On Second Thought(17)

By: Kristan Higgins

It was always there, the primal call to procreate and protect. The maternal instinct is the strongest force in nature, they say. But I wanted the whole package, too. I wanted there to be a daddy. Aside from the maternal thing, there was that secret desire to be...well...adored.

It was not something that was cool to admit. With each passing year, the idea of being smitten with someone, having someone smitten with me, became more and more distant, even a little absurd, as if I still expected Santa to come on Christmas Eve.

Birthdays became a bit of a shock. Thirty-five, thirty-six...they were fine. They were great, even. I knew who I was, my reputation was growing, I was making a nice income, teaching classes, traveling.

But thirty-seven...and then thirty-eight...the very digits had a tint of desperation to them. Late thirties sounded so much older than midthirties. Checking the box “never married” made me feel as isolated as an Ebola patient. I found myself getting more and more obsessed, looking at every passing male as my potential mate—the guy at the dry cleaners, the guy who delivered my pizza, the guy who bumped into me in front of Whole Foods.

And then came thirty-nine, and something great happened.

I just...stopped.

My friends and siblings took me out for a surprise dinner—Paige; Ainsley and Eric; Jake and Josh; my occasional assistant, Max, and his wife; Sean and Kiara. They toasted me and gave me insulting cards. Paige gave me a box of Depends diapers, which was a little mean, I thought. She was only two months younger than I was. Jake and Josh gave me a full cadre of crazy-expensive skin care products specifically designed for aging skin. From Sean and Kiara, a day at a spa for a rejuvenation package. From Ainsley and Eric, same spa, same treatment.

“No embalming fluid?” I asked, getting a laugh.

“This is from the gentleman at the bar,” our server said, setting a fresh martini in front of me. I turned; there was Daniel the Hot Firefighter, who winked at me and resumed fondling the ass of his latest False Alarm. Sure. He’d buy me a drink. He’d never sleep with me. I’d aged out fifteen years ago.

I waved my thanks, looked back at my friends and family, smiled and simply gave up.

No more dating. I took down my online profiles, stopped scanning Prospect Park’s softball teams and forbid myself to watch anything on the Hallmark Channel.

I was surprised by what a relief it was.

Suddenly, I was happier than I’d been in years. I’d lived in the same gorgeous apartment since college, bought with a hefty loan from my parents just before Brooklyn prices boomed. If I ever needed the money, I could sell it for nearly five times what I paid for it. My classes at the Re-Enter Center were always full. I had a small but tight circle of friends and a slightly dysfunctional but pretty good family.

I had a well-established career I loved, clients who were generally overjoyed with my work. There was nothing like showing a couple their wedding photos—proof of their love—or seeing a mom tear up over the photo of her laughing child, that one moment in time that tells her everything she hopes. I loved how my camera could capture a fleeting moment and all the emotions it held, how a good photo could stop time forever.

At night, I’d come home to the third floor of my brownstone, make myself some dinner or eat leftovers, sit on the steps in the nice weather, talking to the neighbors—the Kultarr family who lived on the first floor, Mrs. Wick from down the street and her poodle, Ishmael. In the winter, I’d plunk myself down in my gray velvet chair, open a book and drink a glass of not-bad wine. Movies, the occasional concert, walks in Prospect Park, drinks with friends.

For children, I had my nieces and nephew. Ainsley and Eric had been together for a thousand years, and I imagined they’d have kids pretty soon. I often babysat for Jake and Josh and got my baby fix from the adorable Jamison, who loved me because I never tired of giving him horsey rides, extra dessert, and would read story after story until he was sound asleep.

If this was all there was, it was plenty. Constantly scanning for more—the baby or the guy—had chipped away at my soul. Life was good. Single, Solitary Me was enough. Call me a Buddhist, but it worked.

Shortly after that birthday, I shot a wedding of a woman who reminded me of my earlier self. She was thirty-seven, quick to tell me she and her fiancé had been together for twelve years, lest I think she was alone until now. (I always wondered about those couples, my sister and Eric included. A decade is a long time to wonder if you should marry someone.)

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