Marta is the cleaning lady of the woman who owns the house where I live. Every other Wednesday she arrives around and stays until around 8, thereby, if I'm home, triggering a whole range of class-consciousness/economic/spiritual neuroses.
I myself have never—oh my God, NEVER—had a cleaning lady in my life. The whole time Marta's here I feel I should be asking if I can pitch in. She doesn’t clean my little wing (bedroom and bathroom), thank heaven, as that would drive me completely over the edge. My housemate once remarked, "I'm sure Marta'd be happy to clean your space if you want to throw her an extra 25 bucks." “Oh, that’s okay,” I replied. I didn’t bother to say that I can’t afford twenty-five bucks and if I could, I’d give it to her. I wouldn’t make her clean my bathroom.
There's nothing like making very little money but living in relative splendor to set up a kind of nagging cognitive dissonance. There’s nothing like trying to write while Marta’s here to make me feel like a hypocrite and a poseur. I’m sitting in my bedroom with the fan on, a glass of iced tea, and a basket of fresh figs writing about the Crucifixion while Marta’s out in the blazing sun emptying the mop bucket.
There’s also nothing like being in the presence of a ditchdigger or a cleaning lady or a bricklayer (as my father was) to make me feel that my whole life is a disloyalty to my blue-collar roots. My mother never—again, oh my God, NEVER—had a cleaning lady (and that was with eight kids).
So even though Marta's younger than me, she triggers all the unresolved guilt and sorrow and pride I have for my own mother, for my paternal grandparents who came over from Ireland, for my father who worked so hard, for the fact that I escaped the blue-collar life for the writing life. There's a whole world between the people who clean houses and the people who hire others to clean their houses, and that world--that gap--is where I live.
There’s also the fact that having someone putter around the house for eight hours at a stretch makes me crazy. So while my for-the-oppressed-masses heart feels protective of and sympathetic toward Marta, the whole time she’s here I also wish she’d hurry up and leave.
Marta and I have somewhat (only somewhat because of the language barrier) bonded. We know the health problems of each other’s mothers (hers is in El Salvador). We both think it’s completely beneficial (and sane) to talk to plants. We've established that we're both Católico. When I make my afternoon coffee, I always make extra for her her and remind her where the coffee and filters are and to make some for herself any time.
Meanwhile Marta goes about her business--vacuuming, laundering, scrubbing--and makes everything shine. My liberal guilt has been part way assuaged since the day I happened to see her check and realized that when you even it out over the twenty years I've been writing, she makes more per hour than me. So in the end, I just have to realize I’m grateful to live in a clean house, I’m glad Marta gets to make some money, I’m glad my roommate sees fit to put up with me. As always, let everyone else tend their garden and I’ll tend mine.
“Marta!” I beamed.