Wednesday, May 6, 2009

MY SISTER DORO



She's been in my life more than thirty years!

Doro's black; her hair, features, build, everything about her says African American, or Negro, or ethic, whatever you call it out loud, or in your mind.

I'm white; hair, features, build, everything about me says white Caucasian.

Black Doro goes to church, prays, reads her bible, sings in the church choir whenever she has time off from working as a maid. And white Em ... well, I haven't been in any place for religion, prayer, and bible studies since I was a very young girl.

Over the years Doro has cared for my house, my home, me and my two J's, JC and JD. Our food, our laundry, our untidy drawers, our closets, toilets, tubs, and offices. Now she's working in Connecticut as a housekeeper for a wealthy family, friends of ours, the K's, who helped us produce one of my plays. Every few months -- if I say "I need you," Doro comes and puts my house in shape.

Former employer --former employee --that's the name of the relationship. But Doro always says no to money we've offered when she has troubles -- when her apartment caught fire and much of furniture was burned, she wouldn't take money she hadn't earned. Also when her son was killed and she couldn't work. All I could do, and can do now, is help her mourn -- remember the date (it was Yom Kippur), and ask about him every Christmas when she misses him the most.

I call her to get the latest news about her family -- try to counsel her, comfort her -- her kids are struggling, not well educated, not well-employed, living on the edge of poverty in the segregated, unsegregated world of NYC's Harlem.

We talk a lot about ageing. I'm Mrs. Em, the Doctor, actually a good one when it comes to body aches -- her housemaid's knees, worn feet, the various medications she wants to take but shouldn't take, being a diabetic who's had an ulcer. Right now it's her right arm and hand. She's having a terrible time lifting things, even washing dishes for the K family gives her pain.

Yesterday ,Doro said, "I've got artheritis."

"Stop," I said, "You're pronouncing that wrong! You sound like poah black lady," I murmur in my best imitation southern accent, teasing. (Not avoiding the contrasts between us -- that's my sense of humor, working its barrier- breaking magic.)

Say " Arth! Arth! Say it with me! It's Arth ri tis." We practice saying it together,

Then, over the phone, I teach her what I had to learn when I was partially paralyzed -- how to make another muscle do the work of the muscles that can't handle the lifting job. I get Doro to feel with her hand, under the shoulder blade of her right side. Then, pretending that the thumb is pressing there, press on that spot, keep feeling that spot, and raise her right arm ...

It hurts, But now she can raise her arm. "Do it again," I say. And get her to promise to phone me, and let me know if it helps her tomorrow at the K's.

And that's what we'll do during the week, have phone consultations so she can keep on working. I keep track of all her aches and pains, know her history like I know my own. We've been growing up, growing old, and older together. It helps me, and it helps her.

Saying goodbye," talk to you tomorrow," as usual we joke about being sisters, and laugh, because we sure don't look like it, but we really are.

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