Nobody asks about the circles under Rosa’s eyes, and no one will. Her bosses think she disappears the second she leaves their home.
At 8 o’clock on a Monday morning in June, Rosa Coronado arrives for work at a two-story mansion in Beverly Hills. All over L.A., it’s the hour of exchange, when those who inhabit middle- and upper-class homes turn them over — along with the children they shelter — to those who make them run. Steady streams of luxury cars with white drivers race down the canyon roads as brown men in battered trucks full of mowers and rakes drive up. Dark-skinned women, most trudging uphill on foot from boulevard bus stops, knock on doors. Rosa’s luckier than most; seven years ago, when her son, Miguel, was born, she bought a car. She’s 29 now, short and slender, but with strong bones and curves. Her skin’s the color of lightly creamed coffee, her thick black hair cut to shoulder length, then washed with a red tint and waved. Her features are strong: heavy black brows, full mouth. When she’s dressed and made up to go out, men stare. In the typical daily domestic-worker uniform of loose jeans and T-shirt, she disappears, just one among the thousands.
She rings the security buzzer on the gate at the foot of a long driveway. When it unlocks, she heads in and through the main house’s back door. As soon as she drops her purse in the laundry room, she hears the call from an upstairs bedroom. “Rosa!” She knocks, enters. The room is immense — canopied bed, sitting area, two attached bathrooms and closets as big as her own apartment. “Please give Samara breakfast.” Rosa takes the 3-year-old girl from her pretty, stick-thin mother, the young wife of a spectacularly successful businessman in his mid-60s. In her 10 years as a nanny, this is the richest family to employ her — eight-bedroom, nine-bath house, two gardeners, three housekeepers, two secretaries, and two babysitters, one for each child.
“Qué quieres comer?” she asks Samara gently. As in several homes, she’s been told to talk to the girl only in Spanish — child care and language lessons, all for the same hourly wage. Huevos. In an enormous kitchen, she prepares an egg-white omelet, fruit and dry toast for the little girl — the mother is very concerned she not get fat — and makes sure she eats every bite, since no other food will be permitted until lunch. She brushes the child’s teeth, cleans her bottom, dresses her in a cotton shirt and pants. The clothes are simple, but fashionable and well-cut. Eighty dollars for the top, $150 for the slacks; she’s seen the price tags. Over the years, Rosa has learned not to dwell on the financial disparity between herself and her bosses, but today it’s harder, with the situation involving her half-brother, Eduardo, in the back of her mind.
The day grinds on: hours of playing in the house and yard, reading children’s books in Spanish, watching educational videos, preparing a healthy, low-fat lunch of fish and vegetables. (No dessert, of course; sometimes the household workers feel so sorry for the little girl that they slip her chocolate bars when the parents aren’t looking.) Rosa genuinely loves children — usually, they’re the easiest part of this work — but today she’s exhausted. After she found out about Eduardo, she couldn’t sleep, and she has to rise at dawn to dress and feed Miguel, drop him off at school and make the drive in from the Valley. While Samara naps, she goes back to the laundry room to eat the usual lunch of chicken, beans, rice and tortillas the family’s cooks have prepared for the domestic staff. Then she hurries to wash and fold clothes before the girl wakes, and it’s another round of singing, playing, filling time.
Nobody’s asked about the circles under Rosa’s eyes, and no one will. In the past, she’s had employers who genuinely cared about her and wanted to share her life. There are children she still sees, years after she stopped sitting for them. But here, as at several other jobs, her bosses seem to feel that she disappears the second she leaves their home. Her history, needs, obligations are just potential inconveniences — reasons for her to call in sick on a day when they really need to be at the office. Or worse. Rosa still remembers the way the 8-year-old in her last family, the son of a wealthy attorney, talked about her to a school friend. “She doesn’t speak English,” he said, right in front of her, his voice full of contempt. “People who speak Spanish are stupid and poor.”
The day ends at 5 o’clock. Rosa picks up Miguel, gets home by 6, cooks, helps him with homework. He’s moving on to third grade, but can barely read. “I hate school,” he tells her. She fights to get him in bed, then her own mother, Flori, calls, to cry and moan once more about Eduardo: “Ay . . . pobrecito . . .”
Rosa didn’t hear anything about the trouble with Eduardo until yesterday morning, when she went to her favorite panadería on Beverly, said a casual hello to someone she knew from Guatemala, and out of nowhere, the woman began screaming at her. “Don’t ask how I am! How do you think, with what your pervert brother’s done? The bastard! Your family’s a disgrace! Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about! Hija de la puta! You hypocrite!” Confused, humiliated and half in tears, Rosa fled, then called Flori, who reluctantly filled in the details. Eduardo, 21, who still lived in Guatemala, had been accused of assaulting the angry woman’s nephew, a 13-year-old. Flori had paid for a medical exam for the child. His family refused to share the results, but said they wanted money or they’d call the police. When it didn’t come, Eduardo was arrested.
Was the accusation true? Eduardo ran with a tough crowd, but there’d never been a hint of anything like this. An uncle who lived next door swore it was just an attempt to extort money from someone with relatives in America. But in Guatemala, truth could be irrelevant, and a lawyer cost even more than a bribe. So Eduardo was in jail, and would remain there unless someone came up with cash.
“Two thousand dollars,” Flori now says, weeping. “You know I don’t have it, m’ija, you’re the only one who can help.”
Again, no sleep. Rosa was 10 and Eduardo only 2 when Flori left them behind to go to the United States. Rosa bathed and changed him; he was her baby. How can she not try to save him? Everyone knew what happened to young men in Guatemalan jails.
But $2,000! Nearly a decade of working, and Rosa still earns less than $10 an hour. Because her current employer has (illegally) put her on his company payroll, he deducts taxes, Social Security, Medicare. She takes home $1,420 a month, no benefits. Rent and utilities cost $565; house and cell phones $82; car payment and insurance $400; and she almost always sends $100 or $200 to her 87-year-old grandmother in Guatemala. There’s nothing to cut. Her apartment’s already rent-subsidized; without a car, she couldn’t get to her job, and nannies who don’t drive earn even less; without the money she sends, her grandmother won’t eat. Miguel’s abusive father, from whom she’s been separated for a year, gives her nothing, and she hasn’t had the cash to petition for divorce and a formal agreement for custody and child support. She has no health care, and has never received adequate treatment for chronic back and kidney problems.
She could beg for a salary advance, borrow the rest. If you’ve managed to crawl out of abject poverty, don’t you owe those left behind? On the other hand, why must one person always have to carry a whole family, especially one, like hers, whose misery is so often self-inflicted? What’s the right thing to do? When you’re lying in an air-conditioned Valley bedroom imagining your brother being raped in a prison cell, that’s not an abstract moral question. Two a.m. She’s going to feel awful again at work tomorrow. Three o’clock. Four.
- ALMA LUZ
Stories of desperation in 21st-century Los Angeles often begin in other, even more desperate places. In this case, it’s La Piedra, Guatemala, a small town three hours southwest by dirt road from the capital, near the Pacific Coast. Outside town, acres of cotton, coffee and sugar grow beneath a broiling tropical sun, and in spring the streets blacken with ash from burning cane. Even nights are hot and humid, and at noon families flee their stifling cinderblock houses to sit stupefied in the heat. Work in the fields or the few factories is seasonal, and when it dries up, people go hungry. As recently as 1998, a government poverty-reduction plan estimated the rate of chronic malnutrition in the region at nearly 50 percent.
In Guatemala, the rich control the poor; poor men’s compensation is rule over women. Flori had her first child, a girl, at 14; by the time Rosa was conceived, less than two years later, her parents’ relationship was already falling apart. After Rosa’s tío Enrique happened to stop by at the very moment her father was pushing Flori’s head into a bucket of water, Rosa’s grandmother, Alma Luz, put her foot down. “It’s time,” Alma Luz told her very pregnant daughter, “for you to come home.”
Alma Luz was among La Piedra’s poorest. Rosa was born to life in a champa built of plaited sugar cane, coconut palm fronds and mud. Water came from a well; the bathroom was a communal field. Flori’s ex had a decent job, but also a new woman and no interest in helping out, so she left her babies with Alma Luz and moved to the capital to find work. Money came home, but never enough. When the older girl was 3, Alma Luz — without asking Flori — gave her to the father to raise. “You have money for another woman, you have money for your child,” she told him. “I can’t care for two.”
Enraged when she returned for a visit to find her firstborn gone, Flori transferred Rosa to a neighbor’s care. The woman used the money Flori sent to feed her own family, while Rosa starved. “Mire!” wept an aunt who visited one day to find her 2-year-old niece filthy and emaciated. “She’s dying!” Back Rosa went to Alma Luz. The change guaranteed food, but no more. Her grandmother was a fearsome matriarch, a veteran of three bad marriages that had produced eight children, six of them still living. She had long since given up on love, had come to enjoy living alone, and was furious at having to rear children again — and at her petite, sexy youngest daughter, who kept producing them: After Rosa came Victoria, Maria, Cristina, Eduardo, all of different fathers, none of whom contributed one quetzal toward milk or diapers. Victoria died at 7 months of yellow fever, Maria at 1 year of whooping cough. Alma Luz got the rest, and after Flori followed an older sister to the U.S. in 1983, the kids began calling their grandmother “madre.”
All through Guatemala, the children of poor single mothers were given away or left to wander the streets. Rosa knew that Alma Luz had literally saved her life, and for that loved her passionately. She had no one else to love. But the price was high. “I didn’t ask for you! I didn’t want you!” her grandmother would scream when the children misbehaved, lashing out with her hands, and sometimes an electrical cord. “If the tree grows twisted, it will never stand straight” was the precept by which she lived, and straightening took force. Household tasks had to be done right — sheets not scrubbed well enough at the wash sink were ground into the dirt to be washed again. One day, Alma Luz grew impatient as she watched 7-year-old Rosa struggling to make tortillas, always jerking her fingers away as she cooked, because she was afraid of burning them on the hot comal. “You must learn to be a woman, not a girl,” she said angrily. “Do you know how to lose your fear?” She held the girl’s open hand over the red-hot iron grill, then pushed it down.
By contrast, the absent Flori was a glamorous face in a photo, an occasional long-distance call, a dream. She had found work in Los Angeles as a babysitter, and the money she sent paid for a new cinderblock house and outhouse, and later, an indoor toilet with cold-water shower. Packages arrived, stuffed with clothes purchased at garage sales. “My mother sent them, mi madre,” Rosa would whisper to herself. In her fantasy life, they were together and everything was different. They would laugh, talk, go to dances together — Flori was loving and patient, the kind of mother who would listen to a girl’s fears about boys and growing up, and made the worry go away.
Alma Luz watched her granddaughter reach puberty and clamped down even harder. No homework until hours of chores were done. No going to basketball games. No boys, unless she was right there in the room. Absolutely no wearing the shorts Flori sent — disgracia — “You’d sit side by side with the whores!” she yelled. Rosa chafed, rebelled; their fights became open warfare. “If you don’t send money to bring me to you, I’m moving to the capital!” she finally wept by phone to Flori. “I can’t live here anymore!”
The money came. Alma Luz collapsed in tears with apologies and pleas that Rosa reconsider, but it was too late. Flori hired a coyote, and Rosa joined a group mostly of Salvadorans to make the 3,000-mile trip north. They traveled a month, walking, running, exhausted and often hungry, avoiding the migra patrolling the hills near the U.S. border by throwing themselves into a fetid bog. In late 1989, Rosa arrived in San Diego stinking and covered with insect bites, but full of hope. Finally, she would be with her mother, in a place of possibility and money. She was 16.
She found Flori living in a converted garage in Oxnard. There was a new man, a small-time coke dealer, who’d recently been in jail, as had Flori. There was no money. And there was — surprise — another new baby. Rosa had hoped to go to school, but Flori needed help at home. For a year, Rosa changed diapers and watched her new stepfather come home drunk and go to work with his fists, while her mother pleaded and wept. Even a teenager could see that this woman would never be a mother in the traditional sense; she couldn’t even look after herself. Though she couldn’t have articulated it, Rosa also grasped what it would take to have a relationship with the woman she’d missed for so long: Shewould be the caretaker. An uncle got her a live-in babysitting job in Canoga Park. She found the baby indescribably beautiful, like a little doll, with his white, white skin, blond hair and blue eyes. Sometimes she had crazy dreams of having a child who looked just like him. The house’s cleanliness and soft, rug-covered floors astonished her, and in America there was so much to eat! But she spoke no English and her employers no Spanish. In the morning, the wife would place food on the kitchen table and wave her arms at the stove; in the evening, Rosa would gesture at what she’d made. Silence, loneliness. She felt like a mute. The pay was $110 a week, and all of it went to Flori.
Rosa’s current bosses aren’t just the wealthiest she’s ever had, but also the weirdest. Mr. Alan travels a lot, and Mrs. Laura spends long hours locked in her bedroom, often emerging with reddened eyes. Sometimes Mrs. Laura pulls apart a disposable diaper and leaves pieces deep in the kids’ closets, or flicks tiny paper balls into corners — “tests” to make sure ä the help is vacuuming properly. And Rosa is forbidden to take little Samara out of the house, ever; given the family’s position, kidnappers could be lurking. The lack of any break — not even a walk or a trip to the park with other nannies — can make her feel as if she’s going crazy.
In July, the family leaves to spend a week at their beach house. (They also own several other homes.) Because she’s on salary, it’s understood that Rosa will continue working while the children are gone. Daily she arrives to mop thousands of square feet of wood and marble floors, scrub the bathrooms, wash and iron Samara’s delicate clothes, then put them away in perfect, neat rows. “Make sure all the toys are wiped, then disinfected with alcohol,” her boss has instructed. She works steadily, the way Alma Luz taught her. There was a time she actually enjoyed cleaning, because she pretended that her employers’ houses were her own. She doesn’t have such fantasies anymore.
Eduardo’s still in jail. Rosa hasn’t said she’ll help but hasn’t said no, either. She’s struggling with a new source of anxiety: Miguel. Their neighborhood school is one of L.A. Unified’s factories, a place where 1,300 poor, Spanish-speaking kids jam into a year-round campus and more than a third of the teachers lack credentials. Miguel cries in the morning and says he doesn’t want to go, then brings home notes complaining that he’s been fighting. He has nightmares about bullies. One day he tells her that a bigger kid jumped him at recess, knocked him down, and he hit his head on the ground. “Mamí, they didn’t send me to the nurse or call you or do anything, and I just cried!”
“Look at this!” she demands of the school staff the next day, pointing to her son’s forehead, which has a huge, purple bump.
“Oh,” the woman behind the desk says blandly. “Well, we didn’t know.”
On Saturday, when she takes Miguel to a karate class at a nearby YMCA, she tells the story to another mother, a Salvadoran with whom she’s gotten friendly. The woman tells her about the Catholic school her own son attends.
“You need to consider your boy’s future,” she says, and the warning resonates. Alma Luz is illiterate, Flori nearly so. She herself never got past eighth grade. Her English is no good, she has no profession, she will always be poor. She can live with that, but there must be more for Miguel. She will make there be more.
Even with sliding-scale payments, the Catholic school costs a staggering $300 a month. If she enrolls her son, there’s no way at all she can help Eduardo.
Two years after Rosa arrived in America, Flori left her husband and moved the family to South-Central. “You can stay home; it’s my turn to work,” she told her daughter. Nights, she hustled drinks in a Compton bar, coming back late and dead drunk, sometimes with men following: “Florita! Come on, baby, sleep with me!” It was unendurable, so when a boy from back home became infatuated with Rosa and suggested they become novios and live together, she went with him.
The new life was all right at first. She found another live-in job and was gone a lot, and during weekends home her boyfriend, Carlos, was affectionate, even sweet. She hadn’t loved him, still didn’t, but felt increasingly attached. By their second year together, though, the macho culture she remembered from home reasserted itself. “Ohhh, she won’t let you!” taunted relatives when Carlos turned down liquor at parties. After a trip back to Guatemala for his father’s funeral, things got even worse.
“You don’t tell me what to do — I’m the man!” he shouted at her one night. Shop and prepare food! Iron shirts! Don’t even think of going out or looking at another man! When Carlos came home drunk at 2 a.m. and she balked at fixing his dinner, he hauled her out of bed by her hair.
It was a nightmare, but people repeat what they know, and she never thought of leaving. She wondered if a baby would help. Miguel was born in October 1994, shortly before her 22nd birthday, and afterward she and Carlos got married at a downtown chapel. She wore a long white dress, and loudspeakers blared “The Wedding March” over Broadway.
Neither the baby nor the wedding changed a thing.
On Friday night, Flori calls. “What are you doing tomorrow? I want to see you.” Rosa has shopping to do, laundry; her place is a mess. The last thing she wants is to spend the day in her mother’s bleak housing complex, where high gates protect tenants from the neighborhood and burglar bars guard them from each other. Flori’s separation from her husband was short-lived, and after they reconciled, she had yet another baby. Visits are excruciating, because the apartment is small and crowded, nobody’s working, and there’s no money to do anything but sit around and watch TV. But her mother gets angry if she stays away, and Rosa feels sorry for her; she has so little. Sometimes Rosa manages to slip her $50.
Eduardo has been moved, Flori tells her, to a jail far from La Piedra. Neither his uncle nor grandmother can visit him now, so he’s all alone,pobrecito.
“Please,” Rosa says. “I’m thinking about it.” The application to the Catholic school is at home, on her dining-room table.
Three years doing child care in Mar Vista. Eight months in Encino. Three years in Silver Lake. Eighteen months in Calabasas, Miguel sharing strollers with other women’s children. Rosa learned the intricacies of Anglo child-rearing, about “time out,” sunscreen, how weirdly agitated some women got if you gave their kids a Coke. She struck up deep if transient friendships with the other sitters she met on suburban streets, the first girlfriends she’d had since La Piedra. No longer the timid newcomer, she easily navigated L.A. — the Chinatown butcher shops that sold fresh chicken, the garment district, La Placita. Through Carlos’ job as a maintenance worker, they lucked into a reduced-rate apartment in an immaculately kept Valley complex with tennis courts, Jacuzzi and heated pool. It was a huge step up from the series of noisy, airless Hollywood duplexes they’d shared before, and compared to Alma Luz’s champa . . . not even the same universe.
But the violence at home continued, and the strain showed. Rosa was heavier than before, and her face had the sad dullness of a woman half a century older. “Throw that husband in the garbage!” advised a sitter friend. For the first time, she seriously considered divorce, but how could she survive financially? And each time she started to get ahead, there was another call from Flori.
Alma Luz needed a new stove. A store in Pico-Union would ship goods to Mexico and Central America, while relatives in America paid, on time. Payments over 18 months came to $1,400. Her tío in La Piedra had broken his leg and couldn’t work or feed his kids: $100. Alma Luz, already blind in one eye, was losing the other to a cataract, and U.S. doctors were far more likely to save it. Plane tickets for abuelita, someone to accompany her, rental of a truck and driver to bring them to the capital, a share of the operation itself: $1,200.
Rosa knew her mother called because Flori saw her daughter as someone who’d succeeded in America in a way she never would. Nearly 20 years in this country, and Flori still spoke no English. Still couldn’t drive, still was a woman to whom life just happened. She was chained to her ghetto apartment, her debts, her abusive husband. And Rosa remembered the grim misery of La Piedra.
But what none of her family understood, Rosa thought, was how much her successful life was a mirage. At any moment, she could be fired without warning — she’d seen it happen to sitters before. Her health problems could flare beyond the reach of painkillers or antibiotics. One hospitalization, car accident, malicious boss or missing paycheck, and everything would dissolve.
In 1999, there was a new crisis. Half-sister Cristina, now 20, was following the family tradition by moving in with a man who beat her. She had to be rescued, brought to America immediately. Since Flori had taken a job in a furniture factory several months earlier, and could contribute to the effort, Rosa agreed to help. Cristina set out toward Mexico and beyond. Two weeks later, Flori called to say she had quit her job, because she was pregnant again. She was 43.
Rosa was stunned, infuriated, desperate. Once again, she would be doing it all herself. In the end, the transportation, food and coyote fees she laid out for Cristina came to $4,000. She owed everyone she knew. Her sister arrived, settled in, got a job and used the money she made to buy cosmetics and clothes. Flori had the baby; of course there was no way she could work. Something inside Rosa began to harden. The ugly truth, she thought, was that her family didn’t care. Her mother didn’t love her, not the way she loved the children she was rearing now, who’d been with her since birth. Rosa was sick to death of giving, and getting nothing in return. Of feeling like a machine, with someone else at the controls.
When Rosa learned that Carlos was having an affair with a young woman she’d considered a friend, she threw his things out of the apartment. He came back, pleading, then cursing and pulling back his fist. “Call 911!” she screamed to Miguel. Despite Carlos’ arrest, a restraining order and anger-management classes, he kept coming around, alternately begging her to come back and calling her “puta.” She didn’t phone the cops, but also didn’t give in, though she’d never been alone before and sometimes could barely breathe with panic.
One day, while Miguel was practicing karate at the YMCA, she took an exercise class. It helped her sleep. She started to work out, hard and often. It felt good to be strong. At the Y, she met a man, an American. He was sweet, funny and affectionate. After they started dating, sometimes he cooked her dinner or rubbed her neck if she was tired. He played with Miguel. He had no interest in having her iron his shirts. No one had treated her like that, ever, and it was like a stunning gift. Her feeling for Carlos faded until there was nothing left.
Her bosses return from vacation, and Rosa is finding it harder to be docile and polite. These people understand nothing. The food they throw out each day — back in Guatemala, how desperately she’d craved just the smallest bit of chicken or meat. How many kids back home are still that hungry? Every week the house is full of expensive new fresh flower arrangements, each worth maybe $150 — money wasted, money that could buy Rosa health care, could win Eduardo his freedom. It’s madness. Meanwhile, their bizarre unhappiness, their demands! Fifteen, 20 minutes tacked on the end of every workday; no extra pay. Please, Rosa, the baby’s nanny has quit, I really need you to help out . . . Another child in her arms, more cleaning, not a penny more. She needs this paycheck, but she’s not their burro. One day her boss’s secretary comes into the laundry room to give her a chore while she’s eating lunch. “I get a half-hour for lunch. I’ll do it when I’m done,” she says.
Flori calls, demanding a visit. Inside Rosa’s head, a voice says “no más.” “I’m tired,” she tells her mother flatly, ignoring her tears. “I love you, Mamí, but leave me alone.”
Carlos has taken to calling on the cell phone all night. She doesn’t answer. That month, she doesn’t send Alma Luz any money. She feels bad about it, but other things come first. She must buy books, shoes, a uniform. She’s enrolled Miguel in the Catholic school.
Flori calls again. Like a miracle, she tells Rosa, some kind of public defender has taken Eduardo’s case. The family accusing him failed to provide any evidence of his guilt, so he was set free. The bad news is that the next day, in La Piedra, two armed men tried to kidnap his 16-year-old cousin. “Eduardo didn’t pay, so you will!” they told her. She escaped, but now the whole family’s terrified. They’ve got to get out of town, which will cost money. Alma Luz is too old to go, and without relatives nearby to help her, she’ll need to hire someone to cook and clean. That will take money, too . . .
Nothing will ever change. Everything has. Rosa shakes her head. The answer is no.
Maybe it was because she got too uppity. Maybe it always was the plan. In the fall, Rosa’s bosses tell her that another sitter, who was away on maternity leave, has decided to return. They now want Rosa to work noon to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Miguel makes that impossible, and they know it. If Rosa resigns, she won’t be eligible for unemployment money. Just when her uncertainty and terror are at their peak, the mother of Miguel’s Salvadoran karate friend hires her to help care for her husband, permanently disabled from an industrial accident.
Rosa’s new romance becomes a steady relationship, though it has its problems, with a future that remains unclear. She continues to work out, her body turning sleek and muscular, like that of an L.A. beach girl. She passes the Y’s exam and becomes a part-time aerobics instructor, something so far from her life in La Piedra that she can hardly believe it: Alma Luz’s scared little girl in front of a sweating crowd, screaming, “Kick! Kick!”
In Guatemala, Alma Luz lives on. In South-Central, half-sister Cristina, then mother Flori, find Jesus and become Evangelical Christians. When Flori, rapidly aging from the stress of caring for her late-life son, intones, “Díos es amor,” Rosa rolls her eyes. God won’t solve her mother’s problems, she thinks, but a job might.
From his new apartment, Carlos continues to call, wheedle and curse. Rosa’s found a lawyer willing to do a favor, though, and has filed for divorce and child support. Miguel, who now goes by the name Mike, loves his new school, but is struggling with the work, and suffers from the stress of continued fighting between his parents.
Stories of desperation in 21st-century L.A. rarely come with simple, happy endings, because even in fairy tales, those endings require money. Rosa teaches her aerobics classes in exchange for Miguel’s Y membership. Her new full-time job pays $10 an hour, no benefits, and although her bosses, made wealthy by the husband’s personal-injury settlement, are kind and generous in other ways, Rosa still can’t pay her bills. There still are nights she can’t sleep, and during them, the future seems hopeless. She can’t get a better job without more education, but where will she find time for school? She can’t put in more hours and still care for Miguel. She doesn’t know how much longer it will be before her untreated kidney and back problems become so serious she can’t do anything. And increasingly, as she watches Miguel grow up, with love, schooling, karate, play dates and toys — the security she works so hard to provide — she finds ugly memories surfacing from her own childhood.
Two a.m. Three. In the morning, when the alarm rings, she gets up and goes to work.