Eleven: Phyllis Lopez story
What they don’t understand about being a kid and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you know a lot more than they think. And when you wake up and hear your parents arguing about money, you don’t feel eleven. You open your eyes and everything is like yesterday, but it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. And you are-underneath the year that makes you eleven.
Like some days you might say something stupid, like how you want a new toy. Or maybe something you play too hard and rip your only hole-less jeans. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to work two jobs, and that’s okay. Maybe even three.
When you hear daily of the financial issues you don’t feel eleven.Not right away. It takes a few minutes, and your parents reminding you not to worry, to just be a kid. That’s the way it is.
Only today I wish I did not have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on Rachel’s desk. I would’ve known how to tell her it was mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.
“Whose is this?” Mrs. Price says, and she holds my red sweater up in the air for all the class to see. “Whose? It’s been sitting in the coatroom for a month.”
“Not mine,” says everybody. “Not me.”
“It has to belong to somebody,” Mrs. Price keeps saying, as I sink lower into my chair. It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. It’s maybe a thousand years old but it’s the only one I have, but I don’t say so.
As the dry lump in my throat becomes harder to swallow I hear Sylvia Saldivar say, “I think it belongs to Rachel.” An ugly sweater like that, all raggedy and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on Rachel’s desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.
“That’s not, I don’t, you’re not…Not mine,” Rachel tried to tell Mrs. Price over and over, but she wouldn’t listen.
“Of course it’s yours,” Mrs. Price said to Rachel. “I remember you wearing it once.” Because she’s older and the teacher, I can’t speak up now.
Its mine, Its mine, Its mine, I wanna scream out, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I don’t know why but all a sudden I’m feeling sick inside, but I squeeze all my emotions up tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to think of a way to get my sweater back. I know mama made that sweater for my older sister and has been passed down until it got to me, so I can’t be the one that looses it.
But when the sick feeling goes away and I open my eyes, the red sweater is still sitting on Rachel’s desk like a big red mountain. She moves the red sweater to the corner of her desk with her ruler. She moves her pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. She even moved her chair to the right. Its mine, Its mine, Its mine. I wish I could just tell her.
In my head I’m thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater from her desk and cram it into my backpack without anyone noticing. Rachel wont say its missing, no one will even know. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everyone, “Now Rachel, that’s enough,” because she too saw that Rachel was trying to shove my red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of her desk and it was hanging over the edge like a waterfall.
“Rachel,” Mrs. Price says. She says it like she’s getting mad.
“You put that sweater on right now and no more nonsense.”
“But it’s not-”
“Now!” Mrs. Price says.
This is when I wish I was would have just spoke up when Mrs. Price first asked whose red sweater it was. I see Rachel pushing back tears as she puts one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that I know still smells like cottage cheese that I split all over my backpack when I didn’t put the lid back on right. And then she puts the other arm through and stands there with her arms apart like the sweater hurts her. Maybe it does, My sweater is itchy and full of the families germs; It takes some getting use to.
That’s when Rachel finally lets go, and all of a sudden is crying in front of everybody. Come to find out it’s her birthday today and she’s crying in front of everybody. She put her head down on the desk and buried her face in my stupid clown-sweater sleeves. Her face is red and spit is coming out of her mouth because she can’t stop the animal noises from coming out, until there aren’t any more tears in her eyes, and she shaking like when you have the hiccups, because it’s not her sweater. And no matter how many times she tries to say that no one will listen to her.
But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. I too can’t handle it any more. Seeing Rachel so upset I must doing something. I muster up all my courage stand up and say “I remember the red sweater is mine!” Rachel takes it off right away and gives it to me, only Mrs. Price pretends like everything’s okay. Relief instantly flows through my body as I can now stop thinking of excuses to tell my mom why my sweater is gone. Relieved that I do not have to hear a lecture about how money doesn’t grow on trees, and knowing I spared my parents an argument about having to get me another one.
I’m eleven today. I do not have to worry about buying clothes or paying bills, or even feeding all us kids. But still, I wish i was anything but eleven, because I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon, like a tiny o in the sky, so tiny-tiny you have to close your eyes to see it.
Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek, “Eleven” pp. 6-9.