Remembering One of Mount Washington's Favorite Sons
Kim Axelrod Ohanneson
(Originally published in Patch, http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/articles/ remembering-one-of-mount-washingtons-favorite-sons on February 4, 2011)
Here are some things you should know about Jack Rohman:
He was tall and thin.
His hair was messy.
If there was a pen nearby, he took it apart.
He was brilliant, always the smartest kid in the room.
He was quirky and creative, making drawings and paintings and sculptures as well as wonderfully idiosyncratic videos with his friends Zoe, Katie and Frankie.
He was fiercely independent. He broke his arm at college one summer and didn’t think to tell his family for weeks.
He loved Mount Washington passionately. He went to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, on a generous partial scholarship but always intended to come back to Los Angeles, and to Mount Washington specifically, where he planned to spend the rest of his life.
It was at Mount Washington Elementary that he recited the Gettysburg Address at talent shows in the first and second grade.
It was in Mount Washington that, starting in fifth grade, he and his friends Alec, Ben, Rob and Zack dug a hole that was so big it was visible, they proudly told everyone, on Google Earth.
It was in Mount Washington that he and his friends created an enormous tree house one summer, adding touches like potpourri in the faux “bathroom.”
It was in Mount Washington, in the summer of 2010, that Jack and an anonymous group of fellow artists created huge, 10-foot-tall paintings that they attached with wheat paste in the middle of the night to the concrete hill reinforcements along Mount Washington Drive. Most of the neighbors loved the colorful “guerilla” art, which received a special mention in the L.A. Eastsider, but someone complained about the paintings, which mysteriously disappeared.
Here are two more things about Jack:
He suffered from schizophrenia.
On Monday, Jan. 31, he took his own life.
Jack had been having hallucinations since middle school but told no one. He endured the visions through high school--he was on the North Hollywood High School Academic Decathlon team--and through three years of college at Sarah Lawrence. Despite his condition, Jack continued to create. He contributed to and helped edit the Visual Art Review at Sarah Lawrence. His work appeared in Taffy Hips Magazine. His video Embrace the Moment was accepted to the Sarah Lawrence Film Festival. He secured an impressive internship with a prominent New York artist in the summer of 2010.
Jack’s condition worsened, and he was unable to complete the internship. He came home to Mount Washington and finally told his family what he was going through. Jack was determined to graduate from Sarah Lawrence and tried to go back to school in the fall of 2010, but his mental illness made it impossible.
Schizophrenia is a terrible and pernicious disease. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), medication can alleviate the hallucinations but often does not address the “negative aspects” of schizophrenia such as depression, lethargy and suicidal tendencies, all of which Jack continued to suffer from.
Cognitive ability is also significantly impaired as a result of the disease.
Jack was still determinedly independent but unable to accurately assess what he was and was not capable of doing.
Before the schizophrenic episodes became too severe, Jack had been teaching himself Russian so he could read Chekhov in the author’s native language. Now, he was unable to read for more than five minutes.
After the guerilla paintings were torn down, Jack told his parents Keith and Connie that he wasn’t going to do art anymore. It was too hard.
According to Jack’s psychiatrist, one third of those suffering from schizophrenia do not get better. For those who do, it often takes years to find the optimum mix of meds for each individual and requires the kind of long-term view that is particularly hard for teenagers and young adults to hold on to.
On Monday, Jack took his life. He was 21 years old.
There is a view in some psychiatric circles that for those suffering from mental illness, suicide is sometimes a brave, desperate attempt while in a rare moment of clarity to preserve the core of who they are aside from the illness.
Jack told his family that he would never again be the person he once was.
Jack loved Mount Washington, the generous, easygoing community, his loyal and supportive friends. His spirit will remain here in the canyons he walked, the trees he climbed, the hole that he dug, and in the hearts of those who love him.
We mourn our beautiful boy who has come home to Mount Washington to stay.
The Memorial Service for Jack Rohman was on Friday, Feb. 4, at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the Rohman Family requests that donations be made in Jack Rohman’s name to:
National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI)