When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, friendships were cemented in the classrooms of P.S. 306 and out of doors, from shared sandwiches in the school lunchroom to terraces of the Linden Houses in East New York, and to grassy areas where we played dodgeball, ring-aleevio, skelly, and crawled through scratchy bushes in games of hide-and-seek, hopped over sprinklers, and swung from monkey bars. Amy Phillipson and I met in kindergarten. We were both short and skinny and played the clarinet. She lived on Wortman and I lived on Stanley, in a paradise of childhood where apartment doors were left unlocked and her mother, Frieda, always offered me something to eat because my mother was a terrible cook. Amy and her sister, Abbie, shared a room with a fan while my sister and I did the same in our apartment two blocks away. The Phillipsons had a dog, maybe a German shepherd, which jumped up on one of their beds during one visit and nipped me in the behind. Amy assured me that I would be fine. And I was. To this day, I never turn my back on a dog. It was Amy who was the perfect dining partner. We weren't teenagers but, if my memory is correct, third or fourth graders. When the school day ended, we ran home to change into our play clothes, scooping coins and bills saved from our allowances and walking two long blocks to the Penn Plaza strip mall for pizza and Chinese food. I never would have gone alone and I don't think she would have, either. Pizza never tasted better than when when we were together. Our slices were served on wax paper and we would hold them up above our heads to catch the bit of cheese dropping from the point at the end. Or we went next door to the Chinese restaurant for rice with gravy. If I think hard enough, I can put myself back there again, just the two of us, chattering and laughing, and then heading home. But it wasn't to last. Slowly, friends moved away, to the newly built Starrett City or to Canarsie and to other parts of Brooklyn, Long Island, or elsewhere. They disappeared without a trace every summer after the third grade and then another school year would begin again, with new faces. I don't know when Amy moved away. I know she wasn't there for the sixth grade. She had vanished. I missed her. had no idea where she was. And I had no way of finding out. I always wondered where she was when I sat down at another pizza place in the city. It wasn't the same. A few years ago, we found each other on Facebook. I loved seeing photographs of her squad of women friends and happy happy she looked. We had not forgotten each other and neither had other friends from that era. Two years ago, I traveled back to the Linden Houses during the summer. The buildings seemed smaller and closer together. The sprinklers and monkey bars were gone. I took that walk alone back to Penn Plaza. The pizza place was still standing. I thought of Amy again. Not long ago, we talked about a reunion. I thought maybe after the first of the year, a few of us from the old days of the Linden Houses and P.S. 306 would meet again. I thought we would all grow old together. But then Amy disappeared again. On the Saturday before the new year, Amy's life ended when she was killed by a speeding driver in the morning hours. No one can answer the question. Why? Amy's family includes her sister, Abbie, and Abbie and her husband's daughters, many cousins, friends from work, and neighbors she doted on in her Brooklyn building. I was there for only a small part of her life and she for mine. But what a time it was. After I left the funeral services, I stopped for a slice of pizza as a tribute to my old friend. It wasn't very good. My tears added too much salt and I had to throw it out. Thank you, Amy, for the short time we had together.
We always wonder: Is this life all there is? Is it fair that good people suffer from the wrong actions of others? Thankfully, there are sensible answers to these questions, along with a sure hope for the future.
Meanwhile, Arlene, continue to cherish the memories you had with Amy. Friendship is an incredible gift. It nurtures us, it matures us, it shows us how human relationships grow and expand. And, it is one of the joys of life.
Keep her close in your heart!