On the Wrong Side of the Street

Karen addiction street
Karen addiction street

Addiction can kill if you just happen to be on the wrong side of the street. Like Karen, who died January 29, 2010, a bystander to someone else’s drug problem.

By Kim Caviness

Karen Schmeer was an extraordinary film editor on lots of movies, not least of which is the Academy Award-winning doc The Fog of War, which she cut. She was my greatest of friends and my hilarious roommate for many years in Somerville, Mass., during and after film school.

Karen was one of the best humans I’ve ever met. I loved her deeply, in a my-whole-life defining way. Without her on this planet, I didn’t know what was up or down for a long time.

When I had my baby, she was the first friend to visit. She picked up my newborn, screwed up her eyes and within two minutes he was belly-laughing—as all of us, her lucky friends, did a lot when we were with funny, brilliant, kind Karen.

What happened was: Karen was crossing Broadway in New York City one Friday night in January around 7 p.m., coming home from work, tired. She was carrying a bag of groceries.

She didn’t know a high-speed police chase was heading her way.

Bad guys had stolen Zyrtec from a downtown Duane Reade—allergy meds often include pseudoephedrine, used to make metamphetamine. The crooks jumped the counter and into a getaway car. Police soon followed, both cars tearing down New York City streets at crazy speeds.

Karen was on the median at Broadway and 90th, one month shy of her 40th birthday—we had plans to spend it together—and never knew what hit her. The car crashed into her so hard, she was thrown out of her boots. The bag of groceries all over the street in the middle of rush hour.

A horrible, horrible night.

One of the bad guys got put in jail, for a bit. He’s out now. The hope part of this story? It was hard to find, at first.

But I somehow did. One big hope thing is that she is still mentoring rising talent. Her friends and colleagues set up a scholarship in her name. Karen loved to work with up-and-comers. It’s called the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship and each year the winning young editor finds opportunity and work because of Karen.

A second hopeful thing is that her best friends—there are lots of “best friends” when it comes to Karen, she was loved by so many—travel to each other on the anniversary of her death or on her birthdate. We tell each other Karen stories of bad puns, silly songs and acts of kindness. Pre-COVID, a few of us got together in February to celebrate her 10th birthday since being dead. Yes, in Somerville, where we all met.

A third hope thing: I hold my friends and family closer now, thanks to Karen leaving the room too soon. I take nothing for granted.

A fourth: I hope this never happens to anyone else. It’s one of the reasons I’m working at TreatmentMagazine.com. I want to do my part to help stop addiction and the deadly demand for meth. It’s not someone else’s drug problem. It’s mine, too. Because of Karen.

I think of her up there, in the heavens, in the ether, in the stars—wherever she went. It’s no accident Karen got there first. She was always the smartest of us. The first one to teach herself hard new things in our group. Wherever we are all going, she already knows. She’ll have scoped it all out by the time we arrive and show us around, as Karen always did: with ridiculous songs, her big brain and so much kindness.

I hope Karen is looking down and I hope she knows we love her, so much.