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The stacks of books in the rooms grew, unnoticed.

By the time he noticed that I was always reading, it was too late.

If I were a young woman— 18, say—and living back home, I can see that the matchmaker would have a hard time.

My father might say:  She doesn’t have many needs.

He would say nothing about my stubbornness.

The matchmaker might say:  She isn’t pretty.  The most we can hope for is a farmer.

My mother might say:  She likes to sing.

The matchmaker might ask me to hold out my hands.

Then the matchmaker might grasp them and say:  Soft hands.  Doesn’t do much work.  Can’t do much work.  Cooking?  Sewing?

My father might say:  We will take care of everything.  All the financial arrangements.  The wedding.

To me he would say:  No return, no exchange.

Later I would hear my mother say to my father:  She’s lucky to get anyone.  You know she’s not pretty.  A nose job might improve her chances, but we don’t have money.

It’s possible I would be 30 or 40, still unmarried.

I’d be the one who stays in the kitchen, helping the cook.  Washing the clothes.  Tending my younger brothers.

Later, after my brothers married and had children of their own, I’d be the eccentric aunt, the one who pours her unrequited love into porcelain-skinned dolls with glass eyes, which I give to each of my nieces on their birthdays.  The aunt who spends Sunday afternoons in her bedroom, watching tele-novelas.

My sister, pretty, smart, with an hourglass figure, would have a choice.

Not I.

So I came to America.

Here, even plain girls have a chance.

I married a man who was frequently pre-occupied:  this or that, he always came home from the office talking of this or that.

The stacks of books in the rooms grew, unnoticed.

By the time he noticed that I was always reading, it was too late.

I had become an American wife.

Useless for anything, only for fulfilling my own desires.

Useless, yes, and completely indifferent.

An American wife.

© Marianne Villanueva

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by Marianne Villanueva

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