Within minutes of entering the dark oak-paneled Old JCR where Dr. Phillips was gathering his students for drinks on the first day of term at Emmanuel College, I began talking to Rebecca. Dark-haired, pretty, and incredibly warm, she was exactly the kind of person I was hoping to meet at Cambridge, someone who was clearly smart, energetic and motivated, but not intimidating or arrogant. I warmed to her right away.
She was reading English, wore a lot of black and was very politically motivated – one of the “trendy lefties.” I was always more of a centrist and rarely got fired up about political issues during college (other than the bad college food and the threatened introduction of student loans in the UK – I marched against that!), but despite our political differences, we were close, in part because some really tough life hit us both around the same time. In our 3rd year, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia, and around the same period, she had back surgery to cure her scoliosis. This kept her at college for one more year with me, for which I was thankful. One of my fondest moments of college was of us sitting together in my room in our final weeks of 4th year sitting eating Hobnobs and drinking Earl Grey tea brainstorming her dissertation on Jewish writers in London between the wars. She got a First for it.
After college, we both ended up living and working in Japan, Rebecca in Tokyo teaching English and then writing for the Japan Times and me working in Kyushu as a Coordinator of International Relations for the Japanese government. We visited each other a few times, me the country mouse visiting the ever-trendy Rebecca in the Big City, Rebecca the city mouse visiting me in my apartment by the rice fields. Surprisingly, although I was the one who had studied Japanese, she stayed for many more years than I did in Japan and finally returned to London after I had already accepted a job in Pasadena, California. Now we live thousands of miles apart and our daily work and family lives keep us from reaching out to each other often, we manage to find ways to connect. Last summer, we spent a lovely couple of days together in London, and she recently asked me to write an article for the magazine she edits. At a recent dinner I attended here for students of Emmanuel College, I relished my memories of my time at Emmanuel. Before leaving, I picked up two college pins as souvenirs of the evening, one for me, and one for someone else. Today I mailed it to Rebecca, the friend who had made Emma so special – a place of great beauty, of youthful confidence and optimism, and moments drinking tea with a warm, wonderful friend.