It’s spring in Milan. What earlier felt like a biting, frosty chill, is nothing more than a pleasant breeze now. The sun, despite being at her most fragile and barely dry, is pushing courageously against the remnants of the Italian winter and through the bay windows of Hilary Belle Walker’s third floor apartment. She moved in six months ago with her husband Emanuele, his 9-year old son Edoardo, and her 8-month old, quietly growing belly. It’s a girl, and her name is Diletta Jane.
Hilary weighed only forty-four kilos when she got pregnant – that’s less than a hundred pounds. Not on purpose though. She’s a petite woman to begin with but the burden of starting up her new business had been taxing. She modeled Bivio after the Buy-Sell-Trade stores she grew up with in San Francisco, because there was nothing like it in Milan. “There were a few consignment shops,” she remembers “but they had weird hours and you had to make appointments and they weren’t very young-feeling or fresh or fun. It just seemed like a no-brainer. Lots of people said it would never work and didn’t really understand the business model – even my accountant was politely doubtful. I didn’t see how it could NOT work.” But it worked: “We’re about to turn two.”
She also applied that arduous ideology of succeeding to her uterus, until the hard facts of life threatened to topple her entire being. “My being pregnant was sort of a surprise,” she says with a sigh of relief. “I mean, we’d been doing what couples do for two years and nothing ever happened. We didn’t set clocks or do anything particularly radical, but I mean, zero results with zero precautions. I was normally pretty zen about it, with of course the normal intermittent bouts of procreative female despair. I was, after all, in my late thirties. My expectations were low.”
“When my period came last July – it was the last month before I turned forty – I had a massive huge weeping session one night in the kitchen. For me, turning forty was not exactly a “cut-off date”, but maybe a point when I had decided I was going to stop hoping and expecting. I cried and cried and cried and then woke up and got over it: I mean, that’s life, right? In any case, we were getting married at the end of August in San Francisco and then having another big wedding again early September in Italy so I really had enough on my plate.”
The day after their wedding, on August 22nd, they were in marital bliss at their suite, when they remembered the MDMA pills one of their friends had so kindly offered them during the reception. “I was all excited to take my lovely, fancy drugs in our lovely, fancy hotel (something I’ve obviously never done in the past) when my new husband said, “Um, before we do this, I think you should take a pregnancy test. You’ve been kind of weird lately. You know, just to be sure.” I of course, thought he was crazy and yelled at him, that I wasn’t “weird”, but had planned two weddings on two continents in less than a month and so was just perhaps A LITTLE STRESSED and could he JUST LET ME HAVE FUN today? And he said, “Yes, let’s have fun, but just take a pregnancy test first. Also your body feels kind of different.”
“So we went down to the drugstore and I was basically making fun of him while I peed on the stick and then suddenly it all went very silent… And there were two pink lines.” Granted they returned the happy pills to their thoughtful friend the next day, “thereby closing THAT possibility for a good long while. (Obviously neither my daughter nor my parents will ever read this, right?)”
Hilary always wanted to be an actress. “I saw the musical Peter Pan when I was four and it was all over for me,” she laughs. She studied theatre at UCLA and Exeter, but at some point her interest shifted from acting to writing, which explains all the witty comments. When asked to describe his wife, Emanuele answers firmly: “Eclectic, tenacious, charming, dominant, generous, and sunny with the right shades”. But mainly, retorts Hilary, “he just tells me I’m “a lot”.” Coming from an Italian, that stands for something. She sports turbans instead of beanies, puts on two different color shoes when she feels like it, and never wears two earrings, just the one. “You can tell I don’t take clothes too seriously,’ she winks. “There’s also humor in there, though it’s evident I care about getting dressed. I’m convinced my hair has a lot to do with my personal style. When you’re born with this kind of crazy hair and a bunch freckles you can’t exactly embrace the somber, elegant, minimalist aesthetic. It’s just not credible.” The couple also has a thing for flamingos, but when I try to find out why, she whispers: “I cannot do that. But it’s really funny, trust me.”
It’s not until I start writing Hilary’s story that I notice how very similar we are. Which is comforting on so many levels. We are the same age, have the same damned hair, the same little body, and the same humor, in dress and in vocabulary. She’s sailed through life with a flair of laissez-faire and trusted her impulses. She’s animated and sarcastic, and if I had a husband he’d probably also call me “a lot”. She started her own business, moved half way across the world to be with a man five years her junior, and now she’s pregnant, against all odds. As a single woman in New York, who’s only remaining wish – or should I say, goal – is to start a family, I just got a good kick in the ass. It’s not over at forty, ladies! For some of us, it’s just beginning.