Relationships

My Guru, My Best Friend

A part of me was in chronic mourning over the loss of Sarah, my best friend

Photograph by Getty Images
Sarah spent 10 yeas in India following her Guru

During the 10-year-period when Sarah lived in India and belonged to a cult, she and I rarely spoke. Whenever we did talk briefly by phone, I couldn’t stand how often she said, “Guru this” and “Guru that.” Gradually, our sporadic phone calls stopped altogether.

Back then, I frequently lamented to the man I’d married that Sarah had been “my first great love.” “I never imagined my life without her,” I told him so many times he probably grew sick of hearing me say it. Although I was happily married, a part of me was in chronic mourning over the loss of my best friend.

When Guru moved from India to the U.S., Sarah followed him to his new “intentional community.” The community quickly became known for its wild sex and its enmity toward the local citizenry, who didn’t want the community in their midst. Eventually, Guru was arrested for, among other things, a bio-terror attack on the locals. He was deported back to India.

Sarah moved to Hawaii then, no longer considering herself Guru’s follower. “I forgive him,” she told me, when she called out of the blue. “He’s now like a flawed father to me.” With Guru out of the picture, I wanted her back in my life. I told myself that I would need to tolerate her “woo-woo” beliefs. Once, I complained to her about my job. She told me that if I inhaled the scent of a particular flower, a new job would come to me. “That’s ridiculous,” I snapped, letting her know that I definitely hadn’t forgiven her for choosing Guru and his New Age-y philosophy over me, and perhaps I never would.

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I’d met Sarah in fifth grade, in our Bronx elementary school. The first thing I noted about her were her two red Pippi Longstocking braids. She and I fell in love almost instantly. We wrote plays and stories together, and acted them out for any neighborhood kids who were interested. We invented a secret language; we sat side by side and drew portraits of one another. With her, my creativity flourished in ways it never had.

Throughout middle school and high school, Sarah and I saw each other every day. After school, we spoke on the phone for hours. She made me laugh — and I was fundamentally a sad kid, due to a depressed mother and violent father — in ways no one else could. She promised that when we grew up, I would be a writer and she would be my literary agent. Our gestures and vocal intonations became identical. It was Sarah to whom I turned for solace and understanding, finding so little of that at home.

We went to the same college and moved in with each other after graduation, to a two-bedroom apartment in a tenement building close to Grand Central. Our boyfriends were friends. We continued to collaborate artistically.

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But then she took off to India, where she wanted to “live free.” I didn’t go with her, although she asked me to. My contempt for her new life was obvious. I didn’t try hard to conceal it. All I wanted to do was write, save enough money to go to grad school and teach.

In Hawaii, where she’d gone after Guru was deported, Sarah supported herself as a yoga teacher and massage therapist. We started emailing and speaking by phone as often as we could. She never backed down on her ideas, despite knowing how little respect I had for them. Gradually, I learned to love her again, to accept her New Age beliefs about flowers, reincarnation and sexual experimentation as the key to the spirit within. I no longer felt superior to her. Her beliefs were a part of who she was, and I loved all of her. Once again, she helped me to flourish, this time to become more tolerant and understanding.

Two years ago, Sarah died suddenly of an aneurysm, and I lost my guru, who had taught me so much.

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