Friendships Teach Me So Much

By Mary Lou Sanelli

I have this friend named Janice who is going through a rough time. It’s the worst thing, to be sad around the holidays. You hear a carol and everything inside you recoils.

Back in July, the month before her husband, Josh, died, I went to visit. “Open the wine in the fridge,” she yelled from upstairs, “I’ll be right down!” 

I found the wine. But there were so many prescription bottles on the counter that I could barely find a place to set it down. My first thought was, it won’t be long.

It wasn’t. Three weeks later, I was at his memorial service trying to remember if they ever got along. Because they fought. Oh, how they fought. When Janice announced her engagement, I didn’t call her back right away. I have a little problem with honesty. Up to that point, I’d hoped they wouldn’t make it. Then I started to worry that they would.

See, Josh made everyone feel uncomfortable. Especially Janice. He embarrassed her in front of her friends. It was as if he’d store up his latest complaint and when he was with us, he’d fling it at her. And I think he knew he’d fling it at her, it’s why he tagged along in the first place. Then, once everyone was looking down at the floor, mortified, he acted like he couldn’t figure out what terrible thing he said.

Lately, I’ve been thinking how Donald Trump’s demeanor reminds me of Josh’s to a T.

“Do you think I’ll ever marry again?” Janice asked on our recent visit.

“Of course you will!”

Truthfully, I had my doubts. I also knew I needed to pretend otherwise. I’ve learned that a huge part of friendship is to talk the other up or down as the situation demands, and when to never come up dry in the optimism department. 

“I hate being alone.”

 “We’re all alone in the end, right?” As soon as I said it, I couldn’t believe I’d said such a ridiculous thing. 

Exhausted by life’s bigger questions, I commented on the debates (after promising myself I wouldn’t). But I was working so hard at not bringing them up, I brought them up.

“You know,” she said, “Trump may be just what this country needs.”

I blinked. I smiled, blinked again, harder this time, emphasizing that I was just screaming inside. 

But this isn’t the point. When it comes to politics, Janice is always saying things that sound crazy to me. The point is no two people can ever be on the same page about everything. If we are, I’m pretty sure one of us is lying. The whole point is to accept each other’s differences.

Besides, I knew what Janice was really saying: I miss my husband. And she knew I knew because she started to laugh. Next, because the line between emotions is impossibly thin, she fell apart. 

After a while I whispered, “You okay?” She groaned in the affirmative. “He was a good man,” she said. 

Gently, I patted her tears. I think the truest thing I’ve yet to learn about friendship began right then, when I wiped tears from my friend’s face after she said another thing I don’t believe is true. 

And this time I didn’t blink.

Mary Lou Sanelli is an author whose latest book is A Woman Writing. When not working as a literary speaker on the Mainland, she lives in Honolulu. For more of her work, visit

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