Not right now, she said. Not right now, okay sweetie.
Mom, can you buy me these shoes. Not right now, sweetie.
Mom, can we go watch a movie tonight? Not tonight, honey.
Mom, can you buy me this book?
Sí, pero ahorita no. Not right now.
Only soon never came. This week it was the light bill. Next week it’ll be the rent. The one after that it’ll be something else. Something else is always more important than what I want to do. Something else is always more important than me.
I hate being poor. Like really, really hate it. Like can’t stand it anymore. I wish I had five dollar bills and single dollar bills in my pockets like my friend Mikey does everyday. Hell, I’d even settle for quarters, like the other kids in the lunchroom who always cling their nickels, dimes and pennies together when they’re looking for quarters in their pockets to buy their school lunches. They don’t have to get in the school lunch line every single day, or have to pull a plastic free lunch card out of their pockets to pay for whatever is being served on the menu today.
They can buy a chef salad if they want. A slice of pizza. A burger. A burger with cheese if they want. They don’t have to give their names to the lunch lady every single day at the beginning of the school year because the lunch cards aren’t ready yet, and won’t be for at least a month. But I do.
Name? The cafeteria lady yells, I think. And, of course, she can’t find me because my name is spelled funny and she can’t pronounce it anyway. Spell it! She commands. And every day I have to spell it for her again. R I G O B E R T O. Last name!? M A L D O N A D O. And then she repeats it and I have to shake my head yes, that’s correct. Even though sometimes it’s not, but I shake my head anyway. Close enough, I think. I just want to hurry up and get out of the line before someone behind me says something or makes fun of my long and complicated name.
I hate my name sometimes. What does it even mean? Why couldn’t my mom just give me a simple name like Jose or Hector. Pedro or Pablo. Maybe even Martin. I think I could have been happy being a Martin. Anything is better than Rigoberto Maldonado, I think. But then I remember I could have been named Aureliano, Norberto, or even Maria Jose had I been born on a different day and my mother decided to name me according to the saint that was born on the same day. And then I am grateful for just being R I G O B E R T O M A L D O N A D O again.
But, ooh, how I do still hate being poor!
It makes me want to lie to people and tell them that my mom and dad work in fancy office jobs where they make a lot more money than what they do. Not less than minimum wage cleaning houses and fixing old roofs. It makes me want take things every once in a while, when me and my brother and our friends the Rodriguezes go to the mall together. We pretend we’re trying on shirts, and we grab a bunch of them so you can’t tell how many we have folded over each other in our arms. We walk into the dressing rooms like we belong there. Like we really have the money to buy one or two tee shirts in this store. And then we tear off the tags of two or three shirts and put them on one over the other on ourselves before putting on our own oversized tee shirts or jackets on top. We walk out of the dressing room. Then out of the store. And then back home to our apartments. Nobody even noticed and we feel vindicated. Like we just got away with the ultimate revenge. If we can’t buy it, we’ll take it! Who cares if it’s not right, right?
I hate being poor so much that when my mom shows up and picks me up from school, I immediately sink into my seat as far down as I can go until only the top of my head is visible, and even then I bury my face down into my chest so nobody will see me. Even if they are really trying to look inside. I’m tired of riding around in this old beat up car that’s too loud and too many different colors – on the roof, on the driver’s side door, on the back side – to look nice. I especially hate it when it stops right in front of the school.
Right in front the doors where teachers are standing, making sure every student gets a ride home from school. Right in front of the school where I feel everyone is staring at me and laughing at the old beat up car that doesn’t want to turn on no matter how much whining and grunting it does, or how many puffs of black smoke it lets out. How could she do this to me? Why is my mom trying to embarrass me again? Why can’t we just get a new car that’s not so embarrassing? I hate this, I think.
I’m angry now because my mother should know better than to humiliate me like this.
I hate being poor so much that one time I yelled at my mother for being so mean and not letting me do anything that I wanted! It felt so good. I finally got it off of my chest. Maybe now she would finally put me first and stop making excuses about the light bill, the rent, the groceries, the whatever excuse it was that she was going to give me the next time I asked her for something.
Only she said nothing then.
She stayed quiet for a moment, turned to me, tried her best to muster up a smile despite the look of sadness in her eyes, and then after a while said… pronto. Only this time she wasn’t really telling me. She was asking herself.
And that was enough for me to understand.
Pronto will come soon enough.