Today I broke up with my housekeeper. It was inevitable. We’ve had our problems in the past, and while I tried to address them with direct communication – pointing out the neglected areas of my home, and gently offering rags to spare the life of my paper towels – things never improved.

After struggling for weeks with the decision to end the relationship, I decide the time has come. When she arrives, before I reconsider or lose my nerve, I leap in.

“Hi, Veronica. How are you?” I say, more manically than intended.

“Fine, miss.” (She refuses to call me by my first name, a subservience that adds to my unease.)

“Uh, today is going to be the last day I have you clean,” I say. “I can’t really afford you.” (Which is true, but for the perfect relationship, I’d make an exception.)

Blank stare and delayed response. “Excuse me, miss. I don’t understand.”

“Today is the last day I will have you clean,” I repeat.

“Sorry? I don’t understand.”

It’s tough enough to blurt out break-up words once, but now I have to say them three times, and my discomfort grows alongside my understanding of why it’s been so difficult to get Veronica to meet my cleaning needs. She doesn’t understand me when I speak, her English appearing stronger than it really is. When she’d greet my requests in the past with a smile and say, ‘Okay,’ she in fact never understood what I was saying.

And this miscommunication reminds me of the night my ex-husband and I decided to get married, the night I nearly spoiled his proposal due to another of many language barriers that has impacted my life.

In facing his expiring tourist visa to the United States from the then Soviet Union, he mentions how maybe it’s time for him to go home. But after six straight months together and two years of a long distance relationship, we understand the significance of his getting on a plane. We understand how that would be the same as ending our relationship, something neither of us wants.

“I can’t even work here,” he explains, acknowledging how his visitor status has made him feel helpless.

“I would do anything to have you stay,” I say.

“Do you want to get married?” he asks.

“Why, do you?” I respond, thinking we’re still in the problem-solving mode.

“What do you mean, ‘why?’” he asks, uncomfortable puzzlement spreading across his face.

And suddenly I’m blushing, aware I’ve massacred what for most couples is the romantic tale they tell their grandchildren. With a little more back and forth, we clarify the conversation, decide to get married, and place a long distance phone call to Siberia to share the news with his mother.

I figure if I remedied that miscommunication, I can clear things up with Veronica.

“I’m sorry. Today is the last day I will have you clean here. I’m not working. It’s expensive for me. I won’t be here when you go. Can you please leave your key on the counter?” my voice rambles, picking up speed, fueled by nerves.

She looks around, finally getting it, and seems a little sad. We barely have any relationship. She hasn’t worked for me long, but I feel guilty as if I blindsided a lover who had no idea my feelings were fading.

I quickly disappear into my bedroom. And I think how I should have known that one of our issues was a language barrier, how when she neglected to use the rags I handed her after seeing her plow through nearly two full rolls of paper towels with each visit, she wasn’t simply defying me and asserting her personal preference. Having never seen the rags again, I had wondered what she had done with them, but I was too timid to ask. I now assume she took them home, thinking they were a tacky gift.

Once it’s over, once I tell Veronica that we’re through, I feel incredible relief. I no longer have to tolerate her half-hearted cleaning and her constant cellphone chatter. I can almost imagine enjoying the added cleaning I must assume. And I think of the monthly saving of $130 as money earned, a chance to be frivolous in other areas of my life.

The thoughts are all a bit crazy, and I sense they come courtesy of the adrenaline rush from ending a relationship before it buried me. And while I see this as progress, a sign of growth that may indicate I’m ready to graduate to a relationship of a more tender and heart-felt kind, I still race from my home to avoid any more contact with Veronica.

And as I do, the woman who didn't understand 'rags' says, "Thank you for the opportunity to work for you." In hearing her flawless English, it was my turn not to understand.


Rachel said...

That sounds like the breakup of a deeply and personal relationship, God it is sometimes so hard to speak what we want to say. Well done you for standing up for yourself

Anonymous said...

Why didn't you try to speak her language? I understand she moved to this country and needs to learn English, but you hired her.
I assume she is less expensive than a housekeeper who speaks English, so you could try to meet her half way with the language barrier.

You can go on Dictionary.com. They have a translator. You type in a phrase in English and pick the language,for example, Spanish :

Limpie con éstos en vez de las toallas de papel. ("Clean with these instead of paper towels.")

kristen said...

I'm terrible with break-ups of any sort and have always been of the mind, that it feels easier to be the dumped one, than the dumpee.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly the reason I never had someone clean my house. I wouldn't know how to end it.

brainhell said...

> I now assume she took them home, thinking they were a tacky gift.

This is very funny, especially because you are part of the joke.

I would have met her, gotten the key, fired her, and given her the day off, with pay. You don't want to annoy the waiter or have someone you fired cleaning your house.

Willie Baronet said...

Such a wonderful story, and I can feel the nervousness you have going on. :-)

Trouble said...

Why didn't you try to speak her language?

Is it now the job of an employer to accomodate the language deficits of an employee?

Emily said...

Loved the ending...you just flipped the whole thing around again. I love how there is so much grey.