№23 The Things She Carries in Her Giant Purse
My wife, Vicky, is an immigrant. When we met eleven years ago, she had already been living in the United States 13 years. I thought she spoke perfect English, but when dessert came she said, “Let’s dive onto this pie.”
She told me she’s from Venezuela. I’m from Miami and knew nothing about Venezuela. I said, “South America, right?”
She said, “That’s good. I’ve dated Gringas who think it’s near Greece.”
She carried a giant, red, faux-leather purse. I’ve learned over the years that she doesn’t believe in spending a lot of money when she can get something just as good at Target. In 1987, Vicky’s first job paid 2,000 Bolívares a month, which was a descent salary for a law clerk in Venezuela. Today she couldn’t buy an arepa with 2,000 Bolívares. Vicky carries the fear of running out of money.
She told me this morning, inflation in Venezuela is up 54,000%; public transportation has stopped; elections are rigged; gas is restricted; supermarkets are empty; people are starving.
She’s watched her country (and her family) lose everything. When Vicky was 14, her dad, who we now call Abuelo, decided to leave petroleum engineering to start his own business, which explained why they stopped going to Switzerland on family vacations. Why her parents split, and why her dad moved to the community development, Parque Central, is still a mystery. Vicky carries a legacy of secrets.
In 1969, Parque Central was the jewel of Caracas — a model for modern living — a mix of commercial and residential with green spaces and towering buildings, the highest in Latin America. In 1995, Parque Central had already lost its flair when Abuelo moved there.
Vicky took me to her dad’s place on my first visit to Venezuela, just months into our relationship. She didn’t want to. She was afraid something would change between us. I knew we were solid, but Vicky carries insecurity.
Abuelo picked us up at the airport in his 1976 Ford Fairlane station wagon. The hubcaps and the rearview mirror had fallen off. One time, Abuelo lost his brakes and caused a four-car pile-up. The people in the cars in front of him didn’t even stop to assess the damages. They took one look at his car and sped away.
Vicky carries her body awkwardly. When we sat at the café at Books & Books on that first date, she slouched over her menu. When we went to Suzy Wieselberg’s wedding, I wanted to dance, but Vicky said she didn’t want to be a spectacle. Then, who knows why — maybe the Celia Cruz inspired her — she took my hand and led me onto the dance floor. Vicky’s a little taller than I am, but when we dance she carries herself much, much taller.
Vicky carries old-fashioned notions about how women should behave in public and won’t go out with wet hair. She carries homophobia. She says gay pride does not exist in her country. When I kiss her at Demetrio in Coral Gables, where we sometimes meet for lunch, she keeps her eyes open and looks past me.
She carries her glasses when she wears her contacts. She doesn’t always keep her glasses in a case and the anti-reflective coating is scratched and affects her vision. She carries annoyance about that because she already replaced the lenses once.
She carries ambition. In 1994, when Vicky was 26, she got a loan from the Venezuelan government to study financial management at New York University. She didn’t realize how crappy her English was until she couldn’t understand the lectures. At that time, she carried a notebook and a Spanish-English dictionary.
After grad school, she spent a year sending out resumes. She slept on a mattress on the floor in a West Village rental she shared with five people. She learned the term “early bird” because those were the only meals she could afford. Two weeks before her Visa ran out, she got her first job at Prudential Securities. Her title was Broker Junior, but her tasks included making coffee and buying flowers for her boss’s paramours. When he asked her to retype his resume, she learned that her experience outweighed his. She retyped her own resume, and called herself “Broker.” Two days later, thirteen messages blinked on her answering machine.
Vicky carries spreadsheets. When we met, I had already had a baby on my own using donated sperm. I also had eight sperm vials in storage at the California Cryobank. Vicky wanted to have a baby. I suggested she use my sperm. Months later, Vicky put her giant purse on my kitchen table, pulled out an Excel spreadsheet, and showed me how she’d run my donor through her point system. She had ten criteria with varying values: two points for health, two for intelligence, and one for everything else including good looks, athletic ability, and Jewish.
For ten months after our son was born, Vicky carried a breast pump and a little cooler with an ice pack for her milk. She used the pump in the car while driving to work and again on the way home, even though she was terrified she’d be pulled over by a cop.
She carries an iPhone with pictures of our kids, but she doesn’t pull it out to show people the way I do.
Vicky carries her dad’s intelligence, her mom’s serenity.
She carries sadness since her mom died.
She carries a flaring temper, which she got from her dad. It comes out rarely but strong. Around the last election, it came out on Facebook, aimed at our Cuban-American neighbors. “Si Trump fuera presidente cuando escapabas en tu balsa,” If Trump were president when you were escaping on your raft, “te hubieses FUCKING hundido!” you would have fucking drowned.
She carries a genuine leather planner because she knows the importance of looking moneyed in front of clients whose bank accounts she manages. Inside, she writes her clients’ names and their goals. Do they want to retire in 10 years? Do they have children to send to college? Parents to care for? Do they want to donate their life savings to charity? She maps out their lives this way. A few years ago, she mapped out ours.
Vicky carries the hopes and dreams of 300 clients.
She carries lots of receipts. She carries Tic Tacs for the kids and a roll of Tums for herself.
She carries an extra twenty pounds, maybe forty, which she says happens to everyone who comes here from Latin America — Texas-sized portions, Dunkin Donuts on every corner, hundreds of cheese choices in the supermarket. She carries mixed feelings because she loves the food but hates the weight.
Vicky carries the keys to her Tesla.
She always carries a lot of good intentions. She wants to bake key-lime pie with key limes from our garden; she wants to build a puppet theater with the kids; she wants to help my mom clean out her garage; she wants to go to the gym.
She carries a broken rosary, which I’m sure she means to fix.
She carries Bon Appétit Magazine, The New Yorker, Barons, and sometimes The New York Times if she didn’t finish reading it on Sunday. Nothing relaxes her more than reading. She carries anxiety about getting through her pleasure reading.
She carries nail clippers and an emery board. She has zero tolerance for craggy finger or toe nails, and comes after the kids and me with her nail clippers.
She carries an orange plastic folder with information about the lesbian mentorship program she volunteers for, an ad for Lion Country Safari, and a condolence card from my best friend. There’s also a printout of her monthly to-do list. November has 33 items. She carries a list of the places she wants to go: 2022, Lourdes, France, where an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared; 2023, Mexico City, where another apparition appeared. Venezuela isn’t listed until 2030. She carries some hope that by then things will be better in Venezuela.
She carries three manila folders labeled Family Bills, Personal Bills, and Andrea Bills. She carries a Groupon for the Turkish baths, which expires in December and a 10% off coupon for DSW Shoes. She carries a weighty pen and a crick in her neck.
Most days she carries Greek yogurt and a water bottle. Sometimes she forgets her water bottle. She carries too many details in her mind.
She carries three packets of Splenda, a few of her business cards, and a big stack of mine, which she gives out at parties. She says it’s more fun to talk about my work than hers. She carries her wallet. Inside she has $62, her insurance card, driver’s license, AAA card, a frequent buyer card to Pasión Café, and a heavy pile of change. She carries three credit cards, including one for our joint account. I’d never had a joint account before Vicky. When we’re out to dinner and the check comes, she takes care of it.
She carries a laminated picture of Dr. José Gregorio, the doctor who’s slated to become a saint, in case anyone she knows gets hurt or sick and she needs to focus on the doctor and pray. She carries a laminated picture of the Virgin Mary. She carries her voter registration card. Now after 16 years, first on a student Visa then an H-1B, she carries a sense of duty, which she exercised in her very first American presidential election, leaving her heartbroken twice over.
She’s come to the United States, but she carries the burdens of the 30.4 million still in her country.
Vicky carries so many contradictions. She can’t abide political inconsistencies, yet she carries a fake leather purse and a genuine leather planner; a conventional job and an alternative lifestyle; pride and shame for herself and her country, both the old and the new.
When we go out together, she carries my cell phone. I carry nothing.
This is №23 of my #weeklyessaychallenge. #Jointhechallenge. This story is a character study of an American immigrant. I’m posting it on Nov. 6, 2018, the day of midterm elections. So many people misunderstand who American immigrants are. Before I met Vicky, I misunderstood too.