I hadn’t seen you for months and months, not since after the election was stolen. Then one early winter morning there you were, walking across the gym parking lot toward me, and before I could remember that you are a Republican and I am the opposite; before I could remember that I will never, ever forgive Trump supporters—including you—you hugged me hello. And I hugged you back.
The relief, to feel love instead of anger.
“I didn’t know you went to this gym,” I said.
“I saw your daughter working at the farmer’s market,” you mentioned. “She’s so grown up.”
“Did you pass your exam?” I remembered you’d been studying to get your real estate license.
“How’s that dumb cat of yours?” Way back when you’d tease me about how much I love my cat, which only prompted me to send you more kitty photos.
We lingered in the parking lot as the sun rose, cutting the chill. Our gabbing was mostly small talk—not like all those laughfests and heart-to-hearts that got us through our divorces, our kid scares, our self-doubts—but, still, this felt like a big moment.
For what seems like forever, I have tried not to feel such . . . betrayal. I have lectured myself so many times: You have to move beyond your anger and horror. You have to understand the other side’s point of view. But always, my thoughts ignite: Who would put a bigot in the White House but another bigot? Who would cast a vote for a man who brags about sexual assault, mocks disabled reporters, separates parents from their children at the border? Who but an ignoramus would rally for an ignoramus who discounts climate change?
You! I thought, with that goddamn T-shirt with the elephant symbol that you liked to wear when we went out for drinks.
In the parking lot, you pointed to your feet. “Remember these socks,” you raised the cuff of your jeans. Red wool, shot with blue. We reminisced about the gathering my boyfriend and I had hosted just a few years ago—a different world ago. He had brought out a big cardboard box full of socks, each pair hand-knit by his 100-year-old mother in Germany. They represented several decades’ worth of love and fine needlework, never worn, and soft, rich in color. (But, really, how many socks can one son wear?) At the gathering, you and the others all selected a pair to take home. A lovely way to share the warmth.
“I think of you guys every time I wear these socks,” you said. “One foot is you, and the other is your man.”
I laughed, imagining my boyfriend and I as sock puppets on your feet. It felt familiar, this cracking up over the dumbest things. By now, the sun had broken through the winter clouds and was shining in my eyes, blinding me, so I shifted position. You were such a good friend. Then you were my ex-friend. Anger, relentless anger, had kept the depth of this loss at bay—that is until you ambushed me with that hug in the parking lot.
We said goodbye with promises to get together soon. A lame joke occurred to me as we headed to our cars: You know, those are two“left” socks you’re wearing on your feet. Too soon, I thought, and kept my silence. In fact, it is still too soon for me to find any of this funny, and who knows if being ex ex-friends means we’ve somehow managed to come full circle. Still, I wanted to write to you and those silly sock puppets to say thank you for this step in the right direction.
Joni B. Cole is the author of the new release Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better & Be Happier. For more information, visit www.jonibcole.com.
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