#778: Perfectly 22

April 17th, 2017

She got on board the train at a stop in Wicker Park, which was the perfect place for her to get on.

She had mid-cropped hair bleached to a sandy platinum, the perfect color for her to have.

She wore the perfect big glasses, the perfect wafting dress, the perfect marigold top that an ingénue in a 1930s MGM romp would giggle over and say, “This old thing?” She didn’t giggle or act a part, though. She was just a woman riding a train to work — pretty, but giving me thoughts more of the calendar than the bedroom.

She was perfectly, perfectly 22.

My goal’s not to objectify this woman the way the way writers my age and gender tend to — couching their intent through plant-related adjectives like “blossoming,” “flowering” and, worse, “budding.”

I don’t know this person. I don’t know if she’s nice or mean, a brilliant poet or a sort of dumb mathematician. I don’t know her hopes and dreams or if she really can’t handle dairy. Heck, I don’t even know if she’s actually 22.

I’m not trying to turn her into an object. I’m trying to turn her into an idea. And that idea is possibility.

Glancing at this person with the hours of coiffing designed to look effortless and the demeanor that hasn’t yet seen the slings and arrows of mundane fortune, I saw possibility given human form.

She might meet a guy or girl and run off to suburbia for a house full of kidlings. She might stay in town, growing weary of streets and smog but addicted to the electricity the city casts at night. She might move to Brazil and become an accountant or decide a house full of pet lizards all named Chico is a preferable fate to having to learn all that Portuguese and double-entry bookkeeping.

The point’s not that this freedom better. I hated the rootlessness of my 22, when I was the one glowing with youth at the Blue Line stop in Wicker Park. I like things now, when I’ve taken a few more steps toward the choices I want.

She didn’t seem happy or comfortable in her skin and 22ness. That was perfect too. She’s stepping into a swirling, dividing hedge maze that could take her to kidlings or lizards Chico, Portugal or just to a commute downtown. It’s natural that she looked a mixture of scared and confident, poised and anxious.

I silently wished her well at being 22, or whatever age she might be. I wished her well at youth.

Read a poem about Wicker Park

In which I wish another young woman well

In which I was wished well, but didn’t get it until later

What's this?

You are currently reading #778: Perfectly 22 by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.