Her life was one that housewives watched on Facebook, longing for a moment in her shoes.
Her photos were exotic, envy-inducing. She still looked great in a bikini, fit and lightly sun-kissed. She seemed to have a new, younger, attractive man by her side in everything she displayed.
Ooh, Corinne! Who is that??? Wowza!
OMG! So gorgeous! Where are you?! He is HOT!
Wow! You look so happy!
But she woke up empty this morning.
It was Corinne’s dream to be a working artist, and she did whatever it took to make it a reality. She started by painting murals when she was sixteen, custom-decorating patrons’s living room walls and a few bedroom murals she couldn’t speak of (and wouldn’t even if she could).
When she was twenty-one she got a job working for a design agency, drafting all the board meeting ideas into visual roadmaps. By thirty she was the Creative Director and by thirty-three she became a partner and was unofficially running the agency.
When they were bought by a bigger company, she took her payout and traveled the world, studying different cultures and the art forms they originated.
She preferred the “unchained life”—that’s what she called it — no husband, no partner, no children . Nothing to distract her from her work.
By thirty-five she was living out of a suitcase, painting and drawing in various bits of each continent, then showing and selling her work at local galleries — all funding her travels again and again.
After fifteen years, it didn’t grow tiresome until this moment—a week before her fiftieth birthday.
Really, it was the year prior. She can pinpoint the day, the moment, if she digs down deep enough.
Corinne sits before a gold-framed mirror in a small hotel room in Barcelona. Her partner for the evening is on the bed behind her.
Thinking about last night, entangled with the beautiful Spanish man who spoke too fast for her to fully comprehend. Reminiscing, normally she’d feel a heartbeat flutter between her thighs, enticing her to climb back into bed with him for another go.
But not this morning.
It is five days before her fiftieth birthday and she’s a month late from her last menstrual cycle. In the past, she’d be frantic, combing through her medicine bag, desperate to find a back-up Morning After pill to snuff the consequences of a drunken night of forgettable bliss. In this case she’d be searching for a local abortion clinic with at least three stars in Google Reviews.
But it wasn’t the same feeling. She wasn’t growing another tiny person inside her this time.
She thinks about Paris last year.
She fell hard for Aksel, a Netherlands transplant living just outside the city. They met at Le Bistrot des Dames, at the bar. He ordered — what did he order? She forgets. More likely she made herself forget.
It was something close to her drink, something with a different liquor base — similar composition — and Corinne told him Vermouth went better with it, shooting him a sly grin. He glanced at her sideways, his amber eyes glinting in the warm drop lights of the bar.
She slid her glass in front of him and told him to take a sip.
She never shied away from intimacy, but everything felt natural with Aksel. Easy, right, good.
Everything was better with him.
The man in her bed groaned and she drew in a deep, quivering breath, holding her own gaze in the mirror.
Each line and crease reminded her of something, mainly the men in her life who came and went—usually good memories, she’d say.
That time in Puerto Rico with the man who smelled of cocoa butter and the ocean—the lines on her forehead remind her of him, sunglassed eyes wide in awe, watching him surf the horizon.
The lines between her brows, those remind her of the man in New Orleans who refused to acknowledge Corinne’s disinterest in commitment and would follow her around, waiting for her to “come to her senses”.
She tuts and lowers her head. Her face damp.
The thin, splaying lines around her eyes are hers and hers alone. Years of scattered smiles frozen in time like the snapshots of glimmering happiness, like those perfectly showcased on her Facebook page.
In this moment, though, staring at the same weathering face she’d seen for almost fifty years left her thinking of everything she didn’t do.
A full life suddenly empty.
Last year, Corinne and Aksel spent eight fast months together. The longest relationship she’d had where she wasn’t still sleeping with other people.
It felt good to commit for once. Other men just didn’t blip on her radar when she was with him. She liked that.
They spent almost every waking moment together. She moved into his small flat in Montrouge and they went about their lives blissfully—until the day it ended, that is.
It was a few days before her forty-ninth birthday and the test read positive.
Corinne’s future flashed furiously before her. She’d be close to sixty-eight when her child was old enough to be on its own.
Sixty-eight, the numbers lingered, flitting about her head as she sat on the bathroom floor, clutching the pregnancy test. There wasn’t a proper chance to think before Aksel burst into the flat, banging through the small doorway, weighted paper bags crumpling about.
“Cori, have I got a surprise for you!” he said in his thick Dutch accent.
So do I, she thought, her heart falling into her gut.
Corinne slid the cap back on the test stick and shoved it into her back pocket. She hurriedly went to the sink and rinsed her hands and face, gently toweling them dry.
Aksel opened the bathroom door, squeezing his face between the door and frame. “Are you all right?”
Her chin trembled but she nodded, forcing a smile.
She didn’t tell him that night. He was too excited about the group of Americans he invited over for dinner. Corinne had been missing home and Aksel thought offering her a piece of it would help to cheer her up.
Looking back, she realized her hormones were probably the reason for her sudden sadness. She hated “home”. She ran from her family when she was eighteen and never looked back.
She wondered how far along she was. Was there even a period the previous month? The month before that?
How long had it actually been?
Her heart sank.
The Americans were young and vapid. Corinne wished Aksel would stop trying so hard to please her.
Normally she’d love the attention, his adoration, but all she could think about was being alone with him. All she wanted to do was tell him about the fetus, tell him she’s too old and give him the chance to leave—to be with a younger woman who could give him what he wanted, if that’s what he wanted.
What did he want? She never asked.
Instead she remained silent for the evening. By the time the Americans stumbled out of the flat, it was early in the morning and Corinne only wanted sleep.
They were never so busy as they were the following few days, it seemed. The weight of the little human inside her became too heavy on her conscience. She’d worked out all the possibilities, all his reactions by the time she decided she would go get it taken care of without him.
She could tell him later. Maybe.
She remembered that saying—was it American?—the one that went: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission”.
She couldn’t wait any longer, at least that’s what she told herself.
It was the day of her birth, the day she had it done.
She was thirteen weeks along. Roughly, she told herself. Her fetus could’nt have been that developed, surely.
There was so much blood—was that normal? Was it because she was so old?
The nurse said there would be blood but not like that.
When she returned home, she found that Aksel had a whole evening planned—Corinne wondered if he would propose, but she couldn’t let that happen, even if she hadn’t aborted their child.
She told him no surprises after the Americans, but he couldn’t resist, just as she couldn’t wait—it had to be done. It had to be done.
Even with all his plans, Aksel was too concerned to follow through when he noticed the state of her. He took her to the hospital, against her wishes, but when she lost consciousness she could no longer fight back.
When she woke the next day, Aksel was sitting beside her hospital bed with her suitcase, lumpily imploding on his lap. He was staring at her hands perched on her chest.
“How could you?” he said, the words almost gagging him on the way out. A tear rolled down his cheek.
Corinne shook her head. “Wha—” she stopped. She knew what, and treating him like he were an imbecile would only make things worse, she knew that.
Her pulse thudded in her throat. “You were busy,” she blurted. “I had to do something. I’m too old, Aksel . . . I’m sorry.”
He scoffed, wet dropping his eyes to the floor.
She wanted to talk to him—to tell him everything—but he wouldn’t listen even if she did.
“You made the decision without me,” he said. “There is nothing more for me here.”
His words throb in her head.
She watched him leave a million times, replaying the scene over and over in her mind’s eye.
He was never going to forgive her. She wouldn’t, if the tables were turned, but now as she sits before her experienced reflection, she realizes she doesn’t always have the answers she thought she did.
She knows, this time, that there’s no second chances.
There’s no more babies, no more Aksel—the life she wanted so desperately seems wasted, useless, this life she got—like she reached her goal young and settled, suspended in an outwardly successful state.
Living strictly for the social triumph.
The work, her Facebook life, the false memories captured in an iPhone camera lens—it never mattered.
Corinne smiles, watching the lines around her mouth rise like an inflating balloon pushing up through infirm clouds.
She inhales the moment, accepts it as it is, turns out the lamp and climbs back into bed with the nameless Spanish man, twisted in the bone-white sheets.
In the morning she’ll ask him to breakfast.
There may never be a child nor the man she truly loves, but there is right now. And right now can be good enough.
I’m Sara Eatherton-Goff, a non-fiction and fiction writer, visual artist, and entrepreneur mom-person currently writing on Medium and for other publications. Check out some of my collective works on my website, and join my journey from writer to published author right here.