The bitter stench of smelling salts woke me up. There was a man dressed in a doctor’s coat standing over me and waving his hand in front of my face. He put two fingers up in front of my eyes.
“Rachael, how many fingers do you see?” he asked.
“What?” I asked in a sleepy daze.
“How many fingers do you see?”
He put the fingers away and shined a flashlight into my eyes while examining them. “What year is it?”
Bright green globs flashed in front of my vision. I thought about the question for a second; then I said, “2021.”
He turned off the small flashlight and put it back in his pocket before asking, “Where are you?”
My heart sank. “The Capital Limited Re-education Center,” I said. I remembered why I was here and what that meant for me. I was no longer able to make decisions for myself. I was being held against my will. I was a prisoner. I had to start playing by the rules of my new environment if I ever wanted to feel freedom again. I never realized how restrictive the rules set up by the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act were until that moment. I rolled over on my side and clutched my pillow to my chest. I thought this would give me comfort but instead I was confronted by the poster of Evelyn Bronson taking up my whole field of vision.
I could feel the doctor get up from the bed and talk to someone else in the room, “She should be alright. There is no concussion. She has full mental cognitive abilities and she should be ready for the activities tomorrow.”
“Thank you, doctor,” said the familiar female voice. The doctor’s footsteps clacked against the floor. The door opened and then clicked shut. I was left alone with the one person I didn’t want to talk to. She sat down on the bed next to me and put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Now, Rachael, this is no way to act.”
Dr. Blur’s voice used to be music to my ears, but now it grated upon my very soul. The timbre of her voice no longer comforted and inspired, but instead angered and confused me. I didn’t want to continue to look into the picture of June Cleaver smiling in her kitchen, but it was a lot better than turning around and facing the person who had taken everything I loved from me. Instead of facing my captor, I kept my back to her and cried, “Leave me alone.”
“Now, Rachael, we can’t have our mothers acting like the children they are supposed to raise. I need you to find courage. When you have found that you will be able to take the first steps to becoming the mother we need you to be.”
I laid on the bed and wondered why she wouldn’t leave me alone. Her message wasn’t getting through to me right now. I needed some time to think about my situation and how I would be able to deal with it. If she continued to prattle on about how she needed me to find the courage to become a good mother, I would never be able to face the reality of my situation. And who was she to judge if I was a good mother or not? It wasn’t for her to decide. That decision should have been left up to my children. They were the ones I would have to face after all the childrearing. It should not be left up to some bureaucratic entity that spent only an hour within my household. I was feeling bitter and alone. I hated this person who was trying to make everything alright for me. In fact, every word she said just made things worse.
The woman continued to talk to me even though I hadn’t given her any indication I wanted her advice. “I know you are thinking I don’t know what is best for you, but I do. I have studied the art of motherhood, and I know what is best for the children of our fair country. I know after you have seen my methods you will agree with me. You will start to see what it means to be a good mother, but first you need to get over your selfish desire to free yourself from this situation. It was your decisions in life which caused you to end up at the Capital Limited Re-education Center. It was not the choices of those helpless children under your care. You need to think about those helpless children, Zachary, Lindsey and especially Palin, because it is for them you are here. Understand what you are going through is for the children and not for yourself. Do you understand what I’m saying? You can narrow everything you need to know down to one underlying question: Is this what is best for the children? Are you following me?”
What she was saying was making me even angrier. Any words I wanted to say were caught in my throat. All I could do was nod my head in agreement. I didn’t really agree with what she was saying, but I hoped by offering her this small gesture she would leave me alone. If she left, I would be able to start to sort out my lot in life so I would be able to deal with it.
The sign of affirmation seemed to be enough for her because she patted me on the shoulder again, and got up off the bed. The trial wasn’t over though because she still had some more information she wanted to convey to me. “I’m glad we’ve reached an understanding, Rachael. Even though we have taken the first couple of steps towards your re-education, it is only the very beginning of a long and arduous process. There is still a lot that has to be done before you are fully rehabilitated. Classes will begin at exactly eight o’clock tomorrow morning. You will find we have left some dinner for you this evening. We will deliver you breakfast at promptly six o’clock tomorrow morning. This will give you plenty of time to prepare yourself before class starts. You do have a shower, and we ask that you use it. There are also instructions taped to the mirror in your bathroom regarding how we expect you to apply your makeup. There is also, of course, the dress. When you are ready, we hope you will wear it. Some mothers decide to do this early on, and some require more coaxing to accept this part of their re-education, but I assure you this is essential for you to become the best mother you can be. The faster you accept this, the faster you will be able to graduate from the Capital Limited Re-education Center. Do you understand all of this, Mrs. Young?”
I had collected myself enough by this time to be able to whisper out, “Yes.”
“Good, then I will see you for your first class tomorrow morning at eight o’clock. I suggest you get a good night’s sleep because you will need all of your energy for the next day.” Her high heels clacked across the floor. I could hear the door close behind her as she left the room. There was the sound of a mechanism being turned and I knew I was locked in my room for the night.
I quickly got out of the bed and rushed to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. I was sickened by the amount of make-up plastered to my face. I snatched up a brand new bar of soap and ripped it out of its packaging. It bounced off of the counter as I turned on the water. Hot water splashed onto my hospital gown but I didn’t care. I lathered up the soap and started to scrub. Bubbles and streaks of soapy film piled up on my face and I looked back at a ghost staring at me in the mirror. I grabbed a towel from the counter and started to scrub my face. The scratchy cotton tore into my skin and blood vessels started to pop in my cheeks. I could feel the layer of makeup being ripped from my face. I closed my eyes and added more soap to the layer of unnaturally blue eyeliner caked on the area below my eyebrows and above my eyelashes. I scrubbed really hard hoping it would remove all of the goop. I filled my hands up with hot water and splashed healthy doses into my face. I could feel the mask streaking off my face and streaming into the sink. When I opened my eyes and looked in the mirror, I could see a shadow of the woman I was only a few hours earlier. My hair was still this ugly platinum blonde. The newly colored hair which was doused with water didn’t change it back to the auburn I had earlier, but it was reassuring to see a face I was familiar with.
I didn’t want to think about the sacrifices the Capital Limited Re-education Center was asking me to make for my children. At that moment, I needed to see myself. A revolution was happening in my heart. I didn’t have to follow the rules of the game this place wanted me to play. I didn’t have to paint myself up like some sick version of a 1950’s American geisha if I didn’t want to. I didn’t have to wear that silly dress; I could continue to walk around in the hospital gown. It would be like a uniform I could wear as a proud badge of honor. And it would only be a matter of time before my hair started to grow back and I would again see the red head I loved so much. It was this reflection in the mirror that gave me strength to start this revolution.
I also had a loving husband who would rescue me. He could opt me out of the motherhood program if he wanted to. He could drive out here to the Capital Limited Re-education Center and get me out of this hell. I knew he was missing the warmth he felt as we cuddled next to each other at night. I knew he missed those nights in the dining room while Lindsey and Zach were in their rooms playing with their televisions and we were able to have a nice adult conversation. I knew he missed the way I would have breakfast ready for him every morning, and the wonderful home cooked dinners he enjoyed every evening. I could see him at home right now trying to control Palin, wishing I was back at his side to help him out. That was the one thing I knew would bring him out to La Junta, Colorado. He would come to free me from this prison.
I had what I needed to help me through the evening, hope. Hope allowed me to make it to the next room and have a little dinner. Even though I had spent most of the day engaged in sleep, I was still able to curl up on the bed after dinner and get a little bit more sleep. It was strange, but when I laid on the bed and closed my eyes, the lights turned off in the room. It was almost as if they were watching me.
I had another dream that night. Robert was sitting at the dining room table with a fork in one hand and a knife in the other. His hands were clenched into fists next to an empty plate. He kept on asking me, “Honey, where is my dinner?”
I bowed my head and apologized before I left him to make my way to the kitchen. When I made it there, I was surprised to see Palin standing in front of the stove with a huge pot boiling on the burner. I started to rush over to her to see what she was cooking but was stopped short because of a chain hooked up to my ankle.
I looked down at the chain and followed it back with my eyes. It led to the dining room and I could see its other end was connected to Robert’s ankle. He was trying to look into the kitchen and asked, “Is dinner coming soon? It smells delicious.”
Palin yelled back to the dining room while taking a lid from the pot to check on the food, “It should be ready soon, daddy. No thanks to your wife.”
I tried to look into the pot to see what she was cooking, but was prevented from doing so because of the chain. I looked back at the pot and saw two hands from inside the pot come out and grab the sides. A head popped up out of the steam and looked down at Palin. It was me and I begged Palin, “Please don’t serve me to my husband.”
Palin grabbed a wooden spoon and hit me over the head, pushing me back into the boiling water. “Get in there woman. You’re dinner.”
The lights turned on again, promptly at six o’clock, waking me from my dream. In a way, I was relieved to escape the dream. The door opened and a mother walked in. She was a little chunkier then the other mothers I had seen out in the garden the previous day, but that was the only thing distinguishing her from them. She wore a pink dress like the orange one sitting in the middle of my room, and she was carrying a tray full of food. I sat up in bed and wiped some of the sleep out of my eyes.
“Good morning, sweetie,” she said as she made her way over to my bed.
“Good morning,” I replied. “Who are you?”
“I am Mrs. Moore, but you can call me Karen if you like.” She placed the tray in front of me on the bed. There was a display of breakfast foods arranged on it. There was a grapefruit split in half with a small spoon sticking out of one of the slices, two pieces of toast cut into triangles, a small bowl of yogurt, a side of granola, and what appeared to be a cup of hot steaming green tea. There was also a small vase with a purple petunia dangling out of the side, and copy of Better Homes rolled up next to it.
I looked up from the food into the smiling face of Karen. She had her hands clutched right above her apron and a motherly smile plastered on her face. I tried to figure out how old she was but I had a difficult time because of the amount of the makeup she wore. “Thank you. Have you been here for re-education long?”
She returned my question with a warm laugh. Karen patted my head and then said, “Oh my silly child. I am your assigned mother. I’m not here for re-education. I’m here to guide you through your re-education process. I took a job here helping Dr. Blur with her mission of creating the perfect mothers our country needs. When you need to look for a model of how to act, you just look to me. You will see the way you need to perform in order to make your stay at the Capital Limited Re-education Center an enjoyable one.”
“Oh,” was all I could reply. She patted me on the head and then kissed me on the forehead. It was an awkward gesture, but I shrugged it off as something normal.
“Why don’t you eat and then get ready for your first class? I’ll come by and take up those dishes after you are finished. We can talk more, later.” She turned around and walked towards the door.
I stopped her before she exited, “Karen?”
Karen turned around to face me. She had stopped right next to where the dress stood in the room. “Yes, honey?”
“Will this re-education really help me become the mother I need to be for my children?”
“Darling,” she started off with another warm smile. It was almost as if she was laughing at how naïve I could be by asking such question. “This place will help you become the mother that conforms with the needs laid out in the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. I’m here to make sure the intention of the act comes to light. What is best for you is to comply with the intent of the act as it is written right now. If you resist, then the program will resist you. If you buy into the program, then according to the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, this nation will find itself with another wonderful mother.”
“What does it mean to buy into the program?” I asked as I picked up a piece of toast and took a nibble from one of the corners.
“It means doing what the program asks of you. This goes for everything the program asks of you from the way you act, to the way you present yourself, to the way you dress.” When she stated the last one, she motioned to the dress and then looked back at me. “Now, I should really leave. This will give you enough time to eat and get ready for your first class. You don’t want to be late on your first day.” She turned around and headed out the door. The door clicked behind her and I could hear the mechanism working again to make sure I wouldn’t escape from the room.
I took another bite of toast and moved the tray out from in front of me. I got up from the bed and walked over to where the dress stood in the middle of the room. My fingers rubbed gently against the soft fabric of the skirt. I pondered about putting on the dress today. I rotated the dress again and looked at what I would look like if I wore it in the mirror. The fainting feeling came over me again but I was able to maintain control over it this time. I took a deep breath and came to the realization I couldn’t put on this dress just yet. My arms flopped down and I looked at the hospital gown I had been wearing ever since I arrived at the Capital Limited Re-education Center. I brought it up to my nose to smell the funk that one day of wearing the same clothes brought. It smelled like sweat and stale perfume. I came to the realization that just because I wasn’t going to wear the clothes they wanted me to wear didn’t mean I needed to smell like a bum. A shower would do me some good and I would probably feel better after it.
I spent the rest of the morning taking a shower, freshening up as best as I could and putting the hospital gown back on. I ate most of the food they delivered for me and I browsed through the copy of Better Homes laid neatly on my tray. When it was ten minutes to eight, the door swung open again. Karen was standing there.
“Are you ready to come to class?” she asked me.
“Yes,” I said with full determination and walked to where she stood in the doorway.
“Don’t forget your supplies,” she said as she motioned to the binder, notebook and pen resting on the small side table next to the dress.
“I won’t,” I said as I gathered the materials close to me. Karen motioned for me to step out into the hallway. I could see other rooms with other women coming out of them led by other model mothers. Each model mother wore one of the dresses, but it was easy to determine which ones they were because their dresses were pink. Some of the mothers here for re-education were already dressed up like June Cleaver, but most were still dressed in their hospital gowns. I was happy to know I wasn’t the only one deciding against the dress for the first day. Karen motioned for us to walk down the hallway.
“Why didn’t you put on the dress?” she asked me as we made our way to the classroom.
I didn’t want to disappoint her, but at the same time she needed to know the truth, “I just don’t feel comfortable wearing it yet.”
She looked down at the floor, sighed, and shook her head, “I understand what you are going through right now, Rachael.” It was comforting to know she empathized with my situation. “It is my job though to convince you otherwise. Don’t resist for too long because it will make life here more miserable for you. It also makes the job I’m trying to do here more difficult to accomplish.”
It was weird, but no matter how old I got, I always fell victim to a mother’s guilt trip. “I’m sorry, Karen, but…”
She raised her hand up to quiet me. “I don’t want to hear it, Rachael. It’s okay, but I want you to think about this as you move through your re-education. Let’s see if we can move on from it into the future.”
“Okay,” I said and lowered my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see her gaze on the way to the classroom.
We made it to the classroom door and many of the other women had already filed in. Karen bent down and kissed me on the forehead and gently patted my cheek. “You have a lovely day at school, honey. I know it might be a little frightening, but I want you to remember for the good of all the mothers out there, you need to pay attention and do your best. Just look for your name on the desk and that is where you will sit. We can talk tonight about things.”
“Okay,” I said as I went into the classroom. I wasn’t sure what she meant by saying we could talk about things later tonight, but I felt it was going to be an extension of the guilt trip she already laid on me. I knew there was going to be no way to avoid it, so I went around the room looking for my desk. I noticed the place cards were set down in alphabetical order according to last name. I found my place in the last row in the last spot. I was happy when I looked over and noticed once again I was seated next to Sandy Slaver. She was one of the few women in the classroom already accepting her dress.
I smiled over at her and said, “Nice to see a familiar face.”
She laughed. “I agree, but I only wish it was under better circumstances.”
Her easy nature and our similar situations made me feel like we were friends instantly. I pointed at her dress. “I see you are ready to accept the program.”
She looked down at the dress. “Yeah, I know I’m already wearing this hideous thing, but I’m going to do everything in my power to get out this situation as fast as I can.”
“Do you think wearing the dress will help?”
“It can’t hurt. Plus, if every other lady is wearing it as well, what does it matter if I wear it too?”
Her logic and Karen’s guilt trip were starting to make an impression on me. I didn’t have much time to think about it though because the bell rang. I looked up to where it hung on the wall wondering if it was really necessary considering we were already in our seats and we didn’t really have a choice in the matter, anyway.
Dr. Nancy Ann Blur entered the room wearing a red pantsuit, and carrying her clipboard in her left arm. She got to the middle of the room and looked at everybody. Her right hand pulled out Mr. Clicky-Pen and clicked him once.
“Anderson, Susan,” Dr. Blur had said.
The girl sitting in the first seat in the first row also still wearing her hospital gown looked around the room before saying, “Here?”
Mr. Clicky-Pen scratched something on the clipboard, and Dr. Blur continued to take role. The women took their turns saying, “Here,” as the role went up and down the aisles until it reached, “Young, Rachael.”
I said, “Here.” Mr. Clicky-Pen made his last mark on the clipboard. Dr. Blur returned him to his hiding spot in her business jacket, placed her clipboard on the teacher’s desk behind her, turned to face us and began the lesson.
“For many years mothers have been dispensing their form of justice by saying to the children, ‘One day you will have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you. Then you’ll see what it’s like.’”
A couple of the mothers-in-need-of-re-education chuckled a little. I had heard it said before when I was young. My mother never told it to me, but while I was at friends’ houses their mothers had said it when they were acting up. I never thought it would apply to me, and it sounded odd to hear it again on this first day of class.
Dr. Blur continued, “I think this is a very important statement. I would like you to write it down in your notebooks.”
The mothers who had already accepted their dresses opened up their notebooks and quickly started to write down what she said. The rest of us looked around a bit before we opened up our notebooks, picked up our pens and began to write down Dr. Blur’s words of wisdom.
As I wrote down the phrase, I listened to Dr. Blur’s explanation of the statement. “Many mothers say this to their children as a threat. I want you to think about it more as a promise and less of a threat. We are all products of our environment and it is what we learn as we grow up that makes us into the people we will become. So if you learn to act and behave properly, you will impart that wisdom to your children. Logic tells us they will grow up to have children exactly like themselves.”
Her logic actually made sense. I had never thought of thinking about this phrase that way before. It would place the responsibility back on the person in charge, the mother. My mind flashed to an image of Karen looking over her children as she said the same statement. The difference would be she would say it in a more loving manner and less in the bitter tone usually used to deliver it.
When Dr. Blur believed everybody had written down what she had said, she continued on with her lecture. “The way you need to act is broken down into ten easy steps. We, here at the Capital Limited Re-education Center, have re-named them the Ten Commandments. You will find these on the first page of the binder entitled, ‘How to Be a Better Mother.’”
I slid my notebook off the binder and noticed the title for the first time. Written on it in bubbly letters and highlighted with flowers were the words, “How to Be a Better Mother.” Underneath it was a picture of Evelyn Bronson smiling and waving to whoever looked at the book.
I opened up the book and on the first page were the Ten Commandments. They read as follows:
“1. Thou shall accept Jesus Christ as thy savior and pray to him in front of thy children every night.
“2. The Department of Motherhood is thy parent; thou shall accept no other departments before her.
“3. Capitalism is your golden calf; thou shall spend money on a daily basis.
“4. Thou shall respect your children’s needs; they will come first after Capitalism, the Department of Motherhood, and, of course, Jesus Christ.
“5. Thou shall dress as a mother at all times.
“6. Thou shall keep thy home clean.
“7. Thou shall obey thy husband in all matters of finance, childrearing, or sexual conduct.
“8. Thou shall cook breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
“9. Thou shall nurture thy children’s creative mind by encouraging them to explore any topics they wish to explore.
“10. Thou shall not question thy children; their word is golden and should always be believed.”
After reading through the list, some of them were obvious. I knew how important it was to keep the house clean. Also not trusting what my children said could destroy the fragile relationship we had with each other. But there were a couple I questioned. I didn’t understand why capitalism was so important to motherhood. Was it also really important to dress like we were rejects from the 1950s? Some of what was said actually seemed to contradict other statements. It was almost impossible to live these ten commandments without breaking another one somewhere along the way.
I looked up at where Dr. Blur was standing in front of the class. The rest of the class was already looking up at her. It was as if they were waiting for me to finish reading before they were able to continue the class. Dr. Blur looked at me and asked, “Are we finished yet, Rachael?”
I quickly grabbed my pen to show her I was ready to take notes on the Ten Commandments. “Yes, Sorry.”
“Good, because these commandments are the cornerstone of what it means to be a good mother. It basically takes the six standards and breaks them down into ten easy rules to follow in your daily life. If you follow these ten rules then you are basically complying with the six standards.”
Her math didn’t quite make sense to me, but I was never good at math, so what she had said probably made more sense for those who were more comfortable with it.
“It is imperative you memorize these commandments. You should be able to repeat any one of them on command. This way you will be able to live them both frontwards and backwards.”
Once again, I wondered why I would want to live them backwards. But then again I was a mother in trouble, and she was the leading expert in all of motherhood.
“Throughout the last five years after many extensive studies, we have learned these ways of practicing motherhood are the best ways to raise a child. The children turn into the type of American this great country needs. Not only does it make logical sense to follow these commandments, but there is scientific proof to help support this logic.”
There was something not quite right with her logic, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. To this day, I still have a hard time trying to figure out what was wrong with it.
“Let’s take a look at the first commandment, ‘Thou shall accept Jesus Christ as thy savior and pray to him in front of thy children every night.’ This might seem a little odd for any atheists or Muslims who might be in the room. By the way, is there anybody that isn’t a good American Christian in the room?”
Nobody raised their hands. I didn’t know if it was out of fear, or if it was because Dr. Blur’s wishes were granted.
“Well, let me assure you this commandment is not against the first amendment to the Constitution. Even though there is a freedom of religion in this country, there is only one religion that upholds the standards within the Constitution. This is Christianity. The framework of morality as laid out by Jesus Christ is the best way to lead your life. This is the way children need to see how to live their life. By living up to these principles then your children will start to live up to these principles and they will be carried on through generation after generation.”
One of the women in the middle of the classroom who had already accepted her dress raised her hand at this point.
Dr. Blur pointed to her, “Yes, Rebecca.”
“Is this what you did with your children?”
Dr. Blur chuckled a little to herself. “Oh, I don’t have any children. I’ve never been a mother.”
It didn’t seem to bother her. She continued on with the lecture as if what she had said hadn’t affected her credibility at all. But I noticed. I looked all around the room at the other mothers in retraining to see if any of the rest of them had noticed this atrocity. They just sat in their seats looking up at Dr. Blur, nodding respectably and taking notes when she pointed out something on the board. The word, fraud, was not blinking brightly in their minds and they sat there like nothing was wrong with the situation.
The words Dr. Blur rattled off became an incoherent jumbled babble and none of them registered the way they were supposed to. In fact, in the state of shock I was in at the moment, each argument as to why I should conform to the program was at that moment being dumped out of my ear to fall heedlessly upon the floor ready for my heels to stomp on them on the way out of this classroom. I couldn’t believe a single word that came out of that woman’s mouth anymore, and I couldn’t understand why anybody else in the room didn’t feel the same way I did. How could this woman, who never had kids of her own, give me advice about how to raise mine?
It was all a farce and I was the main character.