Our friendship started by accident when the world was still green. Desk mate by fate and scribbling, canteen ice creams and giggling, Hanoi bus stops, street food, and lunch sleepovers, silliness at scale from the ancient high school days: somehow this uplifting and continuous journey of a friendship has spanned a decade over three continents.
We are children of parents who know what it means to make mistakes and rebuild things from scratch, to withdraw and make compromises, move mountains, get by. We are descendants of a generation that has known too well the terrors of wars and poverty, persisted through those to live with today’s turbulent normalcy and perhaps even ironies. We are young people who leave our country to study elsewhere, work elsewhere, and settle elsewhere. We wonder where home is. We challenge our career choices, cross border and spaces, dive in and out of languages, explore our womanhood, interrogate our adulthood to barely find any certainties in the grayness of our identities and country’s complex history.
Year after year, we keep pulling the threads that define our lives separately and together. Through same book titles and drawings, bike rides and train trips, heartbreaks and disappointment, writings and photographs, loneliness and self-doubt, at schools in New York and Brussels (and Ghent), during trips home that never overlapped, amid all the global events that shook the ground under us.
We haven’t seen each other in the past nine years, and yet our ten years of friendship have brought me so much joy. You have always been there. For the longest time, your creativity and courage have made me reflect on myself and challenged me to become a better person. You are my constant reader, loyal cheerleader, nonjudgmental listener, and fairest critic. The vast safe space you have tenderly held for my stories, my thoughts, my emotions is that single moving part of living that has uplifted me with such comfort and strength.
You bear with me — my bareness and areas in which I am lacking, my myriad words and moments I couldn’t get out of my head. You bring me into your life — listening to music that I like, noting books I couldn’t stop talking about, joining projects that I initiated and sometimes didn’t finish. You overwhelm me with generosity— reading and responding to prose that I wrote (my love language) even if it takes hours, drawing for me (your love language) even if it takes months. You treat me with intelligence and respect — asking me to think twice before I jump to conclusions too quickly, pointing me to other approaches and perspectives, challenging me with honest opinions, and unique stands. And most of all, you see me, like me, and remind me of who I am even when I don’t remember myself. I am such a lucky person, and I suspect the same thing for others who have you in their lives.
We both believe in imagined borders, but sometimes the distance makes me wonder: How many life events we will be there, physically, for each other and how many we will miss. I would like to pet your cat, cook you and your boyfriend meals, take photos for your wedding, make fun of you in person, nag you for not washing your dishes (right away), try your typewriter, overwater your plants, laugh with you for no reason, hang up photos I took in your apartment, steal your Mom’s food, follow you on biking adventures (I only do trains), and potentially discuss with your stepdad about some clowns in politics and the tech world. I also need to show you my life: physical copies of my notes and annotations (no more pictures), my messy bulk of candle wax and puzzles, Totoro, the way I wander in my city and boroughs, and how I love Queens street food and neighborhoods. You have to meet the new friends that have made my life better, and my little brother too. We will eat ice creams because I know they are not your favorite, but you will still get because they are mine.
How strange it is that friendship is not a topic that we write or make songs about more often? That it could be under-appreciated and brushed aside, despite a love that is oddly voluntary, alive, steadfast, and free. And how wonderful it is that you are in my life, reading in a language that just gives us a parallel reality of our friendship; tomorrow, Vietnamese will be at the tip of my tongue when I blurt out: Tao yêu mày nhiều!