By Laura L. Engel
PROMPT — Despite ...
I know you don’t love me. You never give me the attention I deserve. Good luck finding some guy who wants a woman like you, with these kids hanging all over you.”
When would this end? Find some guy? That was the last thing I needed or wanted to find.
Here we were exploding into yet another violent shouting match in 1977. Items thrown, threats made, and nasty insults issued. A voice deep inside of me screamed, “no more.” I was ready to face whatever lay ahead, if only for the peace of being away from the constant tension of arguing and the weak house of cards our marriage had become. My disgust at what I had settled for finally surpassed my insecurity and fear of being alone and what kind of example did our marriage present for our three sons?
My husband soon moved in with his parents with plans that did not include us. The boys and I were left alone in our home along with a mortgage. After being a stay-at-home mom for ten years, I had no means of my own and we lived thousands of miles away from my own family. Still, I was too naive to realize the tough times ahead.
Friends worried when word got out that we had separated, heading towards divorce.
“What are you going to do? You’ll never make it on your own.” Naysayers were quick to remind me.
It was easy for me to dismiss everyone’s doom and gloom. Our marriage had never been a match made in heaven, but we had sure made a good show of it, and outsiders simply had no idea what a struggle it had been. Any doubts I felt I kept private, determined to think positive and show a brave face. In a hard-headed fog of denial, I ignored the fact that I was close to destitute.
As my small bank account dwindled, reality smacked me in the face. I needed money to feed my children. Our house was slipping into foreclosure, and my soon to be ex didn’t answer my calls. I had to work.
Each day I anxiously checked through the newspaper ads, quickly realizing I had no work experience. I didn’t even have the right kind of clothes. And who would watch my sons while I was away at work?
Stretching the money left in the bank, I counted out change to buy the essentials -- eggs, milk, and bread. Filling my VW Bug with gas at sixty-eight cents a gallon became a feat. I was sick with worry.
Other women found jobs and raised their children alone. I could do this. Couldn’t I?
A friend suggested Welfare.
“Never.” I was adamant.
But I soon realized my kids mattered more than my pride.
“Sign here.” The disgruntled social service clerk pushed papers toward me. I glanced at the faces of my little boys, taking in their wide, anxious eyes as all three huddled together on the metal chair beside me. I smiled at them but inside I felt like the most worthless mother in the world.
Food stamps. How did I get here?
“Thank you, sir.” I smiled at the distracted clerk.
No smile back.
Pushing a small booklet towards me, he smirked. “You’ll get more in the mail. Oh, and don’t forget, you can only buy food with these. You can’t use them for alcohol or cigarettes.”
What kind of mother does he think I am?
Driving straight to the grocery store to trade the vouchers for much-needed groceries, I splurged a gallon of ice cream. The boys clapped and grinned wide.
At the register, my face aflame, I prayed the food stamps covered ice cream. I only had three dollars in my wallet.
Two weeks later, dressing with care for my first-ever interview I wore a borrowed sweater dress and matronly pumps. I prayed, “Please God. I need a job.”
I was ushered into a stark office and sat down in a leather chair across from a stern looking HR executive The name plate on his desk read John Lee. He barely acknowledged me. His frown lines deepened as he scrutinized my job application.
A smile on my face, my heart hammering, I crossed my legs at my ankles and waited.
“Hmph, you’re from Mississippi?”
“Um, yes sir. I was born and raised there but I married a man from San Diego.” I clasped my shaking hands tight in my lap. “I’m recently separated from my husband. I need a job.”
“You have no experience. No education.” He shook his head. “No work history at all. What have you been doing for the last ten years?”
“Raising my children.”
He grumbled. “You are definitely NOT what our company is looking for and we don’t have time to train someone like you.”
“Thank you for your time, sir.” I gulped, stood, and extended my hand.
Mr. Lee ignored it.
And here is where the drum roll of synchronicity began its faint rat-a-tat-tat.
Hurrying down a hallway, my checks burning, holding back tears, I slammed into a young man with fiery red hair, his suit, and tie immaculate.
“Sorry, sorry.” I glanced up into pale blue eyes. “Jerry?”
“Laura? Wow, what are you doing here?”
We both laughed. Old high school friends, we had lost touch after I left Mississippi ten years before.
“I’m desperate Jerry. I need a job. Mr. Lee doesn’t think I’m trainable.”
How could I have known? Jerry was a top executive for this company and was only in town overseeing the San Diego office for two days.
With his arm around my shoulders, Jerry walked me straight back into Mr. Lee’s gloomy office. “Hey, John. This is my old friend Laura.”
Mr. Lee spang to his feet.
“She needs a job. I want her hired today. Oh, and by the way John, Laura is extremely trainable.” Jerry winked at me.
“Yes, sir. Uh, of course sir.” Mr. Lee stuttered; the charade of a smile plastered on his face.
That was how I landed my first job at a large insurance company within a month after the welfare office debacle.
First thing I did was foolishly call and cancel future food stamps.
Laura L. Engel, born and raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, transplanted to San Diego over 50 years ago. In 2016 Laura retired from a 35-year career in the corporate world with plans to quietly catch up on hobbies and travels with her husband Gene. In October of that year, her plans changed when a miracle happened in her life. She soon found herself busier than ever taking writing classes and writing up a storm about a secret she thought she would take to her grave. Along with writing her memoir, Laura holds the office of President of San Diego Memoir Writers Association and is an active member of the International Women Writers Guild. She is also a member of San Diego Writers Ink and San Diego Writers and Editors Guild. Today finds Laura fulfilling her life-long dream having written and published her first book, a memoir she never dreamed she would write, You’ll Forget This Ever Happened—Secrets, Shame, and Adoption in the 1960s published by She Writes Press and available May, 2022. She is married to the love of her life, Gene, and is the mother of 5 beloved grown children and an adored golden retriever, Layla Louise. Laura is the proud Grammy of 10 cherished grandchildren. She writes from El Cajon, CA.