By CAELEN MCQUILKIN
This past January, I spent a lot of time reading children’s books — Pete the Cat, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Goosebumps, Blueberries for Sal. Turning through their brightly illustrated pages of blueberry bushes, ghosts and monsters, and the hungry caterpillar’s array of food, I remembered doing the same thing as a child, entranced by words which stuck together in new combinations and brought me to worlds and adventures I had never before imagined.
I loved these books, but I think I was really reading them because I wanted to remember one: a special, elusive book that I thought could remind me who I am.
The book is called Rosie’s Hat. When I was 6, I looked through the pages of this story over and over: a girl named (spoiler alert) Rosie loses her hat and it blows on the wind across the ocean, moving over the entire globe, passed between hands of people in France, China, and Chile until it finally returns to Rosie again.
I most clearly remember a page close to the end of the book, where Rosie stands on the edge of a grassy green cliff looking out at the ocean and imagining all the places her hat has gone. The text read something like “all the places to see in the world…”
Sometimes when I got bored as a kid, I tried to imagine what infinity looked like. I would imagine the biggest number I could think of, and then tell myself I could double it, triple it, quadruple it, even multiply it by 1,000. The possibilities were endless. This was the way I found to imagine something unimaginably large, and it always brought Rosie to mind.
Gazing out at the world from her vantage point on a green hill and considering the vastness of the ocean she had lost her hat to, I thought that maybe she felt dizzy like I did when I thought about numbers. At that point in time, the book was the best way I could help myself wrap around the largeness of a universe I only knew pieces of.
I hadn’t thought of Rosie’s Hat in years until one day last January. I imagined it might still be in our house, stuffed towards the back of my 8-year-old sister’s bookshelf, sitting there for me to turn through its pages and feel the same staggering awe I once did. If I could read it, I thought, I might be able to feel that wonder again. I might be able to remember what I cared about in the core of me when I learned to love that book.
When I got home, I asked my mom if we still had Rosie’s Hat. She asked if I meant that one cute book about a girl’s hat that gets lost and travels all around a neighborhood.
“A neighborhood?” I asked.
“Yeah, like her town or something,” my mom said. “It moves around a few houses or locations until she finds it again as an adult.”
“The hat doesn’t travel across the world?” I asked, realizing, as it always seems in situations like these, how startlingly quickly you shift from feeling incredulous to very, very dumb.
My mom laughed. “I think it was just through one neighborhood.”
I started to feel dizzy — but now, maybe for different reason. I had thought that the little me sitting in the back of the minivan trying to wrap her head around the whole world was, indeed, reading a book that spoke about the entire world. About hundreds of thousands of miles of geographic distance.
But Rosie’s Hat, after all, is only about a girl’s lost hat traveling around one neighborhood in a small east coast town.
The morning I turned eleven years old, my mom made me toast and cereal and pulled up Sandra Cisneros’ short story, “Eleven” on the computer. She told me to go read it; I sat at the office computer, stacks of my dad’s work papers falling across the keyboard, staring at a bright screen. There, I found what I would later see as words for an idea that would stay with me my whole life.
Sandra Cisneros tells us that when you are eleven, “you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one.” And that the way you grow old “is kind of like an onion,” or a nesting doll or a tin band aid box full of pennies, every year inside you, always, no matter how old or mature you might feel.
What happens when the thing that you thought was a penny rattling in the bandaid box turns out to have been a nickel the whole time? Who does that make you?
With me now, I feel two types of time, two universes: one where Rosie’s hat spans the world, and another where it spans two blocks. Maybe they are both part of me.