I turned to the window to rest my eyes. Constantina turned from the small desk and lifted her pencil from the paper. When she knew she had my attention she said, “Hermana, once you told me you were going to write a story of my life.”Oh dear, did I tell her that? Many times I had thought of writing about her life. But did I tell her? And how long had she kept that promise in her mind before she dared remind me.Constantina, 59 years old, who began life in a remote village in the
Mountains, was making her first visit to the
United States.She closed her books and I looked at the clock. Five forty-five. Time to take her to school, just one mile away. Within walking distance, surely, for a woman who had been accustomed to walking for hours in the mountains and on the streets of
Lima, Peru. But we live on a hill, and the sandals she used on the flat streets of
Lima don’t do hills very well. She tried it once, but she had to hang on to my arm to keep her balance.
“Write Constantina’s story” flitted between my conscious and sub-conscious mind as I drove back up the hill. “Didn’t I write a story about Constantina once? Maybe as an assignment for that expository writing correspondence course I did in
Lima?” My thoughts took me to the gray metal filing cabinet in the corner of the room, to the several files labeled “Writing”, “Writing Ideas,” “Manuscripts.”
And there it was! Twelve pages, double-spaced, on yellow newsprint, frayed at the edges. The newsprint, my husband Glenn’s provision for backing sheets. The original would have been on thin onion- skin paper to save postage. If it was indeed a lesson for my writing course it should have been returned with a grade. I didn’t find the original, but I had the carbon copy.I started to read as I automatically walked toward my recliner.“Constantina’s twenty-three years, or at least the nine since she’s been in
Lima, are a picture of what it means to try to “rise” into the middle class.”Again I noticed the thickness of the papers in my hands. Twelve pages! And I had only known her two years! What was it that had impressed my so strongly in the two years I had known her. And what could I know about her “rising” then, compared to what I should know now, 36 years later?