The Eternal Question: What If?
One rainy afternoon, not so long ago, I ran into a long-lost buddy from my days in advertising. It had been almost 25 years since we'd spoken. I'd gained some weight and he'd lost some hair. We ducked into a little coffee shop to dry off and catch up. He showed me a picture of his wife and kid and told me that the three of them spend summers in Paris. "We just get completely immersed in the culture." I showed him a picture of Julia and Johannes (that would be my boyfriend for those of you who've managed to miss my last 735,000 columns) and told him that the three of us summer in my bedroom. "We just get completely immersed in the air-conditioning." And then it happened: "I always had a little thing for you," he said. And, my friends, I'm not proud of what I'm about to tell you, but here it is: I actually looked behind me to see who he was talking to. "Wait, you mean me? Me? The woman who helped pick out everything from long-stem tulips to La Perla lingerie for your many, many girlfriends? You had a thing for me?" I asked him why he neglected to speak up all those years ago. If this were a movie, here's the part where he'd reveal some incredibly dramatic secret—"The truth is, I was a CIA operative only posing as an account executive. In my heart I knew that you were the one girl I'd be tempted to blow my cover for, and if I did that, my angel, well, we'd all be speaking Chinese right now." But this is not a movie—he thought for a minute, shrugged, and answered, "You know, I honestly can't remember."
Julia plants four or five fresh blueberries in each paper cup of batter—our secret trick to make these muffins taste like the real deal—while I wipe sticky splotches off the table and imagine what might've been. I could've spent August boating on the Seine. I could've been bullish on America. Hell, I could've danced Swan Lake. Anyway, that's the fantasy. The reality is I tend to get seasick; I would've pleased my father but lost my mind; and as for becoming the next Dame Margot Fonteyn, there's an excellent chance I'd have jetéed straight into the orchestra pit and crushed a cellist six seconds into the first act.
We put our muffins in the oven and set the timer for 16 minutes. Julia announces that she will be using this period "to have three babies and take them swimming." I will use my 16 minutes to shake off all dreams of a road less traveled. You make the choices you make based on what you know about yourself and what you think you know about the world. And sometimes the world will turn around and break your heart, but other times, a 5-year-old will saunter in with three dolls wet from their swim lesson. The five of you will sit down to blueberry muffins, and the reality of what you wound up with will suddenly seem like the only possible choice—it just couldn't have turned out any other way.
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From the September 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.