I remember the moment I learned to love my mother. I was in my second year at NYU and I had been working at the factory for awhile. I believe it was awhile because I remember feeling particularly frustrated and tired of having to meet my mother at the subway token booth on 34th street between classes so that I could accompany her to multiple warehouse outlets to find work. Although my mother has tried to learn English over the years, it seemed more convenient for her to depend on one of her children to be her voice.
On this one occasion I was to find out from the various manufacturers if there were any open lots available. Each lot consisted of about 250 or more pieces of clothing to be processed or sewn together to form a dress or pantsuit. Generally, the asking price depended on whether there was a lining or the number of buttons. Then my mother would calculate how much to bargain for. I hated this part. It felt demeaning to haggle over nickels. For my mother, every nickel mattered. Ultimately, we were lucky to make one-tenth of the retail price.
On this afternoon, we also picked up buttons and special tags to be attached to each garment. We did this often as the need for work exceeded our patience for these items to arrive by freight.
We trudged our way through the seedy underbelly of the fashion and trucking district to carry back our booty, 40 lbs of buttons and size tags. I remember feeling so angry at the seeming triviality of this task that I had refused to carry any of the packages. Thus, I made this frail, beaten woman bear the entire load all the way back to the subway station, some six blocks away. She didn’t speak a word until my train arrived, the air-conditioned train that would take me back to the pseudo-bohemian haven of the East Village and away from what threatened to be my destiny.
I watched my mother standing on the platform as my train pulled away, the packages sitting between a wall and her brown polyester, hand-sewn pants, a brittle look on her face. All she said before I left was, did I have enough subway tokens to come home.