Donald Weiss and Ralph Tremonte were parted for some 40 years before their recent reunion.
Ralph Tremonte and Donald Weiss grew up together at the Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, N.Y., where they'd been committed as children.
After not seeing one another for some 40 years — they were each released from the hospital as teenagers — the pair was recently reunited at the StoryCorps booth in New York's Grand Central Terminal.
They came to the booth to remember what life was like in the institution (it was a hospital, reflecting an era before massive reforms in psychiatric care took place) — and to discuss what they've been up to since.
These days, Donald Weiss lives in assisted living, and Ralph Tremonte lives independently.
Jim Rye, a mental health advocate who works at the hospital where Ralph and Donald were once committed, accompanied them to the booth. After the interview, Rye wrote StoryCorps about the experience.
The text of Jim Rye's letter follows:
Ralph and Donald's present life is largely colored and stained by their past. They have had to bear witness and experience atrocities that represented the most horrible underside of the human race. This burden is carried by Ralph and Donald every day through no fault of their own.
As people who are aware of these accounts, we are obligated to bring their stories to the forefront in hopes that once people become aware of this history, perhaps it will never be repeated.
But more importantly, Ralph and Donald had no choice but to survive and accept their past. You have given Ralph and Donald the opportunity to validate their experiences, to renew their friendship on their own terms, and perhaps lay to rest the demons that have been with them for over 40 years! Realizing the impact and witnessing this reunion was unimaginable and overwhelming. They are best captured by the words of Robert Frost:
But bid life size the present?
It lives less in present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing-
Too present to imagine.
As we ended the day, Ralph asked, "Jimmy, you know I love you, but would you mind if I find my way home without you? My friend and I would like some time to ourselves."
I watched Ralph and Donald walk down 45th St., their heads up, arm in arm, into the sunset, into a new beginning. I felt like I do when watching Martin Luther King speeches, reading a Gandhi quote, or witnessing an injustice corrected. My eyes swelled up, my heart quickened, and chills flowed up and down my spine. I truly can't describe the divinity that radiated from that moment.
It was life at its best. Thank you for the experience.
- Jim Rye
StoryCorps is an oral history project that contributes stories to the Library of Congress. Excerpts from the discussions are aired each Friday on 'Morning Edition'.