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Someone I'm Proud Of

Maria was introduced to us by a neighbor friend from Brazil. We just moved into our new house in 2005 and wanted to have a cleaning lady.


Maria was a fast and strong worker. She reminded me of my mom’s efficiency. I’ve never liked cleaning, so every week I looked forward to Maria’s arrival as she had some kind of special power to turn the house spotless with her magic broom.


One afternoon six months later after she was hired, I noticed Maria was not her usual high-spirited self. Her curvy five-foot body looked tired like she was carrying something heavy on her shoulders. The broom in her hand was in the same spot repeating the sweep motion, her mind was elsewhere.


“Is everything alright?” I asked, propping my elbows on the kitchen counter, looking for the familiar smile.


She looked up, eyes red. She shook her head. The broom stopped.


“What’s wrong?” I moved closer.


“My husband is cheating on me.”


“Oh no,” I gasped, reaching for her arms. “I am so sorry.”


“My girlfriend saw them at the mall.” She burst into tears. “He admitted it.”


I was speechless, the air stopped flowing. I handed her a tissue. What could I say to make it better? Finally, “What are you going to do?”


“I don’t know.”


I asked myself the same question, What would I do if I were her?


Coming from Brazil, led by her husband of 20 years, she only spoke a few English words. Our initial communication largely leaned on the aid of body language. Her son was only three, her daughter was 15. She didn’t know how to drive and didn't have a car. She worked in the housekeeping department at a hotel for a few months to learn how to clean houses on her own. I was her second customer.


“I asked him to move out.” She told me a week later. “And he did.”


I introduced her to more friends and everyone loved her work ethic. She has been there for both my pregnancies. She has the same birthday as Norden’s which brought us even closer. I comforted her when her brother passed away, then her dad.


The first five minutes usually is a check-in, “Everything ok? Is there anything you need?” I always inquire.


“I like my job. All the houses I clean treat me like friends,” she once told me.


Neither one of us has our sisters in America. Looking back, she was my first taste of sisterhood where I could be myself.


When the kids were young and my parents moved back to China, she increased her time to two days a week to help me. Serena and Norden’s outgrown clothes went to her nephews and nieces in Brazil. My old business suits to her sister who worked at a bank.


One morning a few years later, she showed me a picture of her, smiling in a gorgeous long black gown embroidered with golden flowers.


“Wow, you look stunning!” I could hardly recognize her. So proud. “Who is this handsome man?” A tall dark-haired man had his hand on her waist, beaming with a smile.


“My boyfriend.” Maria said, “The Brazilian magazine sent me to interview judges for this beauty Gala. We met there.”


Oh, That is right, she did tell me that she’s a writer in Brazil and continued to write for a magazine here while cleaning houses.


Is this a Cinderella story?


“No, I don’t want to get married again. I am happy this way.”


Fast forward to 2021, her daughter is a registered nurse in FL hospital, son studying aviation in college.


At the end of our long RV trip last month, I called her: “Maria, Happy Birthday! We will be back next week. Can’t wait to see you.”


“Thank you. I don’t clean houses anymore. I opened a cleaning company. Don’t worry, I will continue to clean your house.”


“What! A company? Wow, Congratulations!!!” I screamed with excitement.


“And I am a student now. Community College, I go two hours a day to study English.”


“Wow, I am so, so proud of you!!!”


“Thank you.” I can feel her radiant smile through the 2,000 miles of the phone line. She added, “At 59, I am proud of myself too.”

Love,

WeiLi


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