The Ever-Present Rainbow
Published in Great South Bay Magazine September 2003
When Amy and I were five, we became best friends. She was the sister I never had.
Growing up in Hong Kong in the fifties and sixties with neither television nor a telephone, ours was a special, one-on-one relationship. We lived next door to each other and had similar backgrounds. We both were from large, poor families. Amy lived with her parents, five siblings, two aunts and a cousin. I lived with my parents, five brothers, my maternal grandmother and an uncle. I desperately longed for a sister with whom to share secrets and stories. Amy was my found treasure.
As little girls, everyday after school Amy and I lay on the meadow near our homes, in view of the flat farmland and evergreen rolling hills, chattering away like two squirrels. We talked about the neighborhood happenings, the fights among our respective siblings, my lonesome grandmother missing her absentee husband, Amy’s spinster aunt with her mean attitude, and our dreams.
Through our mothers’ troubles, we shared a common bond. My mother struggled in life with a gambler husband. Amy’s mother held onto a passion for a wanderer husband who lived elsewhere. We cried for our mothers’ fates, and swore that their lives taught us what not to endure in our own.
On hot summer afternoons, cotton candy in our hands, we rooted for our brothers in their kite-flying competitions. Side by side and arm in arm, we judged our brothers’ shapely, hand-made kites in the big, blue sky. After each sun shower, we waited for the rainbow, shouting in amazement as if viewing that heavenly wonder for the first time. Every weekend, we sat outdoor and enjoyed bowls of sweetened soybean gelatin dessert bought from the door-to-door vendor while lapping up our mothers’ gossip and real-life tales. Some nights while crickets sang to each other, we lay on the grass, looking up at the stars, and sharing our stories and fantasies about boys. To this day, a shooting star or the smell of manure triggers my memory back to that world in the farmland, connecting me to our past and our love for each other.
Though Amy was four months older, I looked more mature. My body developed at a faster pace than most of the girls my age. In contrast, Amy was thin. Her Chinese name, Sau, means “dainty,” a homonym for the word “skinny.” I teased her that her physique matched her given name.
I admired Amy. Skillful with her hands, she excelled in cooking, knitting and crocheting, talents learned from her mother. She starched and ironed her school uniform like a professional. The pleats on her skirt stood against the wind. I adored the sweet dimples on her face. Most of all, I envied her having two sisters and a stay-at-home mother. To help support our family, my mother worked as a seamstress in a factory. I missed her during most of my school years ― I felt deprived when I came home from school without the trace of her until nightfall.
When I was a teenager, my grandmother purchased a flat and moved away with my uncle. With six males still in the house and my mother hardly home, the forceful yang overwhelmed me. I spent all my time with Amy. Her maternal grandparents lived in the first house on our block. Hanging out with Amy meant frequent delicious treats, and the abundant estrogen in her family supplied the balancing yin I yearned for. The female connection in those years became part of me and who I have become.
I left for America with my family when I was sixteen. Amy and I drifted apart, I said to myself, “We’re leading different lives. What’s there to talk about anyway?”
During the decade and a half that followed, we stayed in touch through the annual exchange of holiday greeting cards. I married at nineteen. At thirty-one, my marriage hit rock bottom. With an infant and a head-shaking family, I suffered from the poison of self-pity and depression. I ached to hear my dear friend’s voice. I called Amy, who was living in Hong Kong at the time. Our conversation was so genuine, so intimate; it was as if we had not been apart for more than a day. She said, “If you need me there to provide moral support, I will come.” It did not matter that we were a few oceans and eight thousand miles apart.
I hung up the telephone and fell to the floor; I cried like a starving baby. When I stopped, I felt nourished and strong. Amy’s comfort and support was the antidote to the poison in my soul. I was renewed.
We met in Hong Kong the same year. Three years later, she, her husband and daughter visited me in New York. I was in a combat mode at the time, trying to balance raising a child, managing my finances, climbing the corporate ladder, fighting off judgmental family members, and nourishing a new relationship. Again, Amy’s presence fueled me with the strength and courage to take on those challenges one by one, slowly but surely.
I took a day off to sightsee with Amy and her family. Sitting outside the United Nations building, we watched the boats riding the rough waters in the East River, and our children playing on the lawn. Amy sidled closer, and pressed her arm to mine, as we did in the neighborhood meadow in our girlhood. “This is a magnificent place. It holds the vision of global ideals, great treasures from around the world, and history is made here everyday,” she said.
I nodded. “Yes. On a smaller scale, our friendship offers the same three elements: ideals, treasures and history.” Our eyes welled up and we embraced. I realized that our love had rooted in our hearts and souls, regardless of geography and distance.
Almost another two decades later, we continue on our different paths. Remarried, I have retired from a rewarding banking career to pursue writing, while Amy continues to be the supportive spouse of a successful corporate executive. But we still remain connected. We talk and laugh about our aging boomer husbands, our college-bound children, our still-nagging mothers, our colorful siblings or just our good old times. We meet from time to time, either at her residence in Canada, or at my home in New Jersey. Our friendship is a bottomless well that sustains us both.
Forty-five years of friendship — how sweet it has been. Like watching the rainbow as a child, whenever I hear Amy’s voice, my heart leaps with renewed joy.