Resilience of an American Woman

“My ex-husband complained that I smiled a lot, he did not want me to be happy!” cheery Puerto Rican driver quipped almost like Oprah in tone, but with a beautiful Latina accent. The confessional unfolded as I sat enthralled on the passenger seat of her spotless and fresh-smelling car. This was around 8:30 in the morning. We talked non-stop through all 40-minutes of this ride share. Past the upscale, but not gaudy, mansions of lush Kenneth Square in Pennsylvania all the way to the bit rougher, more urban Wilmington, in Delaware, the next State.  We laughed as quickly as we swapped life stories.

I needed to catch a Greyhound bus that would take me on a 7-hour (240 mi) ride from Wilmington to Pittsburgh, back to Pennsylvania, the State where we started this Uber ride.  Needless to say, I felt anxious. But she smiled soon as she recognized me waiting for her under the hotel awning. And out of the four or five cab drivers I’ve had on this trip, only she got out to take my luggage to stow in the trunk.

Soggy and in-between rains, the grey sky played the perfect foil to the previous days’ frenetic activities across four States – a meeting in Dover, more shop talk on the hour ride to Wilmington, a whirlwind visit to spectacular Longwood Gardens, season opening of their fountain show, New York, and New Jersey. You bet I needed an Oprah moment.

She confided without a hint of bitterness, “I decided to leave the relationship, he was abusive in words and… I did not want that no more, and for my boys to see that!”

“(Among Latino men)…the ‘macho’ power is really strong… But it is not real power,” she added. “(I believe that if) you respect me, I respect you, I don’t do anything (bad) to you, (then) you don’t do anything to me!”  She explained.

“I raised my (4) boys to be gentlemen,” she added. “When my eldest started to have sex with his girlfriend, at first I was afraid (that he would not finish school); but then I told them, ‘(just) DON’T CHEAT.’ Don’t hurt anybody. Break it up and let it go, (if your girlfriend were to cheat on you). I was cheated on and abused.”  With that she schooled me on  her take on the golden rule.

“I cried when my son graduated college. My son broke (the) record in school. He was working (at the college) to get a discount, and he was also working two other jobs. Now he owns his business. My second son plays music and spends a lot of time in a church, he wants to be a pastor.”

“My youngest son asked me why I was crying (at his brother’s graduation). ‘Mommy are you happy now?’ he said. Yes, I’m happy! (So he asked), ‘why are you crying and smiling (at the same time)?”

We had a good laugh.

“I’m happy,” she said. “No, not (just having) fun, fun goes away. I’m happy. I’ve been a single mom for 14 years! My life is stable. My life is full. I don’t need a man to tell me, ‘why didn’t you call me back?’

But she admitted that life had not been easy in the beginning.

“I worked at the day care where I took my children (right after the break-up). And when I could work a second job, I did. They told me that I cannot work for more money or I lose my Social Security benefit. So I said, I don’t need social security. I can work. I tell people that they need to get out of Social Security or they will never get out of it (at all). Just don’t be afraid. (Besides) I knew I needed more money, I had to take care of the boys.”

“I fell on my knees and prayed, ‘help me with my boys.’ I do not want to call myself a Christian, or anything, because I don’t want to be a hypocrite, but I pray. And I do what I have to (do) to bring up my boys as good people. My ex-husband complained that I smiled a lot; he did not want me to be happy. So I knew I was NOT going to be like his mother to my own boys, I will never say, ‘you are no good’ to any of my four sons. (You know) I bought all the frames with good sayings, and hang them everywhere in the house, so when they read them, it is as if I was talking to them.”

But she and her ex-husband are on good terms now.

“He is back, but we are not together. He is a father to my kids and since I have to travel for work (now) he gets to take care of his responsibility. It’s a win-win situation. Now he says, ‘I’m happy you are (my children’s) mother. My nephew also says, ‘I wish you were my mother. But (in life) you get what you get and you make the most of it!” she advised.

A light shower fell as we arrived at my destination – the Greyhound bus station. We made her next passenger wait outside while she showed me the pictures of her beautiful sons on her phone.