My friend Bonnie calls me almost every morning while she is commuting to work. While that might not seem out of the ordinary, you have to remember that Bonnie lives in Maryland in the United States, and I live in Tokyo, Japan. When she calls, it’s generally around 9 pm for me (8 am for her) and we have between twenty and thirty minutes to talk before she parks her car, and I have to get my 7th grader into bed. Bonnie and I have one of those rare friendships that transcends time and distance, but it’s more than that. It has to do with an unspoken commitment we have made to each other to be there through thick and thin. Sometimes it’s not easy being a woman, but the friendships between women provide support, understanding and fidelity that are not often found between men or even between men and women.
I met Bonnie at summer camp when I was ten. She was eleven and in the bunk next door. We hung out together that summer and the following one, but our friendship cemented when we attended the same regional junior high school; she a year ahead of me. Perhaps some of it has to do with the fact that Bonnie spent parts of two summers living at my parents’ house while her mom was away and her brothers were at camp. My parents agreed to have her with us but she had to abide by the strict house rules. Bonnie’s mom wasn’t so strict and I think Bonnie may have been relieved at the high expectations of my mom and dad. She loved being with them and my parents loved having her there. She was the obedient daughter that I wasn’t. Bonnie worked her way through high school at an ice-cream shop, and she would bring hot fudge sundaes for my dad. Even now, when speaking to Bonnie, my dad will ask her to bring him one. For her fortieth birthday he sent her a gift card to an ice-cream place.
“So what’s going on?” Bonnie asks in her no-nonsense voice. And I tell her. I tell her that I’m fighting with my son about his homework and because she has a daughter the exact same age and grade, she empathizes and tells me what she did in that situation recently.
I ask about her son, who never fails to crack me up with his antics. She regales me with a story that leaves me rolling with laughter. My daughter, who is exactly his age, always says that she loves him so much because she can never tell what he’s going to do next, and I agree.
A few months ago Bonnie had some issues with her mom and we spent hours on the phone talking about it all. She could explain what was happening at the moment, but what she didn’t have to explain was her mom’s personality and background. I’ve known Bonnie almost all her life; I know that stuff.
One of the biggest gifts Bonnie has given me was the month that my kids and I stayed with her and her family after the earthquake in Japan. They’re all in the same grades, so it seemed like a no-brainer to let my kids slide into school with hers. Bonnie went out of her way to make sure that my kids felt as at home as possible amid all the uncertainty.
Do we always agree? Absolutely not. On that same visit, I had to discipline my son and she did not agree with my method. I don’t always think she handles everything perfectly either. But our friendship is such that we let each other know and don’t hold it against each other if we differ.
Surprising my parents with both our brain power and our tenacity, both Bonnie and I have gotten doctorates and are teaching on the college level. Bonnie is an organic chemistry professor at the University of Maryland and I am an English professor at Temple University’s Japan campus. Two summers ago I got to sit in on one of her classes. She stood up in front of 250 kids and dazzled them (and me) with her ability to write equations, manage sliding white boards, and not only maintain her sense of humor, but make everyone laugh in the process. It left me breathless with admiration for my friend.
“Did you know enough to learn anything, Aimee?” my dad asked, knowing full-well the answer would be negative. I am the polar opposite of Bonnie academically. In fact, one fun part of being in her house for that month last year was homework time for the kids. She would sit at one end of her big kitchen table and supervise math and science homework and I would sit at the other to supervise English and social studies homework. When we are together with our kids we practice what I call ‘proximity parenting’ – the person closest to the child at the moment does the parenting. We trust each other with our children, the biggest compliment.
One thing I know is that Bonnie does not always agree with my decision to be in Japan; even before the earthquake she wasn’t thrilled with it. However, she never brings it up, and she never says “I told you so” when I complain. In fact, she has let me know that when I make up my mind to do something, she will support me fully. Recently, at my request, she did a little research into the half-life of radioactive cesium and its effects, after a series of articles on radioactive hot spots appeared in the media. Since giving me the information I asked for, she has not asked me what I intend to do with it.
With Bonnie I can talk about my menstrual cycle, child rearing, the latest book I am reading, or American Idol. We can discuss politics, religion, music, or philosophy and everything in between. These are things I don’t – or can’t – always discuss with my husband.
I love my husband as Bonnie love hers, but women need other women, whether they are married or not. There are just some things that a man can’t do for a woman. Bonnie is my oldest friend; the person in my life besides my parents who I’ve known the longest. She represents a constant for me that I count on every day. I know that many of you out there reading this have a Bonnie in your life. Now would be a good time to call her and tell her how much you appreciate her. It’s 8:30 pm my time right now and pretty soon I’ll be waiting for my phone to ring. Sometimes we all need help blooming where we’re planted. It takes strength to ask for that help, and it’s a gift when we get it.