Price Tags This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

February 7, 2011
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Everything has a price.
That apple. The cute little puppy at the pet store. Even that paper bag your mom packs your peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich in. Yes, that brown paper has value.

When I was five, I didn't understand this. I would trot into the supermarket with my mom and fill my stomach with muffins from the bakery. That is, until someone caught me and had Mamma pay for what I ate. How was I supposed to know?

Once, when we got home, my mother spanked me. I could see the rage in her eyes like fire, but I just kept smiling like a five-year-old. When I felt her hand smack me – the one I thought held only love – I learned that nothing was free.

I asked my teacher if we had to pay to get a gold star. I asked the bus driver if we needed to pay to sit in the back of his bus. I even asked Mamma if I had to pay to be alive.

“To be alive?” Mamma sighed as if she was pouring all of the wealth from her lungs.

“I bet my hands are worth a dollar each. One whole dollar! Mamma, that's one hundred pennies! My fingernails have been glossed with money from Mother Nature,” I squealed.

A chuckle boomed through the room, and a smile appeared on Mamma's face.

“Only a dollar? Baby, I think your tiny hands are worth more than that. Each finger is worth a hundred dollars.”

A serious look took over my face.

One hundred dollars? Each finger? On each hand? Could Mamma get Papa out of jail with that much money? Could Mamma send me to a better school, like where Shirley goes? Could Mamma buy us a better house? Could Mamma stop working so long and hard? She only made $4 an hour and worked eight hours a day, six days a week with barely any holidays off.

Could my hands buy us a better life? I held them up to have a good look. They didn't seem so special. The fingernails were short from biting them, the skin was flaky from washing dishes, and the color was so dark I couldn't see my veins.

“If my hands are worth that much, then how much are my arms and legs and neck worth? I hope they're a hundred dollars too. Then I can buy a hundred candy bars for my little sister for $61.79, I can get 129 pounds of black beans for $78.25, and I can even buy 70 boxes of pencils for $96.30. We'll be rich forever!”

My mother chuckled again, but this time I felt the sadness behind the laughter.

“Well, that's a lot you can get. How much do you figure your head and heart are worth?”

That one stumped me. Isn't the heart the most valuable part of the body? Isn't the brain important too? Can I give that away?

Before I could answer, my mother whispered, “Baby, you can't put a price tag on your heart. The love pumping through those veins couldn't even buy you the moon, but it will buy you what everyone seeks in life, though many never find. Happiness. You, my girl, are priceless.”

I didn't understand. I remember Papa using $4 to buy something the police ­didn't like. Didn't that buy him a pocketful of regret? I remember Mamma using $6 to buy me a pretty yellow dress for the first day of school. Didn't that buy me a pretty smile too? I remember when that cute boy in my class gave me a one cent candy for my birthday. Didn't that buy me a heart full of warmth?

But that was ten years ago.

Now I don't buy anything with a price tag.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 7 comments. Post your own now!

Roro said...
Feb. 4, 2016 at 2:44 am
Your writing is very impressive! I looove it so much! Could I ask why don't you buy anything with a price tag? What does it mean?
Michelle said...
Oct. 23, 2013 at 8:49 am
Omg! I cried after reading this. This is really good! Keep writing! :) 
Laugh-it-Out This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 31, 2013 at 1:03 pm
wow! amazing! this really sheds light on prices and stuff. i think you did an amazing job! keep up the good work!
aem312 said...
Jan. 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm
This was so cute :). Really well written too.
Daydreamish said...
Feb. 14, 2011 at 6:32 pm
This is so good! I love how on one level it's sort of a cute childhood story but it has (like Kaycee said) such deeper meaning and sadness behind it. You are very insightful and please keep writing! :)
Kaycee said...
Feb. 12, 2011 at 4:10 pm
i really enjoyed this piece ! it has so much meaning ! great job :)
Lucy(: This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 13, 2011 at 5:16 pm
Thank you [:
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