Ask any columnist how she decides what to write and she may say, “No matter how I begin, another idea will likely pop up.”

And if you press her about it, she may rely on cliché: “Words write us, not the other way around.”

In other words, “My tongue has a mind of its own,” even if that sounds like a bad country song.

I started to write about how proud I am that the huge matter of minimum wage has been pushed ahead in our city, then the dream I had where Bertha tunneled her way to the ocean.

Or, I could check my emails — only to get this sunken feeling I get when the world seems too complicated to understand. Something didn’t seem quite right in my friend’s last email. But this one was even more troubling.

I bring it up now only because it did occur to me at the time that the email might be what my husband and I refer to as an “Oso.”

Larry used to work with a Naval architect named Steve Harris, who was “the most honest guy in the world.” Larry wanted to work with him again, so he kept calling Steve.

“He was always quick to return a call, so I built this whole thing up in my mind: how Steve didn’t want to work with me again, how I must have said or did the wrong thing,” he said. “I lost sleep over it. I couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t get back to me.”

Then he saw Steve’s photo in the newspaper. He and his wife had been tending their weekend cabin in Oso, Wash., on March 22, when the major landslide occurred.

A dilemma of ego proportions

In one email, my friend canceled dinner; in another, lunch. Then, our weekly walk.

There are so many ways to communicate lately, it’s confusing. Should I call her again? Send another email? Text? Facebook? Instagram? It’s crazy.

I think things just come late to me in life. My wisdom teeth came in my 30s. My best girlfriend in my 40s — not in high school, not in college, not in the “baby years.”

And most essential insights are just coming to me now: It’s ego that drives us to believe that a dilemma has to have something to do with us.

I assumed my friend was through with me. I found a husband-for-life early on, but I’ve definitely felt the pain of friendship breakup. I could see — or thought I could — the writing on the wall.

But as soon as I let that horrible image of my friend and me never talking again, something strange but familiar reached inside my head and smacked it flat as a fly against the wall. I picked up the phone.

Maybe I called because I was afraid to — and I don’t like being afraid — and nothing makes me more afraid than hearing “talking” referred to as “old-school.” Because only after speaking my worst fear did I feel a return of confidence, the kind that sneaks up and is the only thing you can feel for a second.

“I am so embarrassed,” she said. It was a confession delivered after she knocked on my door. Talk about “old-school.” Talk about reassuring and comforting and exactly right.

And I knew that my friend and I would be OK after all the time ahead of her that wouldn’t feel anything close to OK for a while.

And do you know why?

Because she had one of those chemical peels that went horribly wrong. She was depressed. She was “in hiding.”

She said she got the peel, gasp, “on sale.” She was trying to find another doctor to fix her face.

She wore a shawl over part of her face. She’s from India, so it didn’t look as funny as if, say, I wore a shawl over part of my face. It was blue, made of silk or one of those new fabrics that never wrinkles….

But the point is, I would miss her terribly if she wasn’t in my life. What would I do without her?

Steve, Larry misses you so much.

MARY LOU SANELLI’s latest book is “Among Friends.” Visit her website: To comment on this column, write to