Monday, July 21, 2014

Search for Robert

Have you ever had this happen?  You receive information from a school you attended that includes a listing of alumni in your class.  One of them, a student you knew fairly well but had lost contact with, is noted as "deceased."  Shock.  Disbelief.  How can that be?

Vienna, Austria
Recently, that experience hit me right between the eyes.  His name was Robert.  I met him in Vienna, Austria when we were both students there.  He studied piano privately with the same teacher as I had.  We saw each other daily, and went on a few dates.  I knew he was crazy about me.  He made no secret of it.  I, however, was crazy over someone else.  So, while I really liked Robert and cherished his presence in my life, I considered him a good friend.  I remember we always had a lot of fun together, and shared much in common, not least of which was classical music and the piano.

Robert returned home to Boston (I think) before I returned to my home in upstate New York.  We corresponded by mail for a while.  I remember him writing with intense excitement and trepidation about playing the Beethoven First Piano Concerto with the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler.  He had also decided to pursue a graduate degree in music at the New England Conservatory of Music.  Somehow, we stopped writing to each other.  I am now in the process of searching for his letters.  I saved most of the letters I received during my college years, especially when I was living in Vienna and my last year in college.

 Over the years, I've thought often about Robert, wondering where he was, if he were still playing the piano, and also thinking that someday I'd like to see him again.  So when I received the list of students from our year in Vienna, I fully expected to see contact information for him.  Instead, I saw "deceased."  It felt like the ground disappeared from under my feet.  I immediately wanted to know more -- when had he died?  Where?  How?  Why?

So, I turned to the internet.  I remembered what college he'd attended so they were my first contact.  I sent their alumni office an e-mail, explaining that I wanted to contact Robert, and asked them if they had contact information for him.  The answer came back: he was one of their "missing" alumni.  If I found out anything about him, could I share it with them?  Wow.

Next I did a search on obituaries in Massachusetts for his name.  Several came up, but in order to access their texts, I had to pay a fee, even at the Massachusetts state office that keeps death records.  I've done all sorts of Google searches on his name -- obituaries or any mention.  The problem is he had a very common name, and I don't think I ever knew his middle name.  A middle name or initial could narrow the search.  Right now, I narrow it by age -- he was my age -- and that he was a pianist.

As the days have passed, I've been thinking of joining just to get the obituary information on him.  I believe that he died long before the internet became such a force, and from previous experience, it can be difficult to find something pre-1985 or so.  I am open to suggestions!

Robert is one of the few people whom I remember vividly from my year in Vienna as a student, but I don't have a photo of him.  He was an interesting guy.  I think a part of me hopes that there's been a mistake, and he's actually alive and well.  It's painful to think that we will not meet again.....

July 26 Addendum:  I have found Robert's family!  It took digging through my saved letters and finding that I'd saved only one letter that he'd sent and using the address on it to track down his parents.  Actually, his mother had died last year and I was able to find her obituary and that listed everyone still living.  I plan to contact his oldest brother who still lives in Boston.

Also, I learned that he died in November, 2008, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  Nothing about how or why, though.  Perhaps his brother can fill in the blanks.

I'm incredibly happy to have found his family, but it doesn't really bring back Robert.  Maybe it will provide some measure of closure for my grieving.....


Daughter Number Three said...

It's odd to think that if you two were students now, you'd definitely have photos of him and (in several decades) have a lot less difficulty finding information about him.

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. I recently learned that an outer-circle friend from high school died from AIDS almost 30 years ago, and is memorialized on one of the quilts. It's a strange thing.

Gina said...

Yeah, if we were students now in our late teens early 20's, we'd be texting like mad and probably wouldn't lose touch as easily. And yes, we'd have tons of pictures of each other. I'm sorry about your friend, too. It is strange to think of this person being alive for all those years and actually that person was dead.