Puerto Rican in Pennsylvania

Close-up of Mr. Clean sponges

Homeless when I met her —
today, co-owner of a house near mine.

Working hard to try to pay her way,
overriding the abuse of men she
trusted, then left behind,
she listens to self-help on YouTube as
she scrubs my toilet.

She tells me, "My grandmother taught me —
an amazing woman who believed that
having a clean house is healthy. She was
lost and clouded if the house
wasn't clean.

"She was the one that raised me.
She had a little stool at the sink
when I was four years old so
I could wash my own little cup.

"She wanted me to know how to clean
and cook -- not that it was to get a
husband or keep a husband.
It was emotionally fulfilling for her."

Now the granddaughter brings
to her children the little
she can earn and all of
what she's learned:
"Say, 'Hello' to Miss Karla," or
"What did I tell you about

Dealing with a tantrum in
the supermarket she feels
Child Services might be looking.
The threat is real.
A cranky neighbor knows
that's the button to push.

And underlying that is

"We were the only colored people
in that church," she tells me.
She heard them make remarks.
"People's ignorance was palpable —
there was definitely racism there."

Now "Miss Karla" has to say her piece:
"Certain members of my own congregation
prefer the all-white look
when faces turn to the pulpit and
the cross.

"Never mind that Jesus was not
blond, not even
Aryan. And was poor, subsisting on
He erased our sins,
so we can sin again.

"Each of us has a ticket
to hand to St. Peter.
And can forget He said
to give to those who ask, to
love your neighbor."

She turns from my kitchen sink,
squeezes a Mr. Clean Magic
Eraser, and her voice
"Not all white people are like that."

Her children were loved and cared for
in Sunday School.
A Christian organization helped
buy her a car, then
paid for repairs.

She had to learn to drive.
Now she can take jobs beyond
the houses she can walk to.

But her path is spiral
and scrapes across old open
wounds again and
again and over again.

Her ex is up for parole and
asking about the kids.
The man she loves yelled at her in
therapy on Friday.
Her pastor says she might want to
consider walking away from that

Yet she dreams: "I want to
start a housekeeping business,
employ other women."

I tell her I'll be sorry if she's
not the one cleaning for me,
that no one else will be as
thorough and willing, as quick and
efficient and professional.

"Oh no," she says. "I'll watch them. I'll
make them
do it right."

Anonymous Voice

Publishing this with the full enthusiasm of the woman who cleans house for me, I have yet strived to convey her "own voice." The story might never get an audience if I didn't write it.

Yes, my voice is there, too -- that of an older, white, affluent, hetero, privileged matron who sometimes feels marginalized herself for those reasons.

If I offend you, I respectfully request that you ask yourself why.