My longest friendship is with a woman who lives in another country. Aya has been my pen pal since the fall of 1993. We began writing during my senior year of high school, when my letters consisted of information about my classes, upcoming exams, and my part-time jobs. Aya, a few years older than I, wrote of her education, her preference for the color pink, her admiration for birds, and her love all things Elvis.
During these seventeen years, we’ve written about men we’ve dated: men who we wouldn’t see again, and men who would become our husbands. We’ve written about moving, buying cars, becoming teachers, and becoming mothers. Our worlds have become larger, and the subjects we write about have grown as well.
When someone finds out I have a pen pal, they are usually surprised by two things: the longevity of our friendship, and the fact that we communicate with letters. Old-fashioned, handwritten letters that require multiple stamps. Letters that find their way back and forth at least once a month, with only the occasional email. There’s always a smile on my face when I see one of Aya’s letters among my utility bills. Her stationery often features Disney characters or whimsical drawings of flowers or airplanes. We adorn our envelopes with stickers and send pictures of our family back and forth over the ocean.
We’re fortunate because we have met—several times. Aya has many more stamps in her passport than I do. I admire her courage and fearless spirit for flying hours on a plane to explore various locales. She visited Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Paris before I did. And for a few months, Aya was an exchange student, residing an hour’s drive away. We went out to eat, went to the movies, and shopped. High price tags were not so high for Aya, who informed me of the drastic price differences in Japan.
On a regular basis, thousands of miles separate us, yet we are close, and have shared in the milestones of each other’s lives. I sat on the floor of our first apartment, speaking into a cassette player, recording a message of happiness, congratulations, and good wishes to be played at Aya’s wedding. And a few years later, I returned home from a weekend in Laguna Beach to a phone message—Aya’s husband had telephoned to say Aya had given birth to a baby girl. Almost eleven years ago, Reina entered the world and entered my life. Her pictures hang in my home, just as my nephews’ pictures do.
Almost eight years later, my husband would send an email and a photo, announcing the birth of our son, Ryan. Reina and Ryan. Aya and Wendy, friends with birthdays each on the seventh.
When we meet, we look very different. Aya is a woman with acrylic nails, a Coach handbag, and high heeled boots. I am a woman with silver rings and clogs. Yet, Aya knows me. She knows my family, the names of my sister and nephews.
I do not take our relationship for granted. Generally speaking, friendships are not easy to maintain. Written relationships are rare, and thus even more special and precious. Just like Aya.