My wife carries a lot of burdens. She doesn’t ask for them. It must be something about her face—those deep green eyes and her guileless smile. It happens in the grocery store, in line at the pharmacy, and at block parties. People Maryann hardly knows feel that they can unload all sorts of secrets, and that somehow my wife is a good one to confess them to.
Maryann is a very kind woman. She has her own “baggage;” don’t we all? But somehow, nobody thinks that she has her own troubles. She looks so forgiving, I guess. I think she should have been a counselor or psychologist, because people just unfurl themselves when they meet her. I am talking instantly.
Here’s an example: Maryann was studying the dessert table at her book club meeting, when a new member who happened to be getting her second brownie suddenly turned to my wife and blurted: “I am pregnant. I am not supposed to eat this stuff. I am forty, and this will probably be my only child. I am not married.”
Maryann nodded, in her usual kind fashion, but she knew there was more coming. So she took two extra chocolate chip cookies. Sure enough:
“And I lost my job recently, so I had to move back home. And my father hates having me. I feel like a complete loser.”
Maryann never has any answers. But it doesn’t seem to be required. People just seem to want that one person they can talk to, and my wife seems to fit the bill. She has been the recipient of divorce news, cancer diagnoses, and more admissions of infidelity than she can really cope with. Apparently, Maryann looks very trustworthy and forgiving.
I have told her that maybe she should start frowning, or looking more judgmental. “Exactly what does a judgmental person look like?” She asked. I have no idea. Maybe more dark eye shadow? Or if she frowned more?
Maryann tried out a new approach last night. We were at a poetry reading, and it was a full house. The woman sitting next to my wife held a tissue and looked morose. So instead of smiling at her, Maryann frowned and gazed off into the back of the room. No eye contact at all. But the woman just shook her head. Then she smiled ruefully at Maryann. “I agree. These things are so painful. The last recitation reminded me of my son. He killed himself.” Then she wiped her eyes and reached for my wife’s hand.
When we got home, Maryann declared that she might just have to become an agoraphobic—in her own defense. I wanted to agree. But instead, I reminded her that the UPS man and the mail carrier come to the house. And so do our children’s friends, one of whom just told Maryann that she is transgender. Maryann sighed and went downstairs for some chocolate.