Three coins in a Buffalo fountain

As we grow older, opportunities to make wishes seem to evaporate. Where once we blew out birthday candles with relish or were coaxed into asking something of the universe when a friend plucked an eyelash from our cheek, the chance to silently voice our desires — something I once did freely — isn’t one I get often.

In Buffalo last month, I walked around Niagara Square with Spencer, his mom and Levi, Spencer’s good friend. In the very center of the square is the McKinley Monument, a beautiful structure dedicated to President William McKinley after he was killed in Buffalo during the Pan-American Exposition of 1901.

I didn’t know much about McKinley. But I know a good fountain when I see one, and Niagara Square has a good fountain.

Fishing a penny from my purse, I stood on tip-toe to peer into the crystal blue water shimmering around the base of the tall obelisk. The sun was partially obscured as I looked down at the other coins already thrown by visitors — handfuls of them. All those quiet wishes.

Spencer stood to the left of me with Levi, both of them briefly concentrating before throwing their money into the water. Levi’s bounced once and didn’t go far; Spence got some air time with his. As I watched them, I kept my penny snug in my palm.

I didn’t know what to wish for.

All of my old standby wishes no longer seemed appropriate. For a while when I was young, I wished for Matt, a gorgeous classmate who looked like he’d just stepped off a California beach, to like me. That’s right: I wished for a crush — a very unlikely crush — to be reciprocated. And I wished it hard, every chance I got.

Once I wisened up to the fact that Matt wasn’t ever going to pay me any mind, I started wishing for other things: my family’s health; good grades in school; no cavities at my next dentist appointment; a boyfriend.

Since my wishes have, as of late, been limited to the yearly birthday-candle variety, I haven’t put too much thought into it. As I was often in a not-quite-right relationship, I would wish for the strength to make good decisions — and to know the path I should take in the future. A path that might have taken me away from the men in my life, or maybe towards them. Or a path that would send me off all on my own.

My wishes have always been more like prayers. And maybe my prayers have been more like wishes.

Standing at the fountain in August, I could have wished for my family’s continued good health and a hope of great things to come. Or perhaps to advance in my career, where I edit and read and write. I could have wished for wealth or good fortune; for my upcoming tooth surgery to go well (frightening); for my cousin Ciara to have a good time in high school. For my sister’s new job to turn out well.

But this time, I stayed selfish. I made a wish just for me. And for once — once — it wasn’t for true love. Spencer tossed in his penny right before me, where it made a comforting splash.

I watched the coins sink until I couldn’t tell his from mine, or mine from his. Until they were submerged and out of view.