Hello, my friend

Yesterday I found out that a family friend passed away this week. Somehow to say “family friend” doesn’t suffice. She was my mom’s first friend in the US. They met at Super Fresh, a grocery store within walking distance of our two bedroom apartment. The six of us lived there for a few years: my parents, my older sister, my aunt (dad’s older sister), my grandmother, and me.

Never the one to sit around all day, my mom went out on her own and walked to the grocery store and inquired about a job. Ms. Peggy was one of the first to befriend her. To this day when I hear my mom say over the phone, “Hello, my friend!” I know she can only be talking to one of two people: Ms. Peggy or Ms. Prasak, also one of my mom’s first friends.

Ms. Prasak lived a few doors down from us and was one of the few Asian faces—and people of color—in our neighborhood. The other Asian family was from Korea; they too, had two daughters. It was in that neighborhood where I first learned about and faced racism. Eggs were thrown against our front door. One Halloween season, pumpkins were smashed on the street, but only that of the families of color. One afternoon, when my grandmother was sitting outside enjoying the fresh air, white men in a truck drove by and yelled several racial slurs at her. They vowed they wouldn’t move into the neighborhood.

When we moved to a house of our own a few years later, Ms. Peggy and her husband were one of the people who helped us move into our new house. We moved at night, a few days before the new year. As their friendship grew, my sister and I would also spend time with Ms. Peggy’s family. I remember playing with the other kids, going to parties, and Mom cooking and sharing Filipino food. Pancit was a particular favorite. As my sister and I got older, we lost touch, but Mom always remembered Ms. Peggy at Christmas, or whenever she cooked pancit. They reunited several years ago—my mom and her friend.

***

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship. About what it means to be a friend, how friendships evolve, how some come to a natural end, how a few start quickly and dissipate as quickly, how some do stand the test of time. I’ve realized that there’s no magic formula to a long-lasting friendship. You’ll invest in people, be vulnerable with them, laugh with them and in a month you might realize they’re really not your people after all. I usually build walls then.

I’ve also realized that the ones that have lasted for a while—my deepest, strongest relationships—are also the “easiest.” We don’t expect to be around each other all the time. We don’t even text that often. But when we are together, we are together. I am learning that not every friendship has to be like that either.

***

From what I’ve observed and from what I remember, my mom’s friendship with Ms. Peggy was like that. Despite the time and distance, they never forgot what brought them together. Ms. Peggy was one of our first meaningful connections in a country that was both foreign and familiar. She was open, generous, and kind. She came into our lives—and we became a part of hers—at a time of major transition.

When I hear my mom say “my friend,” I can hear the weight of that word. I’ve deemed you as someone who is important to me, as someone who is worthy of my love and affection. I’ve chosen you, and you’ve chosen me. Hello, my friend.

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