Each year on my birthday I get a phone call from someone with whom I have almost nothing in common. It has been a highlight of every birthday for 30 years.
The call always starts with “Hi, it’s Aim. How are you?” Except it sounds like “How ah you?” because my friend Amy has a proper Boston accent with R’s taken out of some words and stuck onto the ends of others.
The accent is how we became friends back in the 1980s. We lived in the same freshman dormitory at Boston College, and during a hall party Amy remarked on my Hawaiian accent. My mother had worked hard to teach me to speak proper English in addition to the pidgin English I had learned in the schoolyard, so I was insulted that Amy thought I sounded provincial.
“I don’t have an accent, you have an accent!” I said. “You call your roommate ‘Linder’ instead of ‘Linda’!”
Amy laughed at my accusation. “What? I don’t have an accent!” Then she repeated “park the car in Harvard Yard” in a comically exaggerated accent until we were both laughing.
By the end of the night the girl from halfway around the world and the girl from a few towns down the road were inseparable friends.
I was often homesick and overcome with culture shock that first year living on the mainland. Amy decided that the cure was to turn me into an honorary Bostonian. She taught me the proper way to pronounce McElroy Commons and our friend Tommy’s hometown of Worcester. I learned that fake IDs are for use at the packie, not the liquor store, and that jimmies are something you put on ice cream, not something that belongs to James. It felt like being let in on a secret language, and I relished it.
The daughter of working-class parents, Amy had never traveled beyond New England, much less to Hawaii, so I shared bits of my home state, too. I taught her to sing “Hawaiian Santa is a sight to see, when he comes surfing into Waikiki” at Christmas, and I provided cultural commentary when we skipped class to watch Magnum P.I. reruns.
Once, at dinner, I offhandedly said “ono,” the Hawaiian word for “delicious.” “What’s wrong?” Amy said.
“Nothing,” I said.
“You said, ‘Oh, no.’ ”
“No, I said, ‘ono.’ ”
“Right, that’s what I said.”
We still find that little Abbott and Costello routine funny.
Sadly, at the end of sophomore year we both ran low on money and left Boston College for cheaper schools. We did not see each other again for 27 years. And in every one of those years, the phone rang on my birthday, in whatever time zone I happened to be living, and my most loyal friend was on the other end.
Amy and I had little in common at 18 and have even less in common now. I am married with children, reaping the consequences of a hectic, globe-trotting career that left little time for maintaining relationships with extended family and friends. Amy, on the other hand, hasn’t married or had children, and she works in a restaurant in her hometown surrounded by family and dozens of close, lifelong friends.
Despite our divergent paths, our annual phone call sometimes lasts hours. We still enjoy our differences and living a little vicariously through each other. She graciously never mentions that I rarely remember her birthday or call her.
Amy spent two years teaching me the language of Boston, then spent three decades teaching me the language of unconditional friendship.
A few years ago, we finally reunited in person when I delivered my son to college in Boston. After hugs and happy tears, Amy said, “Let’s get a beer.” As we walked toward the restaurant, my son remarked on her accent, especially the way she said “bee-yah.” Amy laughed. “As I told your mother, I don’t have an accent.”firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.