My Mother’s Hot Pink Pants
(LIGHTS UP AND A YOUNG WOMAN IS REVEALED AT HER VANITY TABLE. SHE IS WRAPPED IN A BATHROBE WITH HER HAIR IN A TOWEL. SHE IS PREPPING FOR A NIGHT OUT.)
My mom is five foot two, with beautiful wavy hair that she straightens and has been dyeing a rusty red for the past several years. She combs her hair and sculpts it into place in that now familiar coif. She grabs the Aqua Net, holds it at arms length, pushes the button down and sprays a stream of Extra Super Hold. An all day, all over hold, a constant stream of Aqua Net to make her hair stay in place. So that nothing moves. So that nothing is out of place and so that the shame doesn’t peek through, and reveal itself to anyone. She’s 53 years old and carries a lot of shame in her small frame.
Watching my mom get ready is an old tradition, one that started in Mexico where we lived for about five years before immigrating to the U.S. I was six or seven years old at the time and I would throw temper tantrums because my mom worked at night. Why couldn’t she go to sleep with me I wondered? Why does she leave me? Why does she wear shiny things to work? The other Moms in the neighborhood where we lived didn’t do that. Why is my Mom different?
Each night, in spite of my resentment, I watched her ritual intently from a corner of the small room we shared. The small cassette player on her nightstand played Jose Jose ballads. She sat in front of the mirror with her wet hair in a towel and another wrapped around her body. She moisturized her face as she hummed the lyrics to the love songs. She arched each eyebrow as she applied glittery sky blue and pink eye shadow on her eyelids. She picked up her eyeliner and looked at me through the reflection in the mirror.
(THE YOUNG WOMAN MIMICS A CONVERSATION SHE HAD WITH HER MOTHER. SHE PLAYS BOTH ROLES INTERCHANGEABLY.)
DAUGHTER: You always leave me.
MOM: Tengo que trabajar.
DAUGHTER: No you don’t.
MOM: Esta es tu parte favorita.
DAUGHTER: Can I do it?
MOM: No que estabas enojada?
DAUGHTER: I am mad but I still want to do it.
MOM: Okay, pero no me metas el lapiz en el ojo.
(THE YOUNG WOMAN APPLIES HER OWN MAKEUP AS SHE SPEAKS.)
I took the eyeliner from her hands and went to work on drawing the perfect line on both of her eyelids. She handed me the mascara and I gently brushed her long lashes with it. I curled them to perfection. I had watched her so many times that I knew what came next. I picked up the big puffy brush and dipped it into the pink powder and applied it to her cheekbones. She never let me apply her lipstick. She said it was something she needed to do herself to feel pretty. But I didn’t go back to my corner of the room. I stood there as she pushed the stick of red color unto her lips and covered them with it. She puckered and she smiled and applied a little more and then she was done.
Next, she slipped her legs into the hot pink pants she had laid out earlier. She frees her wavy hair from the towel. She puts on her top and my jaw drops. The sequins on her tube top shines a disco ball spotlight on her face. Her make-up flawless, her smile is mischievous. She poses in front of the mirror.
(THE YOUNG WOMAN CONTINUES THE MOTHER/DAUGHTER DIALOGUE.)
MOM: Como me veo?
MOM: Gracias, hijita.
DAUGHTER: Where do you work?
MOM: Ay, mi pelo! Se me hace tarde!
(THE YOUNG WOMAN APPLIES PERFUME TO HER WRISTS.)
Why don’t you take me to your job? I want to work too.
MOM: No, mijita, no dejan entrar niñas en mi trabajo.
DAUGHTER: Why not? Why can’t I go to work with you?
MOM: Porque estas muy chiqhita. Ahora, a la cama que se me hace tarde.
DAUGHTER: You always leave me alone.
MOM: Estare contigo cuando despiertes.
(THE YOUNG WOMAN TURNS BACK TO THE AUDIENCE. JOSE JOSE BALLADS CONTINUE TO PLAY SOFTLY.)
She never did tell me where she worked.
“Me da pena,” she tells me now every time I pry for information and I can see the shame in her eyes. It makes her shoulders droop and she sheds many bitter tears. She’s embarrassed about the things she had to do to take care of me.
A few years ago I learned the word “fichera.” I’ve asked my Mom what it means and I can tell my question brings back memories but she tells me she doesn’t know.
My Mom worked as a fichera. She was hired by a bar to use to flirt with the patrons. While my Mom flirted, the men bought more and more drinks and this helped the bar make a profit. She danced with the men all night and returned home to me in the wee hours of the morning.
She took on this job out of necessity. The money she earned in one night as a fichera was equivalent to what she would earn working a week as a maid in one of mansions that lined the private colonias in Mexico.
My mother keeps this and many other stories locked up tight. She may not like me telling you about it right now. I can only hope that she understands how much I honor the sacrifices she made when I was a little girl. I’ll always remember the hot pink pants she wore that night so many years ago and hope I look half as good in them as she did.
(THE YOUNG WOMAN SHEDS HER BATHROBE AND REVEALS HOT PINK PANTS AND SEQUINED TOP. SHE CHECKS HERSELF OUT IN THE MIRROR, GRABS HER CLUTCH AND WALKS OUT THE DOOR.)