I left home when I was eighteen years old. I had the electricity of youth agitating through my veins, and a misguided compass in my brain telling me that Polar North was New York City. I was young, eager, anxious, totally unafraid and ready for life. I was going to be a writer. I was already an adventuress. That this was true, I had learned late nights in my attic bedroom – the room we called The Ivory Tower, which we only inhabited sequentially after an older sibling had moved out and gone to college.
I was an adventuress because, wild-eyed and sleepless up in my ivory tower, I built skyscrapers with Howard Roark; I suffered Dostoyevskian sorrows with Prince Myshkin; I burned for justice in South Africa with Robert Ruark; I plunged for pearls with John Steinbeck; I fought bulls with Ernest Hemingway; I stole beautiful white horses with William Saroyan; I endured poverty in Brooklyn with Betty Smith; I smuggled guns into Haifa with Leon Uris; and ultimately, I expired in a back alley, my head bloodied but my white plume unsullied, with Cyrano de Bergerac.
After this wild extravaganza of vicarious experiences, reality promised to be tame by comparison.
But reality – New York – awaited.
“Mom, I’m home,” became “Mom, I’m leaving home.” Perhaps it was my love of drama, or my disenchantment with the predictability of a conventional wedding ceremony (I would have preferred my sister to elope at dawn under a crimson sun), or just a natural chaffing at the bit to get on with my life. In retrospect, though, I didn’t really have to maximize the trauma for my parents and leave the very same day that my sister got married.
A classified ad at the back of a national magazine led to my getting a job in New Rochelle, New York. I was to be Thomas J. Clark, the Head Correspondent of a book club, managing, with quick flick of my pen, the worries and woes of disgruntled club members.
It was my first writing job. And my last.
Yes, I stated heartlessly to my parents, I would stay for my sister’s wedding, but only on two conditions: One, I will not be Maid of Honor; and two, you will drive me to the bus station immediately after the wedding so that I can stop pussy-footing around with all this childhood stuff and begin my … L * I * F * E.
At eighteen I was the epitome of “purposefulness” run amok, all the more obnoxious because I was so controlled, responsible, calculating and committed.
Show me a drug-ridden, emotionally self-indulgent, radical post-puberty anarchist who wants to change the world, and he would be a cinch to manipulate compared to a goal-oriented adventuress who can type.
My mother taught me that. “If you want to be a writer,” she said, “ learn how to type. You will always be able to get a job.”
I left home the day my sister got married, thus creating a situation wherein my father became bereft of two chickadees in one fell swoop. My father, my sweet, gentle, oddly iconoclastic father, with his soft-spoken voice, and his soft-spoken love.
Did I care about the loss I was inflicting on him?
Yes, I cared.
But the world beckoned. My life was on the launch pad, counting down for the lift-off. It wouldn’t wait, and I couldn’t wait. One more day, and I might miss my destiny altogether.
So ... I was off.
I still look back in horror at what I did to my parents that day. It was something like having lived Faulkner’s prediction that “if a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate”, because “the ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”
I was off to fashion my urn, and I had robbed my father of one too many daughters in far too few days.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben