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you can read it in 10 min

Published On: June 9, 2014, By: Susan Adams, New Jersey





By Sandra Cisneros


What they donít understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when youíre eleven, youíre also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you donít. You open your eyes and everythingís just like yesterday, only itís today. And you donít feel eleven at all. You feel like youíre still ten. And you areóunderneath the year that makes you eleven.


Like some days you might say something stupid, and thatís the part of you thatís still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mamaís lap because youíre scared, and thatís the part of you thatís five. And maybe one day when youíre all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if youíre three, and thatís okay. Thatís what I tell Mama when sheís sad and needs to cry. Maybe sheís feeling three.


Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. Thatís how being eleven years old is.


You donít feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you donít feel smart eleven, not until youíre almost twelve. Thatís the way it is.


Only today I wish I didnít 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 Iíd have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I wouldíve known how to tell her it wasnít mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.


ďWhose is this?Ē Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater up in the air for all the class to see. ďWhose? Itís been sitting in the coatroom for a month.Ē


ďNot mine,Ē says everybody. ďNot me.Ē


ďIt has to belong to somebody,Ē Mrs. Price keeps saying, but nobody can remember. Itís an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. Itís maybe a thousand years old and even if it belonged to me I wouldnít say so.


Maybe because Iím skinny, maybe because she doesnít like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, ďI think it belongs to Rachel.Ē An ugly sweater like that, all raggedy and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.


ďThatís not, I donít, youíre not . . . Not mine,Ē I finally say in a little voice that was maybe me when I was four.


ďOf course itís yours,Ē Mrs. Price says, ďI remember you wearing it once.Ē Because sheís older and the teacher, sheís right and Iím not.


Not mine, not mine, not mine, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I donít know why but all of a sudden Iím feeling sick inside, like the part of me thatís three wants to come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven. Mama is making a cake for me for tonight, and when Papa comes home everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you.


But when the sick feeling goes away and I open my eyes, the red sweaterís still sitting there like a big red mountain. I move the red sweater to the corner of my desk with my ruler. I move my pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. I even move my chair a little to the right. Not mine, not mine, not mine.


In my head Iím thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater and throw it over the schoolyard fence, or leave it hanging on a parking meter, or bunch it up into a little ball and toss it in the alley. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everybody, ďNow, Rachel, thatís enough,Ē because she sees Iíve shoved the red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of my desk and itís hanging all over the edge like a waterfall, but I donít care.


ďRachel,Ē Mrs. Price says. She says it like sheís getting mad. ďYou put that sweater on right now and no more nonsense.Ē


ďBut itís notóď


ďNow!Ē Mrs. Price says.


This is when I wish I wasnít eleven, because all the years inside of meóten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and oneóare pushing at the back of my eyes when I put one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that smells like cottage cheese, and then the other arm through the other and stand there with my arms apart like if the sweater hurts me and it does, all itchy and full of germs that arenít mine.


Thatís when everything Iíve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden Iím crying in front of everybody. I wish I was invisible but Iím not. Iím eleven and itís my birthday today and Iím crying like Iím three in front of everybody. I put my head down on the desk and bury my face in my stupid clown-sweater arms. My face all hot and spit coming out of my mouth because I canít stop the little animal noises from coming out of me, until there arenít any more tears left in my eyes, and itís just my body shaking like when you have the hiccups, and my whole head hurts like when you drink milk too fast.


But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. That stupid Phyllis Lopez, who is even dumber than Sylvia Saldivar, says she remembers the red sweater is hers! I take it off right away and give it to her, only Mrs. Price pretends like everythingís okay.


Today Iím eleven. Thereís a cake Mamaís making for tonight, and when Papa comes home from work weíll eat it. Thereíll be candles and presents and everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you, Rachel, only itís too late.


Iím eleven today. Iím eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. 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.



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