I’m back. I’ve decided that I’m going to share some of my memoir with you, Dear Readers. Everyone has stories to tell, so it is time that I shared some of my own. These vignettes are based on a series of questions created by Deborah S. Hansen, Founder of Cameo Life Stories. At times, I have embellished and strayed from the 95 questions in the questionnaire as this is not a project that demands linearity or strict adherence to rules. These stories, by me, Robin J. Engel, are for posterity – for my children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers, and all my descendants; and for my dear friends who have become my soul family, and their descendants. And for you, my new friends.
I lived with my mother, Joan, her husband, John, and their children (my half-siblings) John, Daniel, and Deborah (Suzanne hadn’t been born yet). We lived in a typical, American, 4-bedroom, split-level house in the middle of suburbia Long Island, in North Massapequa, New York. I did not get along well with my mother at that time (but we’ll save that cameo for ‘the teenage years’), so when I informed her that I was going on a road trip with my friend, Carol, she was less than happy.
I had long been waiting for the moment when I was 18 and could buck my mother’s domination. I probably never would have made such a bold move if Carol hadn’t been so adamant. She was the opposing, dominant female force, pulling me towards independence. My mother forbade me to go, but feeling powerful in a way I had never known before, I went anyway. Guilt gnawed at me and nudged me to call home, but rebellion won out and I didn’t call for 5 days. In retrospect, as a parent, I would have been beside myself with worry, but as an emerging adult, I was declaring myself.
When I did call, my mother’s voice was icy cold on the other side of the line. (Please note, there was no such thing as cell phones in those days, so we had to stop at a phone booth.) I recall her saying something like “oh, how good of you to finally call me.” Deep down inside, I knew this couldn’t be good, but I made the conversation as brief as possible and told her I would be home in a few days and that everything was fine. “Don’t worry,” I said.
Carol and I were rebels to the core. We had many adventures, before and after this trip, but this was a pivotal moment in my life. We lived as vagabonds for an entire week. Okay, we lived as vagabonds with a car and gas and money in our pockets and sleeping bags, but the sentiment was there; throw caution to the wind and let it take us where it may.
The ‘wind’ took us to clearings in the woods, unofficial campsites where we made camp for the nights. We crafted makeshift fire pits, and one evening, when our sneakers were wet from some hiking adventure, we tied them to a string and roasted them over the fire to dry (I wouldn’t recommend it as my sneakers did develop a small hole from the fire). When we ran out of money, we shoplifted some groceries, but I suppose the guilt did its job and the steaks flew off the roof of the car because we forgot we had set them there. One late afternoon, traipsing through some wheat-colored field, we discovered a house that looked like it hadn’t been lived in for a while and ‘broke in’. It might have been someone’s summer home because there turned out to be supplies and food, so we took a bit of the food for our hungry bellies and if recollection serves me (and this isn’t some confabulation), I think we slept there that night.
Upon return home, my mother and I had one heck of a fight. She ended up throwing much of my personal belongings out on the front lawn and told me that since I was such a grownup and could make my own decisions, it was time to do them under someone else’s roof. I scooped up my things, threw them in my old, junky car, and drove to the library to talk with a friend who worked there. I ran through my options and called my aunt Carol (my mother’s sister). She lived about ½ hour away and gave me a bedroom all my own; I even got to paint it blue.
My mother didn’t come to check up on me for several weeks and when she did, she marched into my room, declared it a disaster area, and proceeded to clean it up. And I thought… “not such a bad deal, eh?” I never moved back home, but I did go back to college in the fall. A whole new life had begun. And to this day, my mother swears that she does not remember this incident. A memory, like truth, is a matter of perspective.