Carmen

When I was very young, maybe three or four, and playing with the bigger kids in a neighbor’s pool one hot New Jersey summer afternoon, the plastic tube around my waist that kept me afloat in the deep end flipped over in all the ruckus, and I couldn’t right myself no matter how I tried. I remember thinking, for one brief moment: That’s it, I’m done for.

Fortunately for me, my big brother, who was charged with my care, was one of those big kids, and he came to my rescue before I swallowed too much water. Did he save me out of love? Or out of fear that our father would have killed him if I’d drowned? I’ll never know. All I know is that throughout my life, whenever I’ve needed real help in a moment of need, someone has shown up, just in time.

Take, for instance, these past two weeks, as I’ve been preparing to move from my “penthouse” in el centro into a new studio apartment only about a mile away, here in San Miguel de Allende. (See last week’s post, “Another Lily Pad,” for the backstory.) It’s not that I felt I was literally drowning. It’s just that with all the stress and sleep deprivation (thinking, planning, thinking, planning through the long nights), I was losing my equilibrium.

Then along came Carmen, as if dropped from the sky.

Carmen had been recently hired to do housekeeping and garden chores at the apartment complex I was packing to leave. Except for one other, reclusive, person, all the other residents had already left. So it was essentially just Carmen and me.

She brought me much-needed supplies of cardboard boxes. I gave her things I didn’t need: a down jacket that never fit me right but fits her perfectly, dry goods and canned goods that would be too much for me to carry, some ceramics I would have no place for at the new place, and much more. She baked a little cake for me for Mother’s Day (el dia de las madres) to thank me. And this went on for days – I would give her something of mine, and she would thank me with a big smile, kind words, and a cutting from her garden to plant when I got to my new departamento.

We talked to each other in Spanish. For the first time in the more than four years I’ve been here, I was having real back-and-forth conversations with a Mexican person! Carmen spoke to me slowly enough so that I was able to grasp most of what she was saying; and when I groped for words (and filled in the blanks with hand gestures), she somehow seemed to understand me.

Little by little we learned more about each other. I showed her framed photos of my family, and she showed me hers on her phone. She has two tall-and-handsome sons, in their early twenties, who are both restaurant workers but who have been out of work for the past two months due to the coronavirus shut-downs. She is the sole breadwinner now. She works as a diligent and capable housekeeper all day six days a week and bakes fancy cakes to order in her free time.

The morning of my move – this past Friday – Carmen helped me carry my boxes and bins down the stairs, across the courtyard, and up other stairs to the parking lot, where a friend would arrive at ten with his small truck. Carmen is only about 5 feet tall and weighs not much more than 100 pounds, but she carried boxes on her shoulder that were much too heavy for me to lift. She made it look easy.

“ Mexicanos son muy, muy fuertes! (Mexicans are very, very strong!),” I said.

She told me: We have to be.

As Carmen and I waited for my friend, who was late arriving with his truck, we talked about men. I learned that her husband left for the States twenty-four years ago, when she was pregnant with their second child, and he never returned. She has raised her sons on her own. I told her I’ve been divorced from my daughter’s father for fifty-four years. Carmen and I agreed that we actually prefer to be sola because we’re freer to make our own decisions.

The truck finally arrived, and my friend took this photo of Carmen and me, breaking the social-distancing rules:

Carmen promised she would visit me at my new departamento soon, and I promised her I’d plant all of her cuttings in the rooftop garden here. I can’t wait to show her how beautiful it is and to tell her again how much I appreciate her being there for me in my time of need.

The terrace garden at my new lily pad

 

38 thoughts on “Carmen”

  1. Lovely story, Bonnie. Congratulations and best wishes for a happy life in your new home – stay well ❤️ Jan

  2. Bonnie….that is a very moving account of a friendship that started with a cry for help and a kind response from a stranger that grew into so much more. The Mexican heart is so embracing – how lucky you are to have made such a friend. Many blessings in you new home and a hope that you find many more friends like Carmen.

  3. Bonnie, your new place looks beautiful! And I’m sure Carmen will be happy to see her plant material thriving! so glad she was there for you, and you for her! Marge

  4. Bonnie,
    One door opens…but how lovely that you understand that your door-man isn’t always who you’d expect!
    Best of luck in the new home….

  5. Lovely story. I’m glad you found a place with such a lovely outdoor space. I’m happy here in California with my sister but miss SM, my friends and the wonderful Mexican people.
    Take care
    Kate

  6. The Universe always sends us what we need and not necessarily what we want, like a winning lottery ticket. Her appearance when you needed her most is a sign your Energy is in the right place. Congratulations! Looking forward to seeing it when we get to the new normal.

  7. Wishing you much joy in your new casa! I kept honking as I read your story …Bloom where you are planted…maybe plant where you are planted and YOU’LL BLOOM!

    1. I love that, Shari — “Plant where you are planted and you’ll bloom!” I’m going to copy it into my journal right away. Thank you for your good wishes.

  8. I loved your tale of your friend and moving. Isn’t it a wonderful experience to be able to carry on a conversation in Spanish? I too believe the right person shows up just at the right time. Hope you enjoy your new place.

  9. Dear Bon,
    What a beautiful reminder that we all must depend on each other, and how we are all connected.
    Love,
    Paul

  10. Dear Bonnie,

    I agree with your long list of appreciators for telling the story of Carmen and you. I “second their emotions.” It seems that Mexico retains more of the capacity for warmth and one-to-one connections than many countries. I’m so glad you had this experience of mutual giving, and I hope your new place blooms with friendship as well!

  11. I LOVE THIS! I Love you, I love Carmen. What a gift you are to the world for so many reasons, not the least of which is your fine-tuned skill of stepping into grace and seeing the beauty.

  12. Ever since I visited San Miguel last year I have been following your blog. I found you when looking for quilters in the area and your name popped up. We are about the same age and I had just written a book about my nature preserve in the Ozarks and the paintings I had done to illustrate my love of nature. My career was as an art therapist. I loved your adopted city and felt a strong kinship with your observations. I want to thank you for your enjoyable thoughts and pictures. JoEl

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