio apartment, paid my own rent, and got my high school diploma. I never went to college but I learned at work how to keep the books--I'm just good with numbers--so then I went to work doing finance for grocery stores. Like Albertson's."
"Is that what you do now?"
"No, I work for a company called Life Touch. It's a photography service for churches and schools and graduations and so on. I'm their head finance person. I like it. I like what I do."
I looked at her girls. "And their father?"
"We're divorced. We have a good relationship, though. He just doesn't speak English. He's Mexican. I tried to help him, to help him get ahead, but he just wouldn't help himself. So. Both of my girls are bilingual, anyway. Me too. I took classes and taught myself."
I asked her then if she still had contact with her mother, and if her mother knew her granddaughters, and how they were doing.
She shook her head, and for the first time looked down at the Pep Boys' blazing white linoleum, and left her gaze there. "I don't want them to see her. I got tired of trying to explain to them why she was always drunk or high and had a different man with her every time. So last time I told her, 'That's it, you've ruined your last Christmas, I am not having you in my house anymore.'"
"That had to be hard."
"It was." She looked up. "But I'm determined to live my life differently than she did, and that my girls will too. Now this one," she touched and stroked the dark hair of the younger one beside her, "loves to read."
"I love it that you love to read," I said.
The girl ducked her head shyly into the sturdy arm beside her.
"She reads because she wants to," her mother said. "Isn't that something?"
Photo credit: A Friend in Nonotuck Park, Bruce Barone