Remembering My Best Friend Vera, Forever
My best friend died last night in San Diego. As I lit a memorial candle, the flickering flame evoked memories of our lives shared.
As teenagers at Barnard College, we shared classes with Professor Amelia Del Rio, an icon of the Spanish department whose mantra, “Ninas, se pueden hacer todos!” delivered in an authoritative voice, made us feel we could accomplish anything. We fell in love; we married; we had careers; we had our babies at the same time; we moved to different parts of the country (she remained in New York and I was in San Diego).
Our bonds to Barnard College, our respect for aging parents, our ties to the Yiddish language and our love of family brought us together again several years later. I confided my innermost feelings about marriage, love, death, life, family ties and children to Vera and she to me, stories we only shared with each other and no one else, ever. I remember getting our first facials in Manhattan and laughing about not being able to leave fast enough. We emerged red-faced, skin tingling unpleasantly, and late because of an irritating cosmetics sales pitch, racing for a taxi to meet my 8-year-old daughter for lunch break at the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. Did we laugh over lunch at our vanity and vowed the facial industry would never see us again!
Our four sons were friends sharing summer adventures at Cornell University’s family programs. Vera’s husband and mine were physicians; the language of medicine was our language too. Our other languages, which we spoke with each other freely, were Spanish and Yiddish, begun in our modest homes in the Bronx. Years later, my father, an octogenarian, started a Yiddish class and Vera and I became enraptured students. “Vera,” he said, “your name means veracity or truth.”
One year, our only living parents, her mother and my father, joined us for a Yiddish sing-a-long, skirt steak and egg creams at Sammy’s Roumanian restaurant on the lower east side of Manhattan.
The children grew up: two of our sons went into medicine, the other two were claimed by law and letters. My daughter, the only girl in both families grew up too and became a physician. Our lives intertwined again at Barnard reunions, family dinners, outings.
Vera moved to North Carolina, then San Diego, while I returned to New York; our friendship and family visits continued.
One day we arranged to meet for lunch in San Diego, our husbands included. Suddenly, at our table sat my daughter and Vera’s oldest son. We were thrilled; we couldn’t believe that our children had found each other and were in love! It was like the longest running play off-Broadway, the Fantasticks: the son and daughter of two best friends fall in love forever.
Soon, Vera fell gravely ill. Slowly, over the ensuing years, her body weakened so that she could no longer walk. Her spirit was indomitable, her will to live fierce. As I visited her over the years and she became wheel-chair bound, we continued our conversations about the children, the new grandchildren, our husbands, Barnard, literature and life in Spanish, English and Yiddish. We shared our sorrows and joys. As she became more silent, we held hands and felt our friendship through the warmth of our palms.
My best friend died last night in San Diego. Our friendship, forged at Barnard College, will live on forever. As I walk on the brick paths of the college where our high-heeled shoes always got caught, I will always remember the two teenagers, the blonde and the brunette, filled with dreams of the future. Those dreams will live on in the eyes of our loving children.#