UNDER WATER

Yes, my hands are in poor shape indeed. Along with the rest of me! Working in the cold and damp on the forest floor. Cutting those shiny green leaves people like to have in their bouquets, called salal. We get paid by the bunch. And then in the fall, trimming evergreen for wreaths. Then we can stand up and work, but the needle trees are so poky! Our hands are scratched to pieces. How they sting when I wash dishes! But what can we do? We try to stay above water, but things keep happening.

We cannot speak the language here, and there are no classes for those of us who cannot read and write. We don’t have a car and we don’t know how to drive, so we have to pay another fellow every day to give us a ride out to the forest. We pay for each passenger, so it costs a lot. Because we all have to work.

I often think about luck and adversity, and how much our choices might make things better or worse. I cannot decide how it all works, how to get to safety. It seems like every time we get close, something else happens. I have constant anxiety. And now these health problems. What will happen to us? I am the one who keeps the family together, and feeds them.

The kids remind me it is not my fault. They are the ones who wanted to come here and give it a try – they are the ones who brought me. But I cannot stop worrying – what else might fall away beneath us and leave us without ground to walk upon? How can we scrape it together, with electricity and water bills, trailer rent, paying a driver, things we never paid at home? And they must be paid!

I have talked to the kids about going home. But they say we don’t have the money to get home. Where do we belong then? We have fallen between the two places and they both have their doors shut and we seem to be trying to climb in through a window but the windows are too high for us. And now my health.

Me and my old man, you know. We will pass away here, far from everything we know. Our children made their choice and want to live here, even though their life seems to be one of constant suffering, slender hope, disappointment, work, and worry. My only hope is for the grandchildren. They will be born here, they will fit in, they will have papers.

If God grants me a long enough life to know them, I wonder what they will think of me. What can they know of our suffering, our struggles, born in this new place? I only hope that when they look upon me, they can see me as a real person, and not look at me like the people in the grocery store do here in town. If I live to see them ashamed of me, then I will have lived too long.