My friendship with Emily is founded on deep similarities – in tastes, and values, and goals – but it was a superficial difference that struck me first.
Emily is beautiful. It’s something anyone would notice about her. No wonder a Vidal Sassoon trainee was so keen for the chance to style her hair. When we’ve touched on our differences before, this has been for me the elephant in the room. Unlike Em, I am not the kind of woman that hairdressers stop on the street.
I distinctly remember the chopped style Emily sported back then, her blond highlights. The fairness of her hair was so striking against her olive skin that I looked at her during our first Japanese lesson, trying to discern her ethnicity. It seems so obvious to me now that she is half-English, half-Japanese that I find it absurd when people mistake us for sisters. Absurdly complimentary, too, that someone thinks I resemble Em.
It’s not that I’m plagued by poor self image. I rather enjoy my looks: my Celtic green eyes; my size three feet; my very English mousy hair. Emily’s beauty is simply a fact – something that, as her friend, I get to enjoy. I quickly came to value, for instance, that our shared love of fashion never slid into competition, that we would both just as likely order pie and chips as goat’s cheese salad.
But when we first met, before leaving for our teaching posts in Japan, a part of me must have assumed that someone as beautiful and trendy as Em would not want to be friends with me.
My most vivid memory of first meeting Em occurred just after our first Japanese lesson. A group of us were waiting for the lift when Emily mentioned her disappointment at being placed in Matsuyama – the capital of Ehime prefecture. She didn’t want to be out in the sticks. This amused me since Matsuyama has a population the size of Liverpool, and I surmised we might have little in common since I’d sought a job in a mountain village.
But I must also have sensed some promise of connection because I remember thinking: I’ll either find Emily too cool for school, or we’ll end up firm friends.
I’m not sure exactly how we went from that moment outside the lift to the strong foundations of friendship that we’d established just months later: gravitating outside during raucous parties; trading stories of the men we’d left behind; and, finally, sharing the writing we’d scribbled in secret. Em must have done the initial legwork; I would surely have been too scared of rejection.
Her honesty is one of the qualities I jotted in response to February’s challenge. It extends, at times, to making herself vulnerable: letting an old lover know that her feelings haven’t changed; leaving an unsatisfactory job; reaching out to a new friend. Her candour, which ensured that we did become firm friends, is a deeply beautiful quality, and one that I glimpsed very soon after my first impression of her lovely olive complexion and blond, cropped hair.