My third-grade teacher, Miss Kowalik, let me stay inside at recess and sort mimeographs and read instead of facing the chaos of the playground. She introduced me to creative writing and taught me how to lose and find myself by filling a white page with words. Every morning I looked forward to seeing her smiling eyes and salt-and-pepper bobbed hair.
As a child who had known very few grown-up, unmarried women, I found the “miss” in front of her name intriguing. I imagined her at the end of the day going home to her own apartment or house, a tidy, quiet place for which she’d bought all of the furniture and decorations for herself with her own money. A cat would greet her at the door, and she could cook whatever she wanted for dinner. What a romantic life Miss Kowalik must lead!
My friend Nicole and I asked her one day how old she was, and after that, age thirty-eight became synonymous with independence, poise, warmth, and creative discovery. I looked forward to the faraway day when I would be thirty-eight.
And now here I am. Thirty-eight. That romantic age.
Did thirty-eight seem like a romantic age to Miss Kowalik, or did regrets and thoughts of aging haunt her as she realized how quickly the years had passed? Did she know how beautiful she seemed to me?
I don’t know how she felt, and I don’t know where she is now to ask her, but I’m not sure it matters. It might even be dangerous to find out, if I want to keep the illusion of thirty-eight that I formed when I was eight. The way I remember Miss Kowalik and the excitement I felt about one day being thirty-eight is what I want to hold onto this year, as I do creative writing lessons with my daughter and watch in the mirror as the salt gradually overtakes the pepper.
Here’s to the romance of thirty-eight.