The Honest-to-Goodness Friend
We all have a friend like her: the one who tells you what you need to hear, even when it hurts. The author recalls an unwelcome gift and a tough conversation―and the unexpected blessings brought by both.
But as the hour approached, a kind of lethargy set in. It was freezing outside, and we were so cozy inside, dressed in comfortable, slouchy clothes, listening to good music, turning on lights against a darkening winter sky. I asked Phyllis if she would mind if we stayed home. “We can have martinis and I’ll cook, OK?” I said, and she readily agreed.
What to make? I wondered. Suddenly I remembered that my neighbor Suzie had given me a recipe, saying, “I really liked this, and I think you will, too.” It was for a sausage and bean ragout, and when I read the list of ingredients, I thought, Hmm. This does sound good. It’s easy to make and even low-fat. I’m going to make it! Then I never did. But now Suzie’s recipe seemed just right for the occasion, even though neither Phyllis nor I, experienced (and good) cooks both, knew exactly what a “ragout” was.
I mixed up some martinis, put a CD on the stereo, cranked up the volume, and tied on my apron. While I browned spicy turkey sausage and onion and garlic, Phyllis sang along with the singer-songwriter Duffy and danced around the dining-room table. It is one thing to see your friend dance around a table when she’s 25, quite another thing to see her doing it when she’s 62. I love a 62-year-old woman who doesn’t shy from thrusting her pelvis out all over the place; I couldn’t stop smiling.
Then Phyllis lowered the volume on the stereo and came to sit down at the kitchen table. “I need to talk to you about something,” she said. I stopped chopping basil and looked over at her. “It’s very embarrassing for me,” she said, and I saw tears well in her eyes. Phyllis is an extremely honest person, often quite blunt. For the most part, I truly appreciate that kind of honesty, and so I’m willing to suffer whatever consequences may come along with it. But I got a little nervous. I stood still, waiting. I thought she was going to criticize me, and I hoped that I could listen with an open mind and heart. Instead, what she said, in a very small, tremulous voice, was “I don’t think you liked what I gave you for your birthday.”