Today was my friend Rebecca’s birthday. This Rebecca I met when I was 16 and had just started Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge. I had moved with my family from Canada to England and remember missing my Canadian friends and being anxious about meeting new friends in England. Rebecca was one of the first friends I made at Hills Road. I was dazzled by her. She was tall, slim, had long, thick, dark brown hair and probably the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen. They sparkled when she told stories, and I’m sure my eyes were sparkling too. Her stories were always so hilariously witty and often followed by a hearty laugh. She had attended a local private girls’ school called The Perse, but wasn’t stuck up at all. Instead she was very warm, friendly and welcoming, one of the group of girls at Hills Road who made me feel ok about living in England.
Rebecca and I had many interests in common. I had chosen to study English, French and Economics, and I think she was taking English, French and History. After our A levels, we both long to spend time abroad so signed up for work with Jobs in the Alps, and head to Switzerland on different assignments. Not long after she began her au pair job there, I found out that she had escaped from her very unpleasant family (the kids were fine but the parents horrible) by climbing out of the window early one morning and then fleeing the town. My stint in Switzerland wasn’t much better. My employers were abusive to the staff, and I quit too, but without Rebecca’s flourish. I resigned, packed my bags and left through the door, my pockets bursting with chocolate, the only pleasure I’d really enjoyed during my stay there. After our years off, we both went to separate universities, and though we both studied languages – she French and me Japanese – our lives started to drift apart. After college, she lived in France and eventually married a Frenchman. I moved to Japan. This is the down side, I suppose, of being friends with other language lovers.
Over the years, Rebecca and I kept loosely in touch. She was in France when I was back in London after my stay in Japan, and then I moved to California nearly 18 years ago. I haven’t really had the chance to enjoy Rebecca as an adult, to go out for dinner with her and laugh over a drink or two, share stories about our experiences living in foreign lands, loving in foreign languages. I wasn’t there for her when she tragically gave birth to a stillborn child a few years ago now. I would have so liked to have been one of the friends supporting her then. But, although we are distant, my feelings for her are still warm and from the brief exchanges we have had over the years, I know she is still the same beautiful, witty, super-smart woman I was so taken by when I first landed in England.
Today, though it won’t arrive on time, I mailed her a little birthday gift. A silk scarf that I bought in Carcassone in Southwestern France over a decade ago. It is dyed with a natural pigment called woad, or pastel, in French and is a dazzling shade of blue, which I know will set off Rebecca’s sparkling eyes beautifully.