An Unexpected Friend

Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence. Day in, day out; week after week; year after year. She clocks-in and proceeds to a colorful room full of crying babies and children who have long overstayed their welcome. This controlled-chaos environment, however, doesn’t even faze her. She has become accustomed to her double-life as tireless employee and devoted mother. As her shift continues and the room begins to clear out, she makes hourly phone calls home. “Estas bien?” she asks, concerned-mother evident in her tone. After a consistent response of “Si mama, te amo,” she is able to return again to her second priority. I will never forget my first day on the job. I was unsure and frightened, second-guessing myself and wanting more than anything to turn around and walk right back out the child-sized rainbow door that probably should have read, “Welcome to Bailey’s First Job: Disaster.” I stopped myself. I considered the extensive interview process I had already endured, the mountain of application paperwork, and the commitment I had made. This was an opportunity I had no choice but to face. As I entered the fluorescent lit room that smelled distinctly of diapers and Play-Doh, all eyes were on me. I certainly hope my facial expression wasn’t too transparent, but I was utterly shocked. When I had signed up to work at the Kid’s Club, I expected to be surrounded by employees my age, from a similar background. I could not have been more mistaken. Every woman in the room turned to greet me, and every woman in the room was from a different Central or South American country. I found myself significantly outnumbered; not only was I a non-native Spanish speaker, but I was also clearly the youngest employee. It was easy to tell from their faces, and their quick and unfamiliar chatter, that they were equally as surprised and probably just as uncomfortable. As the time I spent at Kid’s Club increased, so too did my sense of isolation. I was working evenings to accommodate my school schedule, and as it turned out, this was a time when few children were being dropped off. I often found myself with just one other employee in the room. While many employees would be thrilled at the prospect of quiet evenings at work, I found myself begging parents to drop their children off in order to ease the silence that fell after the last lingering child left. One night, however, the silence was broken. We had just begun our routine clean up of the club, when Maria unexpectedly turned off the vacuum cleaner and began to speak to me in broken English. “I hope like work aqui,” she said timidly. “We like to have you.” It took everything in me not to run over and tackle her in a hug. Our conversations up to this point had been awkwardly forced; we were basically strangers. The rest of the evening was spent laughingly learning to understand one another. I used some of the Spanish I knew, and Maria did her best to portray the incredible journey of her life in halting English. The effort this took on her part, the way she determinedly struggled in an unfamiliar language to tell her story, was the first thing that struck me about Maria. I started actually looking forward to my shifts. After fulfilling our duties in the Kid’s Club, Maria and I would settle into child-sized chairs, excited to discover more about one another. She told terrifying stories about the nightmare of crossing the border, gave hard-won opinions of America, and shared countless anecdotes about her two teenage children. Her face would light up and her timid demeanor would turn passionate as she described the hardships she and her husband had endured in order to create a better life for their children. At the same time, she was eager to understand my typical American teenage life. When I pulled out my schoolwork, she loved to analyze and study it alongside me. My Spanish knowledge, which I had thought to be adequate, grew dramatically in the evenings I spent with Maria, simply by listening to her speak. The company’s staffing situation began to require more and more hours from me each week, and it became clear that maintaining this job while balancing schoolwork and extracurricular activities was taking a toll. Although I desperately wanted to stay, I soon had no choice but to give up my job.I put it off until the last minute to tell Maria, because I knew the formal goodbye would be hard on both of us. Being the supportive friend that she is, Maria wasn’t upset or even surprised, really. It was as if she knew, and she simply smiled and gave me a motherly embrace, making me promise to keep her updated on the remainder of my high school career. While our relationship has certainly suffered from the lack of time we spend together, I know that neither of us will ever forget the six months that we fortunately did share.I had never expected that my steps through that child-sized rainbow door would lead to such a welcome path of acceptance, and a true understanding of determination. Maria became an uncommon and unexpected friend, and sometimes those are the best kind.

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