May 15, 2008
By Filipe Santos, Clarkston, MI

“What are you doing honey? Don’t you love me anymore? I can change…” Anthony shot a surprised look, like the ones he gave when the Detroit Pistons lose a game by a big difference. Loren seemed frustrated.
“What do you expect me to do? You are at home all the time and never helps with groceries, bills, anything. You stay at home all day watching Basketball! Aren’t you embarrassed? Joanna already works and you don’t!”
“Yes, I feel embarrassed… But I only know about cars and sports, I can’t really work with anything else. There are no jobs in this area anymore.”
“After all this time… you gave up looking for jobs, and decided to be a house-husband. I can’t keep serving you and Joanna together. It’s too much for me right now. Between you and my daughter, I pick my daughter…”
Now, Anthony had an upset face as if there were no more future for the team, it was over “So… I will leave right now and… You won’t see me anymore.” He did not look behind him. “Bye.”
Joanna’s mother, Loren, a beautiful journalist from France, was trying her best to give her beloved daughter everything needed despite all trouble she had to keep her important job, while her husband, a Spanish mechanic, Anthony, could not find any jobs in the troubled area of automobiles.
The eighteen-year-old, Joanna, had grown up in that home, in which her mother played the “Big Boss” and had heated discussions with her father.
Joanna started to work two years before Anthony had left. Those were “long years…” as Loren grumbled while her patience with Anthony was going down as fast as water in the Niagara Falls and wanted that “worthless man” away, “I will leave that man outside with nothing, since nothing was what he really helped to build.”
Joanna was seen as a bitter, but beautiful young lady, with long black hair, large lips with a bloody red color, and an especially tanned skin, clearly due to the different mix of French with Spanish. She learned to think that; Women are the ones to rule the house and have the higher income. Men are incapable of doing so. Loren also stated it as if she were a politician during election season.
She had to work, couldn’t buy expensive superfluous things, and had fundamental importance to put food at home, together with her mom.
A friend of hers in school, Laura, whom had been friends with since the adventure of starting high school, has been concerned about Joanna’s physical and psychological health and, sometimes would make Joanna very upset.
Laura was a blonde and white girl considered by many people as a “nerd” because of her “straight A” progress reports and the reading glasses she had been using since sixth grade, even though prom invitations wouldn’t stop coming from the popular Basketball and Football players.

Joanna went one day to school after a long shift the day before. As usual, she went to Laura asking to copy for the assignments due. Laura looked at Joanna and, while lending the assignments, said “Joanna, you are my best friend, so I think it’s my right to be concerned about you. This life you are living is really not good for you. It has to have a limit.”
“It is hard, and I know it’s not the best way to deal with school, but I have no choice. Last night, I talked to my mom and she said I have two options; it’s either both work and go to school or drop school and only work to help in the house. What do you expect me to do?!!” Joanna was yelling now. “Just give the assignments. Why do you have to bother me?” Tears started to come down her eyes, red as a rose in the spring. Every one in the Media Center looked at them.
Laura had nothing to say but agree with her friend. “Copy the assignments; any problem you have, call me, I will do my best to help you.”
“Thank you.” Oh my god that’s definitively not my day. All this people looking at me. Joanna cleaned her face, trying to hide the tears from the curiosity of onlookers.

While Joanna was struggling with her school assignments, Loren was at work and remembered the night’s difficult talk with her daughter. Suddenly, Anthony came to her mind and, remembering how everything was good before he lost his job and his ambition in life, the sadness was impossible to hide. “One thing I am sure, I will not allow Joanna lose her ambitions…”

When Loren finished the loud thought, her workmate, Amber, sitting right next to her, asked “What is the problem? Can I help you?”

“Oh nothing…” said Loren, surprised by the question. The need to talk to someone seemed to burn in her chest, “Actually… I was thinking about my daughter. You know her, I showed you at the party that day, remember?”

“Oh, of course I remember her, Joanna right? How is she?”

“She is okay, but… she has been talking about college and how she wants to study Medicine…” Loren looked down.

“What a nice profession. What is the problem with that?”

“She has been working to help keep our house despite all the financial problems I’m dealing with. She hasn’t had much time for school lately.”

“Oh, I am so sorry. I didn’t know things were so difficult to you.”

“Yes, not easy. The problem is that she wants to study Medicine, but I don’t have conditions to pay for it. I just can’t save that much money for her college.”

“My husband and I are having some financial issues as well. Michigan is really bad right now for everyone.” Amber moved her head in agreement.

“I know, and Medicine is a really expensive course. She has to find something else a lot cheaper or get some scholarship.”

“Hopefully she will…”

“I hope so…”

Joanna had never thought of boyfriends, dates, anything that would take dedication she hadn’t been able to offer. After graduation though, something different finally happened to her life, she met Mark, a man who hadn’t been working very long in her job, but had gone up twice in the company during that period of time.
He was from a very wealthy and traditional Michigan family and was studying Engineering at the University of Michigan. He was dividing the time, working and studying, although his family was actually paying for his college education fully.
He saw Joanna for the first time one day while he was supervising workers during his initial day in the newest position and liked her straight away. With his curious mind of an Engineer, he wanted to figure out who the beautiful young lady he spotted was.
As he took courage to approach her, he asked, “What is the matter? What could make your beautiful face so upset?”
Joanna, with little patience for men approaching her that way, said, “Nothing, I am tired, that’s all.”
“It seems life hasn’t been very good for you, has it? Maybe we could go out to have dinner sometime. Would you like to go out for dinner with me later after work?” Mark’s cleared excitement was like he was reaching the speed limit in his sports car.
Joanna looked deep into his eyes and felt something she had never felt before. She felt warmth approaching and embracing her, the kindness from a man. She couldn’t really comprehend it, but had nothing to say besides “Yes… I would like to go out with you for dinner.” Wow that was fast, I don’t even know him, but… With a shy smile as if she was doing something wrong, but liked “I have been working all day; I have to go home first though.”
“No, you look perfect to me.” He blinked.

Days were going by and the couple went out several times causing Joanna to know Mark better. They began to date and Joanna started to see how happy and colorful life could be after all, to add even more, Mark seemed to share the same views of Joanna with respect to the role of men and women in a relationship.
Loren and Laura started to realize changes in Joanna. Loren, who seemed to be less stressed, complimented her daughter more. “Wow honey, you look so good, I am very happy for you.” Laura also made her compliments “I can’t believe love can change one life like this, I am so glad.”
The relationship was going well until something happened to Joanna’s life exactly two years after the first date, Mark, who knew how she wanted to study Medicine, offered to provide the funds necessary for the course if she accepted to marry him and move to his house close to his university. It was a big step forward, but after the years together, he felt he could trust that woman. He liked to do things as fast as his Corvette.
Joanna didn’t think much, she only told Loren and her old friend Laura about it after she had given the final answer. Loren wasn’t exactly happy about it all. “Are you sure it’s the best time for marriage? I don’t want you to suffer later.”
A relieved smile was shining in Joanna’s pretty face “Mom, that’s my escape from a life of struggling, I am finally going to be happy.”
“But, don’t forget that happiness has to come from inside, ok honey?” Loren smiled back. “Please, be happy.”
“Yes, Joanna, that’s exactly what I learned in my college class in Psychology, you can’t be happy if it only comes from somebody else,” said Laura, who seemed to understand perfectly what was going on. She was also smiling.
“Trust me I know what I’m doing.” The three women hugged each for a long time.
Joanna started Medicine and just loved it. “It is the dream becoming true,” Joanna thought during her first day in college at twenty years of age.
Everyday she would wake up early and get ready. It would take about two hours. Her self-esteem was as high as her love for Mark who seemed happy with his college-student wife. Then, she would drive herself to campus with the Camaro received from Mark as a birthday present in their first year of marriage.
Joanna wanted to show dedication to the classes in campus so, about five hours used to be spent every single day in the library, studying, doing projects, extra-class research, reading, etc. When she realized the time, she would go home very fast to have the dinner made by Loren, who had moved in a couple months after marriage, and make company to Mark who usually was stressed from work.

Joanna didn’t even realize two years had passed when she had the difficult talk with Mark, in which her life would change for good.
“Mark, I was thinking that it’s time for me to find a job and start helping with the house…” I don’t feel good with only you doing it, she wanted to say, but didn’t.
“Why? There is no reason for it; my job is more than enough for us to survive.” Mark seemed upset.
“Because I am not the type of woman who stays at home, I want to work, have my own job.” Joanna was surprised with the answer given… What does he think he is doing?

Mark hit the table with the hand holding the fork he was having dinner with, dropping food all over. “You know what, I want you taking care of our house and our future kids.”

Joanna remembered of her mother and her uncertainty about the marriage. He is from a traditional family, maybe… “Mom is always around here, I am sure she can help with kids and the house…”

Mark looked at her with a mad face, one Joanna had never seen before. “I don’t want you to work, period!”

Joanna didn’t finish dinner, stood up and went up to Loren’s room. Mark kept eating his juicy steak, didn’t even look at Joanna. “I can’t accept a woman to work, the place for a woman to be is at home, taking care of chores and children.” With a deep breath, “I didn’t think she would turn out to be like this.”
Mark was raised in a traditional family in which his father, Mr. McCarty, was the center, the “Big Boss”, the person to be afraid of, had many subjects with great respect. Mark grew up seeing his mother being inferior and accepting every single thing from her husband.
“Mark, when you grow up I want you to be like your father, strong and honored man.” Mrs. McCarty used to take care of Mark, his three siblings and households, in which she had the duty to make sure that the maids were doing their job. “Be just like him.”
During conversations with Joanna while still only dating, he didn’t mind agreeing with her views of men and women, “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, she just had an unfortunate life. I will show her how things should really work. I can’t lose her. I want her to be my wife as soon as possible.”
Many discussions later had the same topic, some happened during dinner and others in the bedroom.
“I am losing confidence in our marriage,” said Joanna with a tired voice after another discussion. “Why does it have to be like this?”
“You know, I am too, you’d better change your mind or…”
“Or…What? You are going to ask the divorce?”
“Maybe.” Mark left the bedroom going down the stairs and stepping hard like a tyrant.
Joanna had conversations with her mom frequently since the only place she could find escape from confrontations with Mark was Loren’s room.
“Joanna, you have to find an end for all this suffering. I can see part of my story being repeated here.” Loren sat on the bed and called Joanna to join her.
“I know mom, this is going too far. He doesn’t think the same way I do. I thought he could accept me the way I am, but I guess I was totally wrong…” Joanna sat and tears were coming down fast, she hugged Loren.
“Honey. Stop crying and look at me.” Joanna did what Loren asked. “You can’t give up trying and living. Remember me dealing with your dad, don’t give up, women are strong and can face any situation, this is not the first and won’t be the last. I know you will find a solution.”
Loren cleaned her face. “You are right; I have faced harder situations and survived…” And stood up. “I will survive this one as well.”
Soon, Joanna started working on a way to escape from her tyrant and not lose her only chance to have a college degree. Her belief that if you work hard you will get what you want was giving her the strength.

After the conversation with Loren, she decided to stop discussing with Mark about her independent life. Don’t forget that happiness has to come from the inside, she remembered, while cleaning her face and holding a reaction to Mark; I can’t show my weakness, I have to hold on.
Days, weeks, months… Joanna kept her daily routine. Her beliefs wouldn’t leave that mind. This time, instead of five, she would spend seven hours straight in the campus’ library, reading, researching, etc.
I can lose the chance of being here, this is the only place I can be free and independent… Joanna remembered the last discussion with Mark and his consideration of a divorce.

One day, Joanna sat at the very back of the large library; she wanted to be totally on her own. She knew how disturbed she could feel in the front tables with people talking and the constant eyes on her.
While the discussions with Mark were passing in her mind, she heard a strong voice from coming from the front desk. This loud voice, it’s familiar… Oh, it’s Mr. Kowalski, my professor of Advanced Anatomy. Joanna turned around to make sure. What is he doing here?
From the desk she saw that white-haired man, in his sixties, with a sturdy voice, which had caused an impression on her since the first day. “Mrs. Burrow. Good evening, I know you take care of the library, do you know if Joanna McCarty is around here, I really need to talk to her.”
“Oh… Yes, I am pretty sure she is that young lady that stays here until we have to close, she is one of the most dedicated I have ever seen.” Short, wearing glasses and clothes that made history students think they had come directly from the nineteenth century, Mrs. Burrow looked up to that six-foot-six scholar.
“Exact!” Mr. Kowalski said with an excited look. “Do you know if she is still here?”
“Mr. Kowalski, I am right here,” said Joanna with a tired face, but an accelerated heart. What does he want from me?
“Oh hello… Joanna. Good evening.” Mr. Kowalski said with a serious face.
“Good evening. Can I help you?” Joanna’s heart accelerated; I don’t like his face.
“Joanna, all your professors and I had a meeting earlier about your academic achievements in class, and…”
Academic achievements? What about it? Joanna almost had a heart attack.
Mr. Kowalski smiled. “And we decided that you are definitively one of our most dedicated students. We were wondering if you would like to participate in the teacher-student research program this year. What do you think about it?”
Joanna’s heart kept beating at a fast rhythm while her hands were shaking a little and getting sweaty, just like when you go to a stage and don’t really know what to do. “Sure, Mr. Kowalski, I can’t deny that it would be a big pleasure, but I heard the students have to come to live in the campus for a couple months, right?”
“That’s true.”
“So… I don’t think my husband would allow me to do that.”
“Oh, that’s right. Your husband doesn’t let you work or do things you would like to, correct?”
Joanna looked surprised to the scholar. “How do you know that?” I have never told anyone about it.
“Your mother, Loren, came here earlier this month to talk about your situation; we can’t let you and your talent wasted, so we decided that you can participate in the scholarship program while working on the teacher-student research, if you would like. What do you have to say?” Mr. Kowalski smiled as if he was remembering a very intense and happy personal experience from the past.
With an attack of happiness, Joanna couldn’t hide the tears, which were coming down fast. It’s a dream… finally I have my freedom. “Thank you very much; I have no words… to describe my happiness at this moment.” Joanna was trying unsuccessfully to hold the tears. “Of course I accept.” Her whole life was passing in her mind. Mom, I love you.
Joanna had no doubt that from that moment on her life would change to what she had always dreamed of. If you work hard towards what you want, and believe that you are capable of overcoming the difficulties faced regardless of your situation, you will reach what you desire.

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