Somebody That I Used to Know
A short story by Susan Hatters Friedman.
I don’t get confused for Alyssa Milano on the street anymore. I do live in Pittsburgh rather than Brooklyn now, and I'm pushing 35. Maybe it was me working in the real world to make the rent, and not just relaxing with daiquiris and a personal trainer, not that I begrudge her or anything. I am so proud of her for helping push the MeToo movement. It’s not that I’m hung up on somebody that I used to know. Really not.
When I was 7 and Who’s the Boss? was the biggest show in America, everyone watching it on Tuesday nights, it was the closest to a religious experience I’ve ever had, and I’m counting my visit to the Vatican. At 8:30PM, there would be a girl who could be my twin on the screen of bajillions of people’s houses. It was like watching myself do all these things that I hadn’t actually done. But sometimes watching made me feel sick-- like deep in my belly and dizzy kind of sick.
Everyone started calling me by my middle name Elissa (instead of Mia) right around the same time. And there was ‘Hot Beats.’ Sophie convinced me to send in my photo for the look-alike contest. I’m not sure why I was the look-alike because I was already me and maybe she was my look-alike? But there I was in each annual issue, Elissa Russo, next to Alyssa Milano.
I was catapulted into a different world. People were dying to give me free stuff, to get their picture taken with me, get my autograph.
I caught everyone’s eye, on the street, in the mall, at the party, for the next 20 years. It was me and I was beautiful, “bellissima”. Dad said I looked just like Mom when he met her.
Once, we ended up at the same party in Manhattan. I was dating a guy who looked like (a younger) Liam Neeson. Strangers kept asking why I had changed my outfit. Then she came over and said, “anyone ever tell you you look a lot like Alyssa Milano?”
I couldn’t get anything out. Later I realised I should’ve said, “anyone ever tell you you look like an older Elissa Russo?”
Except when I spent my semester abroad in Milan. None of the second glances that I got in New York. No one in Italy recognized an Italian-American film star? Who’s the Boss? wasn’t on TV. And I just looked like a lot of girls here. Milano-Elissa could be whoever she wanted. Just no free stuff.
And I fell hard for Gianni. You pronounce it like Johnny. He could see me for me.
When he came home to New York with me, god bless him, Gianni thought everyone who came up to me on the street actually knew me. It was my hometown after all.
Since I hit 35 in Pennsylvania, though, “Sorry, you looked like somebody that I used to know” is what I get. I had tried for a while to keep it up. She’d get a new haircut for a film, my Lawrenceville-hip hairdresser Zane would know exactly what I was looking for. Maybe it is the curse of being a middle-aged woman, but middle-age doesn’t seem to happen for her. For Alyssa with an A.
Now I might look like her sister, her cousin, to you. Enough that you’d do a double-take.
When I saw her—Alyssa—at LaGuardia in March two years ago, she treated me like a stranger.
I’m Mia. Only, permanently. Everyone who sees me at the Giant Eagle, at the PTA meeting, at Brownies, sees Mia D’Amato, Mrs D’Amato.
And no one in my little family even noticed Alyssa Milano when we watched the Netflix movie Little Italy 2 weeks ago.
My beautiful Italian-American daughter Giulia recently discovered Who’s the Boss? when I was at work. “Highly recommended for kids.” According to her brother Matteo who had been tasked with watching her, Giulia “totally freaked out the rest of the day. Totally!” By the time I got home, Matteo had her convinced that the reason all the tias and Brooklyn friends call Mommy Alyssa is because I was a child star, and Daddy was from Milan. He thought it was hilarious.
Now as I sit with my bundle of energy 6-year-old, she describes feeling like she was outside herself, watching herself on TV doing things she had never actually done. I tell her that no, Mommy wasn’t that Alyssa, Mommy is her own Elissa, Mommy is her own Mia, and Mommy likes having two names.
Giulia asserts she is going to be Alyssa. I tell her that Giulia is much better—a real person, not an imaginary TV character. That Giulia is Giulia Isabella and she can be Isabella whenever she wants. But not Alyssa. ▲
Susan Hatters Friedman is a psychiatrist specializing in forensic psychiatry and maternal mental health. She studied satire writing with The Second City. Her recent creative writing can be read at (or is forthcoming at) Hobart, Eclectica, and JMWW.