WHEN I was 9, I wore my hair in two long braids and curled my bangs every night on one pink foam roller. When I look at pictures from that year, I can't help thinking I look like I'm balancing a roll of sausage on my forehead.
My fourth-grade teacher Miss Kordic read stories aloud every day. We'd bunch together in a small corner that she set up as a library. Shoulder to shoulder, limbs woven under and over each other, we listened to stories of badgers, salmon, and native Americans. Polliwogs and fish matured in aquariums set up around the room. It was not beyond Miss Kordic to stop everything and encourage us to look out the window at the swallows swooping in the air like kites in a heavy wind.
Her boyfriend would occasionally come to the door of our classroom to bring her lunch or perhaps just to say hello. I was as fascinated by this relationship as I was by the fact that salmon always returned home to spawn. The color change in her cheeks when she heard that knock on the door was as interesting as what happened to the body of a fish when it began to molt.
This was the year I received my first love letter. It came in the form of a paper airplane sailing onto my desk. I unfolded the careful creases and looked for a note, but found only a drawing of a sleek aircraft. Ruler-straight lines defined the body. No eraser smudge or fingerprints stained the paper; it was obviously from someone with clean hands, a rare commodity in a fourth-grade classroom.
At recess, I studied the familiar faces of my classmates. After all, the note could be from anyone. I eliminated most of my friends, boys and girls, who I knew to be more interested in bicycles than airplanes. "I know who sent it," said my friend Lynn, "that new kid, the boy who sits in the back row." She tipped her head back in the general direction of the coat hooks. "You know, I think his name is Simpson or Simon or something like that." She told me she saw him fly the note off.