I have been friends with Fiona since I was 17 years old. We had just moved back to the UK from Canada and I was in French class wondering how I was going to fit back into a French class in the UK after 4 years in Quebec. The French teacher at Hills Road Sixth Form College wasn’t sure either; he seemed concerned I might have trouble keeping up. However, as I sat in class listening to other students struggling to put basic sentences together, I realized that my four years in Quebec had stood me in good stead back in Europe. I was now worried about getting bored. But then, a voice from across the classroom uttered words I will never forget: “J’étais piquée par une méduse.” I sat up in my seat to get a better look at the girl who had been stung by a jellyfish. She was slim with a brown bob, and in her jeans and sandals had a slightly hippy vibe. I immediately wanted to meet her.
When we lived in Canada, May was my best friend. She was a year or so older than me, but probably more than a decade wittier and wiser. Her parents were Cantonese immigrants to Canada, ran a Chinese restaurant across town and didn’t speak a whole lot of English or French, but May spoke three languages, loved reading and writing and was a great artist too. I loved to draw too, but we had no art classes at our school, so together we started an art club, a short-lived endeavor which included sticking pictures made by club members up on the school walls, in what was probably my first experience with an art exhibition. May and I were not popular with boys, part of the in-crowd or any good at sports, which probably bonded us more closely. Today, we’d probably be considered nerds, though I don’t remember that term being used back then. Instead of sports, we liked reading and writing, and over the years developed a close relationship with both of our English teachers, Mr. Doyle (see April 10) and Mr. Willett, two truly inspiring mentors who not only brought language and literature alive but also seemed to really get us as people. Before we graduated from the school, May and I treated them both to a picnic to thank them.
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.
Today, we had an unexpected family playdate with Theo’s best friend Lucca and his parents, Suzette and Manuel. Theo and Lucca have known each other since preschool so neither of them can remember a time when the other wasn’t in his life. Over the years, despite attending different schools for the past 5 years, they have built up a strong friendship by attending weekly karate classes together, going to summer camp together, and having the occasional playdate, when they build cushion forts, play with Legos or video games, all the while chattering and giggling – for hour after hour. They are both only children, so in some ways they are like brothers, but they have not argued once in the 7 years of their friendship, so in this respect they are not like any brothers I know.
Over the years, I have been very grateful to Suzette for being my partner in facilitating this friendship, as well as increasingly being a friend to me too. Suzette and Manuel are hard-working architects and work together in a firm in our neighborhood, but they live miles away, so we rarely have a chance to socialize with them. However, whenever we get together, I am always impressed by Suzette’s creativity. At Lucca’s 10th birthday party, a Harry Potter party, many of the details – owl goody bags and golden wands – were designed and hand-made by Suzette. Every Halloween, Suzette puts together spectacular costumes – the were dressed as fruit last year, Lucca was Pinocchio (complete with a Gepetto puppeteer attached like a backpack!) the year before, and they were all Lego Ninjago minifigures before that. And today, Manuel proudly showed us pictures of Suzette’s exquisite tile work designs on some buildings they had designed and built in East Los Angeles. I know quite a few other parents who are incredibly creative with their kids’ parties and costumes, but not while holding down a full-time job. In this, Suzette is truly extraordinary and I have nothing but admiration for her boundless creativity as an architect and parent. Today, at dinner together at one of our favorite little restaurants in Little Tokyo, I gave Suzette a pair of turquoise earrings I had made a few years ago. The earrings can’t compare with her spectacular creations, but they are my way of thanking her for being such an inspiring fellow mom over the years and for working with me to make sure our boys – and the rest of us too! – enjoy their precious friendship for many more years to come.
Betsy was my mother’s best friend. She and Mum met in Cambridge when we first moved there in the early 1980s. We had just returned to the UK after four years in Canada, and she and her husband Frank were staying there on a sabbatical. She and Betsy met at a launderette and became fast friends. They remained close for the rest of their time in Cambridge together and then for years many after Betsy and Frank’s inevitable return to the United States. Mum and Dad occasionally visited them in Northern California and from time to time, Betsy and Frank returned to Cambridge for visits. Probably the last time Betsy visited Cambridge was to say goodbye to Mum. We knew she was dying and Betsy flew 6,000 miles to be with her and with us for Mum’s last days. After Mum died, all three of us siblings have stayed in touch with Betsy, in part because of her friendship with Mum, but also because we all love her so much too.
Betsy is one of the warmest, kindest, most generous people I know. At times, she gives so much of herself to other people that I often wonder if she has anything left for herself. Over the three decades that I’ve known her now, she has remembered my birthday and sent gifts; she flew down to Pasadena to celebrate my first big exhibition at Pacific Asia Museum with me, and a few years later, she and Frank attended our wedding. Although she came as my friend, I’m sure she also wanted to be there because Mum couldn’t be. Much of the time that I’ve known her, she has been caring for a family member or a friend. For a while it was her father, who was not the easiest of people, yet she was the most devoted daughter anyone could hope for, making sure that his last years, months and days were as comfortable as possible. Most recently, she has been caring for her best friend, and she now has to send her off into professional care – a move that I am certain is breaking her heart. There is very little I can do to help her through this painful time, but she has taught me a lot about loving and giving, and today I wanted to give her something that might help soften the blow to her heart just a little. I sent her a silk scarf that belonged to my Mum and then to me – two generations of women who have appreciated her exceptionally generous spirit and have loved her dearly for many, many years.