‘Eleven’ by Sandra Cisneros

I write a lot about childhood. I think childhood, and being young, carries an immense sense of wonder, but it also carries its own tensions, ones often disregarded by adults. One of my favorite movies is Where Is The Friend’s House?, directed by Abbas Kiarostami. The entire film is about a boy who accidentally takes home his classmate’s homework, and he knows his friend is one strike away from failing, so he goes on a quest to return it. He seeks guidance from the adults in his life, but many of them blow him off, as they find his concerns frivolous, or are distracted, or are determined to make the boy do his chores. ‘Eleven’ is similar–when the teacher asks who a tacky, stinky red sweater belongs to, and another child claims it belongs to the protagonist, our main character is saddled with the anxiety and social burden of either speaking out or accepting the piece of clothing. She feels herself becoming smaller, younger, less able to clarify, and when she finally does, the teacher challenges her. “Of course it’s yours,” Mrs. Price says, “I remember you wearing it once.” Mrs. Price being an adult settles the argument more than any reasoned logic would, and the main character shrinks even further. These are the compelling moments to me in these stories – these moments of anxiety, especially childhood anxiety, that seem so frivolous later, but so impactful and terrifying in the moment, especially when our elders are unhelpful or even damaging to the situation. This story, to me, is vital for any writer trying to examine or process their youth.

First published in Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, Random House 1991. Listen to Sandra Cisneros give a reading of this story here