"If you could be like anybody else, who would it be?" There are so many good answers. She could be as beautiful as Helen of Troy, as glamorous as Jackie Onassis, as smart as Marie Curie, as rich as J.K. Rowling, as wild as Patti Smith. She'd like to be as strong as Joan of Arc. She already is a strong woman, a modern, independent woman, but she isn't quite strong enough. Her children, her coworkers, her patients, they are all depending on her, and she always falls short. Now her last friend has just left, saying that they can't be friends any more because people have begun to talk. They've been disappearing one by one for years, she doesn't know what she does that makes them leave, but now there are none left. Women don't like her because she speaks like a man, with terse words, never showing what is under the shell she has grown. Men like her but they can't be her friends, she is too pretty and their wives get suspicious. She cries and asks why, he puts his hand on her shoulder and says, "there there." This has all happened before, and he knows it will happen again.
"It's like there's something dirty about me, nobody will come near me," she moans.
"That's not true. It's their problem, there's nothing wrong with you."
"I used to have friends."
A long silence is broken when she blows her nose and wipes away a tear drop that hangs from the tip.
"And everyone's been gossiping, I know they have. They say all these awful things about me."
"There there, it can't be everyone, a few people will always gossip."
"But now I don't know who to trust. I don't have anybody."
"You have me."
"That's different, you know what I mean."
"It's not too much to ask for a friend."
She appears in old photographs as an anachronism. Everything around her is different and dated, she is the same as ever. There in someone else's college room with the 70s haircuts and Travis Bickle on the wall, the guys holding beers and the girls cheap wine, she sits on the couch in the corner. Holding a coffee and smiling a little, she looks as though she is waiting for someone, the same way she always looks nowadays. Her hair is a little longer and there is some fat around her thighs that she now works so hard to keep off, but her face is no different from the way it is today. She doesn't like the old photographs because they only make her feel regret. She regrets staying in to study every night, earning the HDs and the scholarship; she regrets leaving home to pursue the career her mother wanted; she regrets sleeping with so few men in her best years; she regrets that none of the other people in the photographs remember her as anything but that medical student who was rarely seen.
"If you could be like anybody else, who would it be?" He could be as cool as John Lee Hooker, as handsome as Paul Newman, as funny as Dave Chappelle, as talented as Yo-Yo Ma, as clever as Gore Vidal. He really just wants to be, like nobody he can think of, able to say the right things. Sitting on the bus, at the dinner table, standing on the stairs, with his arm around her as she quietly cries; all he can ever do is stare, trying desperately to think of something to say. If he could say the right thing just once, something to make her feel better, that would be his super-power. He could be the happiest man alive if she would only be happy too, and he is sure that he could make her happy if he only knew which words to use. There are so countlessly many possible combinations of words stored in his mind that there must be one that would help, that could keep her from crying and make her happy the way she used to be, back when he always had something to say. Back then, when he was a child, he was talkative. "He could talk underwater with a mouthful of mud," his grandfather always said with a grin. He would make old ladies laugh and old men would pat him on the back. It was always older people who liked him best. Now he feels like an old man inside a young man's skin, not understanding the kids these days, and the kids these days can tell.
He feels himself changing every day, and he doesn't like it. She wishes that she could change, but doesn't know how.
She knows that he loves her, but she is looking for a different kind of love. He is never far away, always listening, never talking, but that's not what she needs. She knows he cares because love is in actions, not in words, but that doesn't help. She works long hours because she needs the money. She is out the door before sunrise some days, never home before dark, and when she walks through the door he is always there, but he can't cure her fatigue or give her hope the way she knows some other men could, if only they would stay with her long enough.
He cooks dinner and they eat on the couch; the table is only used on special occasions nowadays. She tells him about her day and how she is feeling, and he says, "there there, Mum."