Rochelle pointed out to me that the philosophy that I was rediscovering had already been described by Sartre. That was how I came to some understanding of my world view as something akin to existentialism. The existential situation of loneliness, separation, the awareness of the non-being that is death, all seemed to be depressing. I saw a reaching out, an attempt at a connection, a focus on life, as antidotes to non-existence, and the excitement and anticipation of love as a wonderful deflection from the pain of existence. I was in pre-med, and I wanted to be a doctor. What a chance to reaffirm life and the values of life.
And, I wanted it to be with Rochelle whose intellect I admired and whose faults and frailties I ignored. It was a wonderful, innocent love, fueled by distance and fantasy. There were girls I dated, but these were the fifties, and I was "a nice Jewish boy." It was a situation ripe for romance and untested by proximity.
When she came to California, I couldn't get enough of her. I drove down to Bellflower from West Los Angeles and we mostly talked. We talked for a long time and many trips, and then we kissed. As these were the fifties, there were boundaries that couldn't be transgressed, and that made the kisses and the embraces all the more delicious. She returned to Northwestern, got her degree in Math, went down to Champaign, got a Masters in Math, and I ground away in pre-med. We wrote to each other without my getting the encouragement that I really wanted, yet professing my love to her.
When I started USC Med School, she had gone from Champaign to Manhattan, Kansas and Kansas State University, and we continued writing. She brought some of those letters along with her when she decided to move to California, initially staying with Bernice.
Again, I saw as much of Rochelle as I could. I was a sophomore in Medical School and I was working from midnight to 7:00 A.M. for a silent burglar alarm company. I was still a "nice Jewish boy", though, by this time, a secular humanist atheist "nice Jewish boy," and, because Rochelle was not interested in carrying our relationship as far as I wanted it to go.... engagement... at her encouragement, I was dating 2 other girls.... until Rochelle had her demons conquered, in part through the psychotherapy that I hoped she was receiving from a professor of mine to whom I had referred her. In retrospect, I should have been working out my problems in therapy, but there was a lot going on.
Eventually, Rochelle rigged it such that I would end our relationship. Someday, maybe I'll get up the bravado or recklessness or foolhardiness to say how, and speculate why. I tease myself into thinking that she ended the relationship because she didn't want it to go where I wanted it to go, and that she didn't love me, and so she chose a fashion to end it where I would be rejecting her. That twist makes her even more, the heroine of an unrequetted romance. Well, maybe that's the case. We'll never know.
I never saw her again, but I never forgot her. When I picked up the trail.... when it was safe for me to pick up the trail, 1993, the forthcoming reunion of Chicago's Roosevelt High School, Class of 1953, I was happily married, having taken a long and circuitous route, to the bliss that I had been seeking. The death certificate that I tracked down led to a warm reunion with Janice, now Chana, and a Chanukah celebration and the return to me of letters that I had written to Rochelle fifty and more years ago. It was like a time capsule, and I'm still digesting the material and the emotions.
Her letters to me were probably destroyed by me when I rebounded into my first marriage. Any photos I had of Rochelle were probably destroyed by my second wife, with one or two exceptions.
The letters I wrote to Rochelle were put in the garage at her sister's house and left behind until found by Chana. It certainly brings back memories. She hadn't destroyed the letters from me or from another suitor, Dick. Had it been because she forgot them, or was it a conscious choice?
December 21, 2007 is the 20th anniversary of her death. Chana included this photograph of Rochelle taken when she was at Northwestern University with a man named Dick. She kept his letters, too. Apparently they went to school together - and the ending letters mention Larry in California - and Dick asking for the ring back....impression he felt a bit worked...the letters went from '53 to Jan '56.
I knew there was someone else she had dated, but I never knew they had been engaged. There was a lot I didn't know. There is a lot I'll never know. I was a "nice Jewish boy."
And so, on the shortest day in the year, Rochelle entered the longest night, the blackness of eternity, choosing anti-depressant medication to aid her exodus from a pain that no suitor, including this would be lover, no husband, no child unborn but desired could maintain a connection.... the touch of caring, the lifeline. So, in existential reverence, it's time for a nice Jewish boy, an atheist turned existentialist, to light a candle in the eternal night.