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Sentimental Journey


Sentimental Journey—Rochelle Remembers Her First (and Extraordinary) Friend

Sentimental Journey — Rochelle Remembers Her First (and Extraordinary) Friend

When I was four years old, like most little kids, I’d pretend to play house with the pots from our kitchen or roll up a small piece of paper into the shape of a cigarette and sashay around the apartment imitating my mother smoking. My pretend also extended to squeezing my eyes shut, making believe I was blind, and trying to see if I could get from here to there without bumping into anything. I wanted to be just like Susan, the six-year-old girl who lived in the apartment above ours at 1065 Manor Avenue in the Bronx.

She and I met when I was three and a sighted Susan was five. There was no daycare, and proximity brought us together in the six-story apartment house, our world. The building housed a small grocery on its ground floor and a beauty shop. Our world extended to the candy story across the street that made delicious, frothy egg creams and the butcher on the next block. My father’s bakery was two blocks away on Watson Avenue. All convenient, all safe.

Just when she was supposed to be going to kindergarten, Susan was missing from our building, and eventually, my mother brought me upstairs to play with her. She was home. But, she changed. Her head was shaved and half of it wrapped in bandages. I was encouraged to hug her, and I did. She sounded the same, but she could not see me. It was not pretend. During that year, we both learned: counted steps together, listened to stories on 78s. I got good at telling my left from my right. We slowly ate tasty, smelly and messy lunches. There were times when I was jealous of all the attention Susan was getting. But she paid attention to me. And I learned to see with my hands, my ears, my nose, my mouth and my heart.