The title of this blog post could refer to any of my friends and most of my family. I don't actually know any one-percenters (although, funnily enough -- and I apologize for this indiscretion -- I am related to one or two of them). Frankly, the "takers" in my life by far outweigh the "makers," if you count amongst the takers folks who live paycheck to paycheck, and who are planning to collect (or already are collecting) the social security they've worked hard to earn. Some of them/us even rely on this wonderful state of ours (Massachusetts, I'm talking about you) for help with medical insurance. Maybe even food. I wouldn't be surprised.
Did I mention that every 47-percenter I have ever known, and I've known quite a few, has worked very, very hard, sometimes under unpleasant conditions, to take care of themselves and their loved ones?
But forgive me. this is not a political rant.
On Friday I met an inspiring woman. She broke my heart. I was at the hospital to pick up Benjy. To my utter delight he was ready to be discharged. I was sitting in the day room of the unit, waiting for his case manager to come with some forms for me to sign, and some prescriptions, and in swept a hospital cleaning woman. She was comely and energetic.
She started up a conversation with me. I had some trouble decoding her accented English -- she was clearly Latin American -- but I understood that she was glad the rain had held off. She would have gone shopping that morning if she'd known the forecasts were wrong.
I nodded and smiled, not really knowing what to say. "I know," I said.
There was a little girl, maybe ten years old, who had been admitted the day before, and both the cleaning woman and I kept glancing at her. She was a waif-like child with short, thin hair -- it looked like she'd taken scissors to it -- and sharp features. She'd been wailing fretfully since arriving on the unit, and because she seemed so vulnerable we both, the cleaning woman and I, felt drawn to her.
"I so sad for her," the woman told me, and a shade of grief passed over her face. "All these kids. Is sad. They try so hard, and life is so hard for them."
"I know,' I said again. I wasn't sure she realized my son was one of them. She smiled at me, such a warm smile, and all the while she mopped the floor. "Am I in your way?" I asked her. "Should I lift my feet?"
"No, sweetheart. No worry. You're not in my way."
I watched her in silence. At first she had seemed lively to me. Now I saw, in a certain heaviness of motion, that she was tired.
"How are you?" I asked her shyly.
She told me. How he brother had died of heart disease at the age of forty-four and left a wife and two children. How he'd said, in the hospital, that he was dying, and she'd replied, no you're not, we're taking care of you. How he'd said he was, and that his wife would follow soon after. How she had paid twenty-thousand dollars for his surgery and his hospital bed, because where she comes from there is no medical insurance, and how he was right about his wife. She died four months later, and the cleaning woman took on the job of supporting their children.
She told me how her sister is dying of colon cancer and her mother is old and infirm, and how her brother-in-law was murdered in a hold-up at a corner bodega. She is working to keep all of them afloat, scrubbing toilets and mopping floors. She is tired, and she is kind, and several times she called me sweetheart. She loves the children on that psychiatric ward and she pities their pain.
I thought she was a beautiful woman, radiant in her kindness, in the way she labors, without complaint, for others. She takes responsibility for herself and for her family. For these aching, broken kids she cleans up after.
We talked for about ten minutes and then the case manager arrived and I was swept into papers and instructions and thanks.
I never got to say goodbye to my friend. Floors mopped, she had slipped away. And even in the flush of pleasure at taking my boy out with me for good -- or, for now -- I felt sad.
I wish I could have told her she was beautiful. And good. Even without an evening gown, or a dressage horse, she is a maker. She made a huge impression on me. I wish I knew her name and address; I would send her a poem.