Two Actresses from the Midwest
Lindsay Kavet: 38, married, 3 children, from Los Angeles, a director and stay-at-home mom
Best friend of 11 years: Polly Mae Tolonen, a working actress in Los Angeles, well-known regular in the theatre scene and a muse to many, died ... in a car crash in 2008
“I know what matters in real life are your friendships.”
How did you meet?
I was 22 and we were both extras on a TV show called the Opposite Sex. We were among a bunch of young women who were getting paid $50 for eight-hour days. We were trying to get our SAG cards to get into Screen Actors Guild. Polly was so beautiful in a natural way! She asked to borrow my phone. I was very tight with my money then because I was in Los Angeles on my own and I didn’t have a rich mom and dad to go back to. She ended up using my phone for an hour and I thought, “This girl, what in the heck is she doing?” It was sort of a funny first interaction, but in everything else she was incredibly solid.
I grew up mostly in South Dakota and Iowa, she grew up in Michigan. We both had a Midwestern sensibility about us. We were not fancy at all, we barely wore makeup, we did not want to use anybody to get ahead in the game and we didn’t come from wealthy parents.
We began spending a lot of time together and then became roommates. The people I have been closest to in my life have been non-judgmental, incredibly good listeners and someone, of course, you can laugh really hard with. She was that way.
At one point, I had an internship at Sony and this gal—I can’t believe she let me take home the audition tapes for a big movie. It was the movie that Angelina Jolie won the Oscar for in her 20s that launched her. We watched everybody audition: Angelina, Jennifer Aniston, Gwen Stefani, everybody wanted to be in the film. We stayed up all night watching the auditions and at the end of it we felt better about ourselves because we realized it’s not that we suck, we just need to get our foot in the door.
I stopped pursuing acting at 25 and went behind the scenes, which I realized I was more comfortable with, but Polly stayed with acting until her death. Her death gave me a lot of courage to do my first play, “Expressing Motherhood.” Ironically, it actually was the first time I ever met success because I almost didn’t care. It was a passion of mine; it didn’t matter if I made a fool of myself. I did the best I could, because I know what matters in real life are your friendships.
What was the friendship like?
Polly was not married. After she died, everybody would ask me, “Is she married” and I’d say no and then they would say, “Oh, well that’s good.” No, no. Then they would ask if she had kids and I’d say no, and then they’d say, “Well that’s good.” But I had mixed feelings, because I understand it’s good that she didn’t leave children, but I also can’t believe she never got to have children
We spent a lot of time together in the spring before she died. I feel like I got really lucky. You know that book, Tuesdays with Morrie? I had Tuesdays with Polly. I would cook her dinner before her acting class on Tuesday night; that was really nice. Also in March, right before she died, we took my son who was a year and a half at that time and walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard and played tourists. We went shopping and we were dancing in the stores, being goofy and just enjoying every bit of a magnificent LA day. I remember putting the stroller back in the car and I was a little unnerved by the beauty of it and I remember thinking we have to enjoy this, we can’t be nervous because everything can change in a second.
Often my husband, Polly, and I would hang out. She always made my husband and I get along better because she could kind of soften our house by coming over. I remember one of our conversations when I complained that my husband and I don’t buy each other gifts, and we don’t really celebrate holidays together or occasions, and she said, “Well maybe you need to.” You know, I was like, yes, that’s so obvious, but thanks for pointing it out. My husband was really sad when she died, he would come home crying when he heard this one song.
Polly and I had our fights. One time we fought over a dress. We both wanted to wear the same dress to a wedding, it was ridiculous and, I mean really ridiculous. One time I planned a trip for us to go to Mexico and she was getting callbacks for this TV show. She said, “I might have to meet you in Mexico a day later”and I said, “I am not going to Mexico by myself.” I demanded she go with me. I am very uptight and she was not very uptight. So yeah, it definitely was not perfect, but it was so good before she died.
Describe how the friendship ended.
Polly died on May first, my husband’s 40th birthday, and we found out about it the next day. A friend emailed me and said, “Call me, I want to talk to you about Polly,” and I thought maybe she was planning a surprise birthday party for Polly because her birthday was coming up. I called back, but immediately I knew something was wrong. I said, “Is Polly okay,” and she said no. I had a bad feeling. I gave the phone to my husband and I started to run away and screamed. A weird part about this is I had heard about the accident before I knew it was Polly. The accident had closed down Hollywood and it was big news. A policeman found a headshot in the back of her car and saw it was Polly Tolonen, but she had no other contact information so they contacted her agent. Then her agent had to try to find somebody’s phone number. It took a long time, really for us to find out.
How did you cope with her loss?
I cried a lot. I didn’t have a lot of friends. It’s like I had put all my eggs in her basket. It was just depressing. And she was kind of an aunt to my kid. I missed her so much, and being a part of my kid’s life, it is just a gigantic hole. I worked so hard to have that friendship and open myself up and so it’s been a really big loss.
Right when she died, my friend Diane emailed me and she said, “Lindsay, you might be feeling confused or sort of ashamed at how much you’re missing her and will miss her, but don’t feel guilty about that. You know our friends become our family and it is like you lost a family member.” I was so glad she said that because at the funeral you’re thinking about family. But we were each others family.
It took a while after Polly died, but finally I had this epiphany that I had to start “friend dating”. I was building this community through “Expressing Motherhood,” hearing people share their stories about motherhood, and for a while I kind of kept my distance. I never talked to the performers, but then, I started to seek some of them out and finally started to share my points, which I don’t really do very much with a lot of people. So I started to friend date and then I started to share things with people. I would start texting them or I would ask them to go to an event with me, and even though a part of me was like, I don’t want to do this, it got me out of my comfort zone and I have since then become really close with some new friends. That has been really nice. But it took a long time. I really didn’t get close to one friend, Shannon Noel, until about five years after Polly died.
Is there anything else that you'd like to add about your friendship?
A best friend is definitely not replaceable. I mean it’s so crushing. This was killing me. I’ve had some major character flaws, of course, as we all do, but I worked so hard to not do those things to Polly and she knew it. I had really worked on that in my 20s and you just can’t get that back. It’s just killer, you know and we had our arguments, but we would still always come back together.
Sometimes I felt like I wasted too much time with her talking about old boyfriends. Polly listened to me talk about this one boyfriend so much and she never even met him, and after she died, I thought oh my God, I wasted all that time talking about someone she never even met. And then I thought, okay, going forward let’s just try to appreciate what I have and live more in the moment. I know that sounds really cheesy, it’s really hard to do, but I was just like, what the hell, stop wasting my time.
Before Friendship Dialogues was a gleam in founder Ellen Pearlman’s eyes, a group of over two dozen women answered her online plea for women who had lost a female best friend. Ellen is eternally grateful to all the women, including Lindsay, for opening their hearts to her and sharing their personal stories of love and loss. It was through this process that the seeds for Friendship Dialogues were planted. Thank you!