Flipping through photos on her phone, I came across a video of Juan and her daughter, hugging and smiling, with tears in their eyes. I cried too. It was a classic father-daughter pic.
She cleaned the last mantel piece, placed it back with care, and came and stood by my side. With a quivering voice she said, “Juan will not be able to go for the wedding. It was emotional for him to see her in a wedding dress at the shop.”
I looked at her with teary eyes, and we both sniffed at our fates. I told her, “My father did not come to my wedding too. But I know he was with me in spirit. I am sure Joanne will understand.”
Juan is an illegal immigrant. He cannot go back to his country. If he does, he won’t be able to come back to the US. US is home for him now. He lives here with his girl friend, who happens to be a decade older than him. She is Joanne’s mother, and my friend, and cleaning lady, Teresa.
Juan is not Joanne’s father.
We went back to flipping through photos of the dresses she had picked for the wedding.
I have known her for nine years. Agam found her for me while he was flipping through Mercury News, hearing me complain about the time I spend in cleaning the house every weekend.
Her daughter is her reason to be. After an abusive first marriage, her daughter had to re-build her life from scratch. In these nine years, Joanne, completed her education, secured a good job and raised a nine year old daughter. While her mother cleaned houses and nannied kids in America, and made enough money for the three of them.
Teresa is not just another cleaning lady. She earned her post graduate diploma in Economics from the University of Mexico and was working in a government job, when she fell in love with Joanne’s father. They married in a hurry, and Joanne was born. The marriage soon fell apart, and Teresa raised Joanne all by herself. Money was never enough. So as soon as Joanne became a teenager, Teresa left Mexico and came to the US. She pays her taxes, and lives a respectable life.
Teresa raised her daughter to be a confident young woman, with the help of her parents and extended family, and the funds that she could send back home. But the absence of her mother was not easy on Joanne.
One fine day she decided to marry a college friend and have a kid with him. He left her soon enough, and Joanne was dealt the same cards as her mother. Teresa did not let Joanne give up. She had to finish school and get a job. And Joanne did just that.
Joanne and her daughter visited Teresa and Juan often, and the three of them went to Disneyland every year. They even came for Tara’s first birthday. I had the pleasure of meeting them a couple of times on that trip.
Soon, cupid struck, and Joanne fell in love again. I recall Teresa telling me about Joanne’s boyfriend, David. He is deaf and mute. I was concerned. She told me, “No, Shivi. It’s ok. If that is what Joanne wants. It is not easy, but she can do it. I am so happy she found someone. He really loves her”
David and Joanne are getting married in April. Teresa has planned the wedding just like Joanne had asked for. She is leaving in a few weeks to be there in-person for all the preparations. Juan will join them in spirit.
So much happened in last nine years and yet many things stay the same. Every time Teresa comes over, we drink a cup of masala chai and gossip about Agam’s and Juan’s absentminded-ness, Bay area housing crisis and and lately, about Donald Trump.
When I count my blessings, Teresa and Juan are part of them. We are family.