About a year ago, my sweet husband (I don’t want to kill him today) told me that since I had gone back to full-time employment and was bringing in a real salary, we could afford to have someone come to our house once a month for heavy cleaning, the chores that just don’t get done as often as they should in a two-income household with school-aged children.
After I was able to stop smiling enough to form words with my mouth, I asked if him if this magical person would also paint our daughter’s solar system project. That was the point where he forbade me to speak to this person, even going so far as to say that he would find and hire the housekeeper lest I scare all of the applicants away with weird requests. I thought it was a perfectly logical request. After all, I’d much rather paint your child’s science project than clean your toilets.
Within a month, my husband had hired a lovely, superhuman woman to do the basic essentials. He really didn’t do that much, other than ask his brother’s wife who cleans their house, then ask for her phone number. When he got the phone number from his sister-in-law, she cautioned us, “If you need to tell her anything, you’ll have to call her daughter. The housekeeper doesn’t speak any English.”
At that point he realized he was going to have to repeal the gag order and let me speak to the housekeeper on the phone, because she speaks Spanish and he doesn’t. It’s really cool that he thinks I speak Spanish. I don’t. But he doesn’t need to know that.
I actually can muddle my way through basic conversations in Spanish, but if you say things into a telephone in any foreign language while making sure not to use that American trait of speaking really loudly when talking to someone in a foreign language, you can fool anybody into thinking you are Berlitz’s long lost daughter.
So imagine my surprise when this angel, who had been coming to work for us for a few months, stuck her head out of the bathroom and asked in a lovely, exotic accent, “Excuse me, madam, where are the paper towels?”
She had been pretending not to speak English, and the only logical reason I could think of for letting people believe you don’t speak their language is because you don’t like them, not even a tiny bit. Therefore, since she speaks to me she must like me. I can’t wait to tell my sister-in-law.
I can only think of one time when I had to pull a horrible fast one on people because I found myself in an equally horrible situation. I had gone to the video store (back in the days of video stores) and was thrilled to see that this store had an entire room devoted to animal documentaries. As a science teacher, I was proud of our little town and it’s progressive video store. Unfortunately, when I began to feel a little queasy from looking at the covers, I stepped back and found that the giant foam letters above the doorway to this section of the store did not spell out, “NATURE,” like I thought they did. The sign said, “MATURE.”
I pretended to be blind for the rest of that store visit as wide-eyed people watched me emerge from that room. I cannot be expected to explain why a blind person is renting a movie, or why she quickly got into a car and drove away without so much as Lassie telling her which way to go.
We all have our coping mechanisms, and whether we use them to remove ourselves from embarrassing situations or pretend that we don’t know our employer wants us to iron the shower curtains, they can prevent ugly arguments and death-inducing humiliation. The eensy-weensy deception is made acceptable by the greater good it can do, since dying of mortification in the porno section of the movie store and having my body removed while still clutching a tattered copy of Debbie Does Everybody She’s Ever Met will bring shame upon the family for generations. And if that happens, I think my housekeeper might talk about me behind my back.