Lounging at the pool, Pasadena, CA
Remembering Sarah, my BFF
When I was I kid, I was convinced I had a photographic memory, because I could remember everyone's phone number and birthday. Smartphones have subdued that ability somewhat but there’s one birthday I never forget: Sarah Kaltman, my best friend in high school, June 20th.
The Girl With Chutzpah
I started going to Convent of the Sacred Heart on 91st street in New York. Being with the same kids from kindergarten bonded us. We were all friends and celebrated our birthdays together. When the nuns went a little berserk, I transferred to Spence across the street. It was an excellent school but it was cliquey and I didn’t fit in. I was lonely. I floundered at pretty much everything except English and drama. Then Sarah arrived in ninth grade, when most of the mean girls had left for boarding school. Before moving to the upper east side, Sarah had lived in the village and gone to The Little Red School House on Bleecker. She was immediately exotic to me and someone I wanted to be friends with. I hadn’t been further than 57th street. Sarah introduced me to the wonderful world of Lower Manhattan. We watched arthouse movies in the village, ate pizza in Soho and toasted bialys at Katz’s Delicatessen. She taught me yiddish words like shvitzing and chutzpah; I still use them in conversation to this day. She was smarter than me but she was always patient and inclusive. Her vocabulary was extraordinary; she would regularly complete the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle in an afternoon. We never seemed to run out of things to talk about, whether it was American History or the boys at St. David's. Even my grades improved a bit. Hanging out with her made me better.
Her family had a great dane named Olaf. When we'd study at her apartment, I’d make a running leap to land on the bed because I knew Olaf couldn’t get up there. He looked terrifying. But Olaf was a gentle drooling giant who slowly won me over. I owe my love of dogs to Sarah.
Fun, Fun, Fun
Whether we were sneaking into Studio 54 to go dancing with a bunch of preppy boys or dressing up for Halloween as Fruit of The Loom characters, we always managed to have fun together. Our friendship continued long after high school. She came to see me when I played Hecuba in Women of Troy my sophomore year at Sweet Briar; I went with a cute guy she set me up with for a weekend formal at the eating club she belonged to at Princeton.
Sara and I did a California girls trip one summer, driving south from Alameda to Tijuana, stopping all along the coast. We went to Paris in January the following year and stayed on a friend’s floor, our coats doubling as blankets. It would be dark at 8:30 in the morning but we insisted on trudging the streets early to eat croissants for breakfast, visit museums and shop for miniskirts.
A few years after she was a bridesmaid in my wedding, we grew apart. I’m still not sure why. She worked as an editor at House Beautiful and the last time we met was for lunch across the street on 53rd and Broadway. She got married and had a child. I got divorced, left for Colombia and worked in television.
On a visit to New York in July of 2001, I found out she had died of breast cancer a week after her birthday. In a way I'm glad she wasn't around for 9/11. She was such a staunch New Yorker, she would have been devastated.
I'm thinking of taking a trip up the Pacific Coast Highway and visiting some of the places we went to so long ago. I miss my friend. Last week I found myself talking to the ceiling, "You know Sarah, it'd be nice to meet a cute, decent guy in LA. I’m so over the whole dating thing. I’m putting in an order, just like at Katz’s. See if you can keep an eye out for it up there.”
I'm guessing she’s on a cloud, laughing and smiling at me.
Happy birthday, Sarah. 🎂
""Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I’m glad for that." --Ally Condie
Before the Junior Assemblies, NY Career girls, NY California beach