For those of you who are just getting into my satirical look of the modern American education system, here is the complete second part of the story, and the third part will be presented started next week. Here is a link to first part as well.
This way you can catch up before the conclusion of the story.
This is brought to you by my other satire, Tag – A Cautionary Tale, now available through all of your local bookstores and Amazon.com.
Never in the history of the creation of man had someone so beautiful fallen so far, so fast. At least that was what Dr. Blur had told me at the end of my assessment when she was filling out the last of the paper work. Things continued to slide after the good doctor’s first exposure Palin. My young unwanted house guest claimed the deal for the car was all my idea. She even went so far as to show her disgust at the prospect of belittling such a prestigious organization such as the Department of Motherhood by allowing this kind of behavior to take place on a regular basis. Palin claimed it was up to her to put an end to such atrocities. She told the good doctor that if her actions could inspire other children in similar situations then it was imperative she made the accusation against me. Dr. Blur was about to agree but she needed to investigate some more before making her final judgment.
It drove me crazy. Dr. Blur walked around the place like I was the only one who made some horrendous mistake that morning. Did she not notice the naked girl and the young man having sex in Robert’s office? How could she have missed it? How could she have thought it was my fault that was going on? Granted it was happening underneath my nose and after some more prodding of Palin, it was made perfectly clear it was something happening on a regular basis. I probably should have put an end to it earlier, but to my defense, I never had any experience with teenagers before. Most mothers get some time to know their children and build up the rapport needed to be an effective parent of teenagers. What makes them think that throwing a teenager, especially one as obnoxious as Palin, in the lap of some unsuspecting mother right before their assessment is actually a fair and honest way to make sure the mother is living up to the standards? It was ridiculous. There was no way I could have passed that assessment with the situation I was put in. It was almost as if I was set up to fail in order for them to prove their point. But those were the rules and regulations I was forced to play by. Dr. Nancy Ann Blur constantly reminded me I should not make any excuses because they were not what made a mother great. She kept on reminding me it was all about a mother’s integrity as a person and her ability to pass that integrity on to the next generation.
For a while it looked as if I would only get a good scolding and some bad marks. I would be able to stay at home and raise my children for another year. That was until Palin interceded again. She pointed out that even if my excuses held up in a court of law, there was still the issue of how I raised my two other children. She pointed out I had also made deals with Lindsey and Zach. Granted they sold out for less than she would have, but they were very young. She explained how their impressionable age allowed me to manipulate them for much less, which would give me the ability to continue to sell them short long until they left my care. Not only was I teaching them that bribing was alright, but I was also teaching them the value of what they were being bribed with didn’t need to be a lot. A quick interview with Lindsey and Zach just confirmed everything Palin had said was true.
Even thinking about that little slut today, makes my anger boil over.
After the assessment was over, Dr. Blur claimed I was the worst mother she had ever encountered. I was such a disgrace. Mr. Clicky-Pen agreed with her so much Dr. Blur had to replace the ink cartridge half way through the assessment in order to write down all of the terrible and horrible things she was observing. The police were notified immediately and I was going to be the first mother ever that would not get the three year grace period to change her evil ways. I would be taken immediately for re-education to ensure this did not happen again. I was handcuffed and taken to a holding cell to await my trial.
The next couple of days were a whirlwind of camera lights, wagging fingers and sleazy lawyers. I was shuffled from one place to another. The courts wanted to make sure I had a fair and more importantly, fast trial. The media wanted to make sure my face was proudly displayed on the front page of every newspaper and magazine across America. The Department of Motherhood wanted to make an example of me.
Robert told me it would take me five years of allowances to pay off the type of lawyer I needed to get me out of my situation. He didn’t think it would be fair to me. Instead, a court-appointed defense attorney was assigned to me. He was a young man who had just passed his bar exam a couple of weeks earlier. I was going to be his very first client ever. He was really excited for his chance to serve justice and he thought it would be a great opportunity to bone up on his trial skills. He was nice enough but I still wish to this day he would have had more experience in front of a jury so I wouldn’t have looked like such a fool at my trial. He didn’t get me off and I was sent off to the Capital Limited Re-education Center in La Junta, Colorado. I was loaded onto an old school bus and handcuffed to one of the seats like a common criminal. I was seated next to another woman who was treated the same way as I was. Her name was Sandy Slaver, and we exchanged pleasantries when we first sat down, but we were so embarrassed about our situation we didn’t say much more to each other as the bus made its way to the Capital Limited Re-education Center.
Nobody on the bus was allowed to say goodbye to their children. The Department of Motherhood thought it would be best for the children if they were kept away from these inadequate mothers. I hadn’t even seen Lindsey or Zach since I was taken away after that fateful day when I failed my assessment. I was treated like a common criminal. My hands were handcuffed and my feet were shackled. I was forced to wear an ugly orange jumpsuit. They even had armed guards on the bus as if they needed them to keep the world safe from such terrible mothers.
I thought it was a little bit too much, but who was I to tell the government how to do their job? I was a mother that couldn’t help her children grow up the way they should. I must be a threat to society. What did they expect a renegade mother to do? Did they expect me to scold some random stranger on the street? Did they think I might coddle someone who tripped on the sidewalk and skinned their knee? Did they expect me to stop a business man on his way to make a large deal and demand I see his homework before I let him continue on his way? All I wanted to do was see my children again and tell them how much I loved them, but according to the government, my children were the ones I was the real threat to. They were to be left under the care of Robert, who I am sure was placing them under the direct responsibility of Palin. I was being led off to learn how to become a better mother so my children wouldn’t be left to the fate of the un-American nurturer.
The bus I was in headed off to the plains of Colorado. The mountains that always comforted me shrunk slowly into the horizon. The endless plains rolled on ahead giving me nothing to distract myself as we rolled on to my new lodgings. The mighty lodge pole pines covering the landscape got smaller the further east we went. They became less frequent and slowly turned from these straight tall trees into these gnarled mutated creatures trying to reach for the sky but were instead dragged to the ground by the weight of gravity. The dust sucked up any grass and replaced it with small tufts of cacti. A wrong step would send large spikes through a person’s shoe and into their foot, causing them to hobble along until they were able to pull the darts out.
The buildings we encountered took notes from the foliage. When we left Denver, the mighty skyscrapers loomed all around us, but the further east we went, the smaller the buildings became. They went from office buildings to apartment buildings to suburban houses littered among decaying strip malls, and the occasional restaurant. The homes of the happy families started off huge and impressive. Their structures had withstood the test of time and showed how a loving home could withstand the forces of nature or the heartlessness of bureaucracy. The houses slowly turned into quickly slapped together buildings imitating each other. Each house was the exact copy of the other with just small changes such as a tree placed in a different spot or different shade of tan used to paint the house. By the time we turned off the interstate towards the lonely two-lane highway, the houses turned into single level homes with chipped paint and various forms of unwanted mechanical devices littering the front yards. By the time we came across the imposing green sign pointing towards my destiny, La Junta, the houses had turned into shacks barely kept together and were only seen standing by themselves every five miles down the road.
With all of the desolation my eyes had experienced on the trip out to the Capital Limited Re-education Center, I was extremely excited about seeing something that demonstrated humanity still existed in the world. When I first saw the Capital Limited Re-education Center, it did not fill me with the hope I was looking for. It loomed large on the horizon. It was the only sign of life that could be seen for miles around. It stood like a prison out in the middle of nowhere with plains surrounding it. Anybody finding themselves in the vicinity would be spotted for miles around. All other life was removed from the location. The small shacks I had come to see as a sign of humanity disappeared. The gnarled trees no longer found solace on the desolate ground. Even the dangerous cacti that scared me with their imposing spikes could find no root in the ground. The only changes to the landscape were devil twisters formed by the wind or the occasional tumbleweed rolling towards more hospitable terrain.
“It looks like a prison,” Sandy told me.
I nodded in agreement and added, “I hope they don’t treat us like common criminals.”
Sandy grabbed the chains binding me and reminded me, “It is a little too late for that.”
As the bus inched closer to the Capital Limited Re-education Center, I could see the walls were made of slabs of granite. Small slits were cut into the stone offering the only sunlight into the building. They were held up high which meant they were either windows to the tops of the rooms on the first floor of the building or air vents for the bottoms of the second floor rooms. Either way they would not allow for spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. The whole building was surrounded by a large fence with rolls of barb wire on the top of it. On each corner of the fence there was a tower holding a spot light. Each tower held big imposing men with rifles slung over their shoulders.
When the bus reached the front gate, a loud alarm went off and the gate started to retract back. The bus bounded over the dirt road into the courtyard. I could see Dr. Nancy Ann Blur standing at the front door with her clipboard tucked into her side and Mr. Clicky-Pen poised in her right hand. Behind her a little flower garden had been constructed. Three women worked in the garden. One had a trowel and was digging small holes to plant various forms of delicate flowers. Another pushed a wheelbarrow full of peat moss and the other carried a green plastic water can. She used the can to sprinkle the flowers with much needed water.
I had a hard time telling the women apart. Each woman had the same haircut. It was a short bob hanging just above their shoulders and dyed platinum blonde. Their faces were painted with bright red lipstick and rosy cheeks. Each one had pearl earrings dangling from their earlobes and they each had a pearl necklace draping itself across their neck. They even wore the same dresses. The dresses fanned out into a swaying hoop just over their knees. Their shoulders were covered with puffy sleeves to protect their arms where they met their collarbones. Their waists were cinched tight with an apron pleating out in front of their skirts. Each dress was the color orange, just like the jumpsuits we were wearing on the bus. They all wore high-heeled shoes matching the hideous color of their dresses.
It was not what I was expecting as the bus rolled over the lonely highway to get here. I was expecting women dressed up in jeans and t-shirts, being shuffled around by guards. I couldn’t decide if I was pleased with the change of my expectations or worried about it. I didn’t have much choice as to what I could do about it, so when the bus came to a stop, I stood up in my spot waiting for the guards to release me from my seat. When they did, I went and joined the rest of my companions in our new future together at the Capital Limited Re-education Center. When the guards finally unhooked me, I shuffled my way to the edge of the stairs off the bus. I took a couple of bunny hops down the stairs hoping I would be able to control my balance enough so I wouldn’t go toppling into the courtyard and embarrass myself in front of the other women here for re-education. My feet created puffs of dust as I landed in the courtyard dirt. I then shuffled my way over to my place in line and waited for instructions from Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. Sandy came up and found her place right next to me. When we were all in place like a group of military trainees on their first day of basic training, I looked up and down the line. The women in the line looked like we would’ve been friends in another life, but I thought in my heart this was an illusion. The women must have been harder than me in order to end up in the situation like this. I knew I was a better mother than all of the other women in this line and it was a mistake I was here at all. I knew Robert would come down here any minute and take me away from this awful fate. Until then I knew I must refrain from making any serious mistakes in front of these other ladies. That way they wouldn’t hurt me or even worse Dr. Blur wouldn’t lump me in with the rest of them.
Dr. Blur looked at us from over her clipboard. She made a quick check with Mr. Clicky-Pen and then looked over at one of the guards accompanying us on the long bus trip.
“Ladies, I would like to introduce you to Steven.” She indicated the man dressed up in a military uniform. “He will be your authoritative executive throughout the course of your mother re-education process.” She looked over at the man she was talking about. “Steven, why are these ladies in shackles?”
Steven snapped to attention as if he was getting a direct order from his commanding officer. He shouted across the courtyard at Dr. Blur while looking directly ahead, “Standard procedure for any prisoner, ma’am.”
“But Steven,” Dr. Blur said as she walked over to the first woman in line, a tall and slightly over-weight brunette, and patted her cheek. “These ladies are not prisoners. They are just mothers who have lost their way and need a little adjustment in their lives in order to get back on the right path.” She started to walk down the line and looked at every woman in their eyes as she passed them. “In fact, these women are some of the noblest citizens of this fair country. In the eyes of many people, they are considered heroes. It takes a lot of patience and care to raise a young child in this world, and without them the future of this country would be in jeopardy.”
By this time, Dr. Blur stopped walking right in front of me. She looked down the line to where Steven was standing in attention. She addressed him directly, “You have a mother, Steven, don’t you?”
“And wasn’t it your mother that helped make you into the wonderful human being you are today?”
Steven started to get flustered. “She did a wonderful job of raising me, ma’am.”
“And because of that, don’t you owe your mother some respect?”
“I love my mother,” Steven sobbed as tears started to well up in the corner of his eyes.
“Well, then would you want to see your mother locked up like a common criminal.”
“Then let’s unlock these mothers, so we can start to teach them how to be the wonderful mothers this country needs.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Steven said. He jumped into action and started to unlock the shackles around our wrists and ankles.
While he was making his way down the line, Dr. Blur looked at me right in the face and said, “Good job, Steven, because we wouldn’t want to damage one of our nation’s greatest commodities.” Her eyes squinted just a little bit to see if she could read what was going on in my mind. I tried to compose my facial features into one of awareness. Apparently, she got the answer she wanted because she turned around on her heels and walked into the Capital Limited Re-education Center with her clipboard tucked firmly at her side.
I thought the experience was strange but her generosity helped get the shackles off. It felt good to no longer have the metal rub against my wrists. I gently massaged them to see if I could get the feeling to return to them. My wrists were starting to feel a little better by the time Steven made it all the way down the line. He dumped the gear to the side and then he goose stepped to the center of the line. When he made it to the center, he rotated on his heels so he could face us and snapped once again into attention. While looking over our heads, he shouted, “Attention!”
I looked down the line to see what the other ladies were doing. Sandy looked back at me with a confused expression on her face. Most of the other women looked back and forth down the line with the same look of confusion. A couple of them took the message given by Steven seriously and started to stand up straighter with their heels touching.
Steven didn’t wait for all of us to comply; instead, he continued on with the instructions we needed to have. All instructions were shouted at us, basic training style. “Welcome ladies to the Capital Limited Re-education Center. During your stay here you will learn what it means to be the perfect mother.” Steven stopped at this moment to turn his head to the side and bite the knuckle of his right index finger. His eyes squeezed tightly before he let go of his knuckle. He muttered the words, “I love you mother,” just barely audible enough for us to hear before he turned his head back to us and continued his instructions. The bizarre gesture convinced a couple more of the ladies to stand at attention.
“Upon entering the Capital Limited Re-education Center, you will notice cubicles on your left side. You will each take a cubicle. In the cubicle, you will remove your orange jumpsuit and put on the hospital dressing gown made available to you there. In the back corner of the cubicle there will be a chute with a button above it on the wall. You will push this button and the chute will open for you. This is where you will dispose of your orange jumpsuit. Also in each stall you will notice a barber chair. After you have disposed of your jumpsuit you will take a seat in the barber chair. On the left arm rest of the barber chair you will see another button. You will press this button when you have completed all of these tasks. Do I make myself clear?”
Sandy timidly raised her hand in the hopes of asking a question. I tried as best as I could by only using my looks to tell her she shouldn’t ask anything because Steven’s question was meant to be rhetorical.
Steven ignored her and instead shouted over our heads, “Good, now follow me.” He then placed his right foot over his left and did some kind of weird move causing him to whip around so we were now facing his back. He was still standing at attention. He started to goose step over to the door and after a couple of steps, the ladies who also stood at attention started to follow him. Ironically enough, they tried to imitate the way he was walking but not with much success. When the rest of us felt uncomfortable enough standing in the middle of the courtyard by ourselves, we joined the group and made our way into the Capital Limited Re-education Center. I was one of the last ones to enter. When I entered the Capital Limited Re-education Center for the first time, I noticed a long white hallway with white ceiling tiles and a white linoleum floor which stretched on forever. My eyes stung because of the change from natural light to florescent light. All of the white made the place look like a hospital and the ladies I rode over here with slowly made their way into the cubicles. There were only a few left towards the end of the hallway, and I made my way down until I found one not already occupied.
I went into what was more a tiny room and less a cubicle. The theme of white continued in there. There was a barber chair right in the middle of the room with a sink behind it and various utensils used to cut somebody’s hair. There were also jars around the edge of the sink holding various types of goo and gels. Across from the chair on a hook hung the hospital gown I was instructed to put on. I got to work.
I took off the orange jumpsuit, happy to be rid of it. I then put on the hospital gown. My new clothes barely hung over my butt, and much of my back was exposed by the loose way it was held together. The only way to secure it was to tie three little pieces of string together. I do not believe it helped much with my modesty.
I took the orange jumpsuit over to the chute on the far corner of the room. It looked like the lid to a toilet seat implanted in the floor. The button I was instructed to push was half way up the wall and blinking. I held my jumpsuit over the hole wondering what would happen when I pushed the button. My finger hesitated at the button, hoping I was making the right choice before it became too late to change my mind. I pressed the button, and the lid popped open. A great sucking sound came from a hole in the ground. My orange jumpsuit was ripped from my hands and sucked down the hole. After it had gobbled up the cloth, the lid slammed shut and quiet once again invaded the room. I have always been a little bit more wary of buttons after that experience.
I looked at the other button on the armrest of the barber’s chair as it flashed red. My finger hesitated over the button. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t push it. Steven answered that question for me as he started to shout down the hall, “Hurry up, ladies. You don’t want me to have to come in your room and push your buttons for you.” That settled it and I pushed the button. I expected another hole to open up and for me to be sucked into oblivion. I squeezed my eyes shut against what would happen, but after nothing did, I opened them to find myself still in the room. It was exactly as I was before I closed my eyes.
This is when the wall on the far side of the room opened up in the middle like a little door. Out walked a short man with his dark hair gelled up into a pompadour. He looked at me standing in front of the chair, and sighed, “Lady, didn’t you hear the instructions?”
The man walked behind the chair and grabbed a white frock and put it on. “You were specifically told to sit in the chair before you pushed the button.”
I stepped up into the chair and apologized as I did so. He rolled his eyes, and went behind the chair. He stepped up on a wooden platform placed behind the chair. He pressed a button on the chair and I was thrown back into a lying position. Before I knew what was happening, a barber’s sheet was draped over me and the short man meticulously snapped it securely around my neck. He pressed another button and the chair slid back so my head was gently resting in the sink. He pulled a faucet snaking out from the back of the sink and started to spray my hair with water.
I looked up at him as he sprayed my hair down and asked, “Am I getting a haircut?”
He pulled one of the bottles off of the shelf and squirted a healthy portion into my hair. The smell of strawberries and lilacs floated in the air. He started to massage the liquid into my scalp before he answered, “Honey, you are getting a lot more than that. You’re getting a complete makeover.”
The massaging allowed my muscles to relax for the first time in weeks and I started to fall under his persuasion. “Did the people here analyze my body type and my facial features to come up with what would be my best look?”
It started to make me feel good they might’ve thought of me in this way, but he dispelled that myth quickly. “Oh, honey, it is nothing like that.” With one hand he continued to massage my scalp and with other he caressed one of my cheeks. “I wish what you asked was true. I spent five years in cosmetology school in order to learn how to work with facial features so every woman’s haircut would highlight their face. With you I would bring out those lovely green eyes and show the world what lovely cheekbone structure you have.”
His voice was soothing. Its rhythm was starting to lull me to sleep. Through that haze halfway between sleep and being awake, I was able to mutter, “Thank you.”
“And your body begs to be placed in a business suit. With your strong shoulders and powerful legs, it would force men to treat you with respect and you would be able to rise to power easily with your image.”
It must have been his soothing voice and the need for release from the stress I endured over the past couple of weeks that was making my eyes so heavy because I started to struggle to keep them open in order to hear what he had to say. The allure of leaving consciousness won out and I closed my eyes, but I was still alert enough to say, “I didn’t know I had that in me.”
“And you’ll never find it either.”
The contradiction didn’t stir me from my need to slumber, but I still questioned it anyway. “Oh, really?”
“Oh yeah, because that’s not the type of makeover you are going to get.” He started to rinse the shampoo out of my hair.
The water was the final straw putting me sleep, but I remember mumbling the word, “Oh,” before I drifted off. I had a dream filled with Lindsey, Zach and me. They were older and I guess I was too. They had become sophisticated adults. Zach was so handsome as he came walking across the grass wearing a suit just like his father. He carried with him a gift in a small slender box. It was wrapped in beautiful bright gold wrapping paper with green ribbon and a bow. Lindsey walked next to him. She had grown into a beautiful woman. Her hair was auburn like mine and it blew gently in the wind. But there was a difference between her and her brother. Her brother was smiling; she had a frown upon her face. Her brother walked up to me with confidence; she slouched along in a shy manner. Her brother’s clothes were of rich design; hers looked like they had been worn often and were beginning to show effects of the wear. They walked up to me and Zach bent down to where I sat on the grass and kissed my cheek. He handed me the present in his hand and told me, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”
My heart leapt because it was my favorite day of the year, and my children had remembered me on this day. I looked down at the present. It felt light in my hands. It begged to be ripped open, but instead I looked up at the two of them and said, “Thank you. Is this from both of you?”
Zach looked down at me with concern. He said, “Of course not, Mom. That is just from me. Lindsey didn’t get you anything.”
I looked over at Lindsey with dismay. She started to bite into her fingernails of her index and middle finger. Instead of looking me in my eyes, she turned away from me in shame. She started to walk away from me, and I wanted to shout for her not to go, but Zach knelt down beside me. He told me, “Don’t worry about her mom; she’s been on that path for a very long time. There is nothing you can do about it now.”
I looked into Zach’s eyes and saw a hollow reflection of Lindsey walking over the horizon. He patted the present in my lap. “Open up your present. I want to show you what I got.”
My joy of opening the present left with my daughter, but I continued to do what he asked. I pulled back on the bow and the ribbon unraveled from the present. I carefully popped open the seam where the paper was taped together so I wouldn’t rip it. Underneath was a skinny rectangle box. I slowly pulled off the lid and looked into the box. The box was empty.
Zach kissed me on the cheek again and said, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”
This is when I woke up from my dream. I had been moved to a bed and a blanket had been pulled over me in a loving manner. I was now in a different room that I assumed was still in the Capital Limited Re-education Center. A trickle of daylight filtered in from a small window on top of a wall I faced. There was a poster tacked to the wall of Evelyn Bronson standing in the kitchen and smiling at the camera. It was black and white and it looked like it was from the height of the Leave it to Beaver days on television. Underneath her picture written in bold, white letters were the words: YOUR HERO. I looked at it questioningly and felt a dull throb in my head. It felt as if I had a little too much to drink the night before.
I moved my hand up to my head and ran it through my hair. A lot of it seemed to be missing. In fact, it was cut very short. It seemed to stop just below my ears and right above my neck. I sat up quickly because I wasn’t expecting them to cut that much hair during my makeover. I always loved my long auburn hair. It was the first thing about me that attracted Robert. I started to panic and looked around the room to see if I could find a mirror. I needed to see exactly what they did with my hair.
I was sitting on a bed on the far end of a small square room. There were only two doors in the room: one directly on the opposite side of the room from the bed and a smaller one on the right hand wall of the room. There were no closets or any other possessions in the room except in the middle of the room. A dressmaker’s dummy stood next to a small table that had a binder, a notebook, and a red clicking pen on it. There was a dress on the dressmaker’s dummy. It was a one-piece dress made from an orange fabric. It was the same orange as the jumpsuit I was wearing earlier. It had a low round neckline tapering off into puffy sleeves just barely covering the shoulders. From the waist, a three-tiered skirt flowed out into a hoop just barely covering the knees. There were high-heeled shoes sitting nicely underneath it matching the color of the dress. There was also an apron decorated with sunflowers cinched around the waist of the dress and spreading out over the skirt.
I looked down at myself sitting up in bed and noticed I still had the hospital gown on. I quickly scanned the room to see if there were any other clothes available for me to wear. Once again, all I saw was the dressmaker’s dummy, the table with the paperwork on it, the bed, the poster, and the dress. The dress was something out of the 1950’s. I couldn’t imagine anybody wearing anything like that anymore, but something nagged at me in the back of my mind. I tried to think where I had seen dresses like this before. The poster behind me. Yes, but where else? I was quickly reminded of the women gardening when we first arrived at the Capital Limited Re-education Center.
I got out of the bed and edged my way over to where the dress stood in the middle of the room. I started to think about the hairstyles on the women outside of the Capital Limited Re-education Center. My hand went up again to touch my hair. My heart started to beat a little harder. I stopped halfway between the dress and the bed and turned to look at the poster behind me. I looked at the haircut Evelyn Bronson had. It looked exactly like the one the other ladies had. I started to worry I might have the same haircut as well. Tears stared to well up in my eyes. I started to move closer to the dress again.
My hand caressed the fabric at the sleeves. It was smooth and I could tell that it was made of silk. I still couldn’t see myself wearing such a dress. I didn’t know anybody who would find such an atrocity attractive anymore. The tear my eye was collecting shuffled down my cheek to dangle from the edge of my chin. I sniffed and wiped my nose. While I was doing that I noticed I was parallel to the other door in the room.
The door was open and I could see it led to a bathroom. There was a mirror hanging from the wall behind a counter. There was a piece of paper taped to the mirror above a collection of cosmetics. My eyes moved away from this to the center of the mirror where I could see my reflection standing next to the dress. I noticed not only was my hair cut but it was also now the same platinum blonde the other women’s hair color had been. My face was also painted with a bunch of cosmetics. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. Another tear collecting in my other eye rolled down my cheek to meet the first one.
I rotated the dress so it faced the mirror. I stood behind it, and faced the mirror. My head stood at the top where the head of the mannequin would be. I looked over the body of the dress and I could feel my breath become quicker and shorter. I looked up to stare into the mirror. The illusion I saw completed the image. June Cleaver stared back at me.
I screamed before I fainted.
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.
I was living in a bizarre conundrum and it was starting to sink me into a deep depression I didn’t know if I would ever be able to crawl out of. I wanted to get back to my children and raise them the way I knew how to do, but in order to do that I had to compromise everything I believed in and accept a system I knew was loaded against me. It was a system never tested. It was a system made up on the principles of someone who had never gone through the things I had gone through with my children. It was based upon the lunacy of some agenda driven individual who believed what she created was the right thing. It wasn’t. I knew what was best for my children and this puffed-up, over-bloated, know-nothing, money-grubbing politician had no clue. I had only one hope left in this world and that was for Robert to show up, overturn the ruling of the courts, and take me back home so I could take care of Lindsey and Zach again. He must have been worried out of his mind without me around to take care of them.
There was no way Robert would take me not being there to raise the children for much longer. He would pack up the Zach and Lindsey in the car, leaving Palin behind to her own devices, and travel down to La Junta, Colorado. He would demand to know where the Capital Limited Re-education Center was. He would drive up to the front of the building and pull Zach and Lindsey out of the car. Lindsey’s hair would be sticking up in different directions and Zach’s clothes wouldn’t have been washed for days. Robert would even look haggard because of the lost nights of sleep and the fact he wasn’t able to cope with the love of his life, the mother of his children, being locked away in some prison out in the middle of the Great American Desert.
He would stand at the gate, displaying the children he brought with him. He would get the attention of the guards. He would shout at them, “I am Robert Young. This is Lindsey and Zach. These children need their mother.”
That was my lullaby. It rocked me to sleep every night.
Even while I clung to this belief I had let myself go. I never put on make-up. I quit showering. A couple of time, I didn’t even bother to get out of bed when I had to relieve myself.
Karen always encouraged me to put on the dress, but I ignored her completely. I thought about kicking it over once, and stomping on it. I even thought about rubbing my feces all over the expensive fabric, but I knew they would just replace it with another. I thought it would be better to pretend I was ignoring it. My inactivity would drive the good doctor crazy.
In fact, I was the only hold-out in class not to don the standard uniform. I wore my hospital gown as a badge of pride. It started to get pretty raunchy too. The cotton was getting sticky from places where I had dropped food on it, and my body odor was starting to permeate the material. Karen even brought me a new gown one day and asked if I would at least switch hospital gowns. Sandy inched her desk as far away from me as she could so she didn’t have to deal with the smell.
I was polite about it at least. I told Karen thank you when she brought me the new garment and said I would be happy to use the hospital gown. I used it to wipe my butt the next time I defecated and tried to flush it down the toilet afterward. That got me a visit from Steven, who tried to push into my brain the fact that I needed to start playing along with the program. He tried to accomplish this by shouting in my face. I was polite about that too. I thanked him for the much needed spittle shower and then rolled over in bed.
I was a stone wall. Nobody at that prison was going to be able to get through to me. I wasn’t going to become a part of their machine. There was no way their idea of what made a perfect mother was as good as mine. They could never understand the connection I had with my children. Their methods of the best ways to raise my children would continue to fall on deaf ears. I believed any day my husband would come to rescue me.
I thought I had them beat but I wasn’t aware they held all of the cards. I held onto the belief I was disrupting their system until one fateful day.
It was the start of another night like any other. Karen had come in to bring me dinner. I ate the food and ignored her pleas for me to start complying with the program. After she tired of trying to convince me, she left me alone.
When I was alone in my room, the pressure of what they wanted me to do started to weigh on me. The pressure took on a physical form and called to me. It stood on its stand in the middle of the room, staring at me, asking me to put it on, and I knew if I looked at it, it would disgust me even more. I chose, instead, to stand on the corner of my bed closest to the wall leading to the outside. I did put on the high heels coming with the dress because it made it easier for me to stand on my tippy-toes and look out the small window letting in a little bit of light from the outside.
My window offered a view of a barren landscape. Tough, short trees grew in the rocky soil in front of the complex and every once in a while a tumbleweed rolled lazily by, dodging and escaping capture from the tree’s knotty limbs threatening to ensnare it. Dust blew across the only street visible. Every so often it swirled up into a dust devil only to be dissipated a few yards down the road. The sight was pretty depressing, but it was much better than the other view the room had to offer, that dress.
At least by looking outside, I kept my hopes up. I expected at any moment to see Robert’s green Suburban come driving down the highway and turn into the parking lot at any moment.
I heard a key being entered into the lock of my room. It was a new tactic they were trying and I was wondering how I would be able to deflect their attempts this time. I could hear high heels clack upon the floor as someone entered the room. The door shut behind my guest.
I heard noise that I had heard so many times while sitting in the classroom, listening to the lies spouting out of the instructor’s mouth, “Click.”
I could hear something being scribbled down on a clipboard before I heard that noise again, “Click.”
I didn’t turn around because I didn’t want to look at her, but I could tell by the number of taps her high heels made she was hovering somewhere around where the dress stood mockingly in the center of the room.
I believed my best hope was to not acknowledge her presence, so I kept my back to her. It was even more rewarding, knowing I hadn’t tied up the back of my hospital gown. My guest was getting the lovely view of a full moon.
“Good evening, Dr. Blur.”
“Good evening, Rachael. Are you enjoying the sunset?”
“It hasn’t started yet, but it is one of the things I do look forward to every night in this God forsaken place.”
That was the truth. The sunset always created a beautiful display of colors as it sank in the west. It reminded me of everything I left behind.
“It is such a shame you won’t put on the dress. It would help so much with your case and make things easier for you here at the Capital Limited Re-education Center.”
Her ploy didn’t work. I continued to look out the window hoping. She noticed she wasn’t making any progress as I heard the tap of her shoes move a couple of steps closer to where I stood on my bed.
“I’m glad to see you decided to wear the shoes. It is a step in the right direction at least.”
I couldn’t let her mistake give her the upper hand in the situation. “They help me look out the window. This way I don’t have to continue to stand on my tippy-toes.”
“Yes, I had noticed you were looking out the window a lot lately. What are you looking for?”
“I’m waiting for my husband to come and pick me up.”
Her question really took me back, so I finally turned my attention away from the window. I looked down at her with one raised eyebrow and said, “Yes, my husband. You know the man who married me because he loves me. The father of my children. The one who is going to come here and rescue me from this hell hole. Robert Young.”
“Yes, I know Robert Young but you don’t have a husband.”
This strategy was really starting to anger me. “What do you mean I don’t have a husband? I have been married to Robert for seven years. We have two lovely children. He loves me.”
Dr. Blur looked down at her clipboard. Now that she had my attention, she didn’t need to give me the full extent of hers. She flipped through a couple of pages until she found the one that she was looking for. When she found it, she made reference to it, “You are correct with some of the things you are saying. You were married to a Robert Young for seven years, and you did have two children with him.”
She paused again. It was infuriating the way she would do this. “It is exactly what I just told you. What is the difference?”
She looked up at me. “Oh, there is one thing I left out.”
“And what would that be?”
She looked up from her clipboard and looked me in the eyes.
“That he loves you.”
Now she was crossing into territory that would get her hurt. It was almost as if she was trying to convince me to claw her eyes out. I breathed in deeply and stepped off the bed. I took a few steps to where she stood in the middle of the room next to the dress. I expected her to get scared because of the anger emitting from my every pore, but she just stood her ground and waited until we were face to face. Her expression didn’t change. She created no sound, and she allowed me to make the first move.
“What do you mean he doesn’t love me?”
She turned from me and took a couple of steps back towards the door. “I could be wrong about him loving you. I mean I haven’t asked him, but all of the evidence points to the fact he doesn’t love you.” She turned around again to face me.
I shook my head, truly confused this time. “What evidence are you talking about?”
“Well to start off with, Rachael, you are no longer Mrs. Young. We will go back to calling you by your maiden name, Miss Ervaring.”
I stood in the middle of the room puzzled while my brain tried to sort out what it was Dr. Blur was telling me. When it was obvious I wasn’t able to sort out the details for myself, she made things a little more clear.
“Robert Young, your ex-husband, filed for divorce the day after you were arrested. It took a little while for the papers to go through, you know the speed of bureaucracy can be a little cumbersome sometimes, but he was finally granted the divorce just yesterday.”
My head started to spin. I couldn’t believe Robert would do such a thing to me.
“Personally I’m surprised it took that long. It was obvious you were unfit to be a mother to his three children. Bribing is such an ugly thing. Children will never learn to grow up the way they are supposed to if we continue to motivate them through extrinsic means. They need to learn to become good people intrinsically. Any fool could tell you that, and though many judges are a little foolish from time to time, they usually come to see the light of the situation eventually. In fact, just yesterday, one came to his senses and granted Robert the divorce for different expectations about rearing children.”
I felt as if I was going to faint again. My hand reached out for something to steady myself and even though I avoided touching it from the first day I was brought to the Capital Limited Re-education Center, I used the dress and the dressmaker’s dummy to help me keep my composure during Dr. Blur’s onslaught. It didn’t prevent her from keeping on with it though.
She started to travel around the perimeter of the room. Her heels clacking across the floor helped keep rhythm with her prose. “Of course that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. Just because you have differing opinions on how to raise a child, doesn’t mean love has been erased from the equation. But there is the other thing pointing to the fact he doesn’t love you.”
Tears were streaming out of my eyes by this time. I would have loved to wipe it all away in order to retain some of my dignity, but each clack of her heels, and each word she said further incapacitated me to do anything else.
By this time Dr. Blur had made it to my bed. “The fact that really points to him not loving you anymore is the application for a marriage license. It didn’t take very long. In fact, if you look at the time of both pieces of paper, it was as if he received his divorce papers in one room and then walked down the hallway to another office in order to apply for a marriage license. That was pretty quick. I mean he must have started dating this…” She flipped through the pages on her clipboard again.”…this Jessica Bell the day after you failed your assessment. It does make sense. He is a man after all. He does need someone to take care of his children, but if it was really about love I do think he would have taken a little bit longer to find somebody to replace you.”
She had rounded the room and had made it back to the door. I needed her to stop or I was going to lose consciousness and look weak in her eyes. The only thing I could think of doing was to yell at her, “It’s all lies!”
“Oh but Miss Ervaring, it is not a lie.”
The use of my voice gave me the strength I was looking for, so I continued to use it, “You’re a liar.”
She started to walk towards me. “I was afraid you wouldn’t accept the truth. You haven’t been able to do it since you’ve been here. I could show you all the paper work, but you will probably deny that as well. You’d make up some ridiculous claim they’re forgeries.” She had made it to where I stood next to the dress. She looked down at me. For the first time I saw what I thought to be pity somewhere deep within her eyes. “That’s why I’ve arranged something special for you, Miss Ervaring.”
She looked back towards the door, and shouted, “Steven, you can bring it in now.”
Steve entered through the door. He was carrying a bundle with him. He goose-stepped over to my bed and placed the bundle gently there. Afterwards, he turned around and goose-stepped his way out of the room. The door shut quietly behind him.
“I rarely do anything like this, Miss Ervaring, but I think you are a special case. You are worth saving. When you finally come to see the light, you will do something special in this world. And no matter how painful it may be, you need to be brought to see the light.” She took my chin and gently raised it up so we were looking eye to eye. “Go ahead. Look at what Steven brought in for you.”
I turned around and saw the bundle lying on the bed. I edged closer to it as Dr. Blur continued to talk. “We were pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to get you to wear your dress because of your resistance to it so far, but we thought it was important to show you what you needed to see. We knew we couldn’t show it to you while wearing that hospital gown, so that’s why we came up with this alternative.”
I pulled back some tissue paper to see what was in the bundle. I didn’t know what to expect, but what I saw definitely surprised me. There on the bed in front of me was a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I looked over my shoulder at Dr. Blur.
She let out a sigh and motioned at the clothes. “Go on, put them on. We don’t have a lot of time, and I believe it is important I show you what you need to see.”
I still didn’t trust her and this seemed just another trick to get me to do what it was she wanted me to do, but the allure of wearing something more substantial then the hospital gown was too much. I slid on the jeans. They felt so comfortable against my skin. It was like returning to a part of me forgotten for a very long time.
When I took off the hospital gown, I could feel the grime and muck I had collected over the last couple of weeks being pulled from my skin. The cotton of the t-shirt gave me the strength to stand up straight. It had been a long time since I had, and I could feel muscles I hadn’t used in a long time start to twinge. When I turned around to face Dr. Blur she smiled at me.
“Do you feel better?”
“Yes,” was all I could reply. I noticed my dirty hospital gown was in her hand already. I hadn’t noticed her snatching it from me. When I saw it, I wanted to grab it back as if it was my blankee, but I left it in her hand because I was more interested in seeing where they were going to take me.
“Good,” was Dr. Blur’s response. “Follow me.”
She took me out into the hallway. It was weird walking out in the hallway without all of the other women shuffling off to the classes. The only other person in the hallway was Steven. He left as soon as Dr. Blur handed him my old hospital gown. He disappeared quickly and we moved on down the hallway in the opposite direction of the classrooms. I had never been this way but I never gave it much thought before. The rest of the women came from this direction when we went to class, so I always assumed there were many more rooms just like the one I was confined to. I was sure each one contained the same bathroom, the same collection of make-up, the same collection of learning materials on a small side table, and the same ugly orange dress. It never occurred to me there were probably other rooms and hallways containing the other parts of this institution and I started to get excited and curious to see them.
We reached a larger door with a keypad next to it. Dr. Blur covered it from my view as she punched in a few numbers. The door opened and I found myself in the same hallway I had first seen when I arrived at the Capital Limited Re-education Center. This time it was quiet because the activity of the first day was missing. Now it was a half-lit hallway hinting at the ghosts who were left behind that fateful day. We walked down the hallway until we came to the front door. We went through the front door. In the diminishing daylight I could see a limousine sitting in the courtyard with the engine gently purring. The back door was opened and a chauffeur was standing next to it waiting for us to enter. Dr. Blur entered first and then she beckoned for me to follow her. I got in and my curiosity grew even more. She found a seat at the end of the limousine backing itself to where the chauffer drove the car, and I took the seat at the opposite end. Even though I was curious as to where she was taking me, I still did not trust her enough to sit next to her. I thought at any moment she would pull out a gun and shoot me through the heart. It would be the quickest way to get rid of the mistake wandering around the hallways of her Capital Limited Re-education Center.
The car started to roll and in the back of the car I couldn’t see outside to determine where it was it was taking us. From the feel of the way it was turning, I thought we were heading back to the life I left behind.
Dr. Blur went over to a bar in the limousine. She plunked three ice cubes into an intricately designed crystal glass. She pulled the stopper out of one of the bottles next to it. It contained a clear liquid and she poured a healthy portion of it into the glass. She took a quarter of a lime from another container and squeezed it into the glass before she handed it to me.
I looked at the glass in my hand with the chunk of squeezed fruit floating around in it and looked back up at Dr. Blur. “What is this?”
“You’re giving me a glass of gin?”
“From our records, we ascertained this was your drink of choice. Granted you usually had it with tonic, but tonight you are going to need something a little stronger than a gin and tonic.”
“Why would I need something stronger?”
Dr. Blur considered this question for a moment. It was as if she was trying to formulate the best way to explain to me what was going on, but she was having a difficult time articulating it. After a moment, she put her clipboard down next to her and placed Mr. Clicky-Pen on top of it. She took off her glasses rubbed her eyes, and then put them back on. Her eyes got serious and bored down into me. “It all comes down to love.”
That was not what I was expecting to hear. I took a long drink from my glass.
She continued, “You see love is a strange thing. It demands somebody be taken advantage of. It demands someone get hurt. Of course, there are those purists out there who will tell you this just isn’t true. They spout out all that Romeo and Juliet crap and then go into great detail about how they have found their true love and how nobody can pull them apart and how nobody gets hurt in their relationship. But if you really dig down deep into their hearts, you will find a place where pain and happiness both get nurtured. You’ll find the person who tries to convince you of the existence of true love is in a lot of pain. Whereas the other one who doesn’t believe in this crap is in a state of joyful, uninterrupted bliss.
“This goes for any relationship where love is involved whether it is the lust between two teenagers exploring their bodies for the first time, or a marriage going into its golden anniversary. It is especially true for the relationship created between a mother and her child. And it is this dynamic that creates the basis for the two philosophies of motherhood. Do you understand everything I have been telling you so far?”
I nodded my head as I took another sip of my drink. The bitter liquid trickled down my throat. It helped to numb my senses as I prepared to listen further. I put the glass in my lap with my hands gingerly cupping it to give Dr. Blur the okay to continue.
“I’m glad you understand Miss Ervaring. That dynamic is very important because it comes down to the hurt. Or in other words, who takes the brunt of the hurt. The major question between the philosophers of motherhood is: should it be the child who takes the hurt or should it be the mother? Now, my opinion on the matter is it should be the mother. Here you have this defenseless child who knows no better. They need to be protected from the pain the world dishes out. It is up to the mother to absorb this pain. They can do this by allowing the child to explore the world and when the child makes a mistake, the mother is there to swoop in and take all of the responsibility. By doing this, the child is able to nurture their creative side, learn about the world, make mistakes without any consequences, and become a healthy adult.”
She paused at this moment and I took another sip of my drink. I started to think about what she was explaining to me and it made some sense, but there was something in the back of my mind nagging me about her philosophy, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but I thought it was my responsibility to figure it out.
“Now, if you think about the other side of this, you come to the philosophy used by your parents. It was the philosophy which slowly destroyed the family unit in this country. It was the philosophy that inspired me to write the now famous report, A Family at Risk. It is usually affectionately referred to as tough love.”
I had heard of this term before. In fact, I had heard my parents use it as I was growing up.
“You see the philosophy of tough love puts the hurt on the child. According to practitioners of this philosophy, it is important the mother is the selfish one. She takes all of the joy of watching the child struggle through the difficult times in their life. According to this philosophy, the child makes mistakes, and the mother allows the child to make these mistakes. The child will then learn to never make these mistakes again. These philosophers believe this will make the child grow up into a healthy adult who will be able to take on any challenge presented to them.”
Her description reminded me of my childhood, and I started to wonder at this time in my life, if my parents owed me something more.
“Personally, I believe the tough love philosophy is a very selfish, lazy way of raising your children. It just throws the child out into the world and the mother wipes her hands free of any responsibility of raising their child. It asks the world to raise the child instead of the mother being held accountable for her role in the child’s development. I believe it is the mother who should take the hurt in the relationship and protect her child from ever experiencing this hurt. Because this is the way you were raised, it is the only way you will learn what you need to learn. So against my better judgment, tonight I am going to be a practitioner of tough love.”
I took another sip of my drink and pondered the situation Dr. Blur had just presented to me. I held the drink in my lap and looked over at Dr. Blur. “I guess that leaves me with one other question.”
“What, Miss Ervaring?”
“If what you said is true, no matter which philosophy you look at, love still exists within the mother’s heart. Wouldn’t they still feel the hurt as well as the child when the world inflicts its pain upon the child? If the mother was a good mother, wouldn’t they experience the same feelings their child feels? Wouldn’t they feel that pain as well when they are practitioners of tough love?”
“That was more than one question, Miss Ervaring.”
Dr. Blur turned away from me as if that was enough of an explanation for my question. I was afraid she was going to leave it right there without any more response, so I goaded her further, “Well, what do you think about it?”
Dr. Blur huffed, “I do not see that based upon my experiences.”
The rest of the car ride was spent in silence. It was a long car ride too. I slowly sipped on my drink as we made our way across the plains. I never felt the effects of the alcohol. I don’t know if it was because my adrenaline was running so high because of not knowing where I was going or if it was because my mind was racing with the words Dr. Blur had said to me when we started the car ride. Either way, by the time the limousine started to slow down and make more turns, my drink was finished and my head was still clear. Finally we stopped.
The chauffeur got out of the driver’s seat and opened the back door for us. I got out of the car to find myself standing at the back door to the Old Stone Church. My mind started to race, trying to figure out why we were here. Dr. Blur got out after me. Her clipboard was tucked back into its normal place, and she held Mr. Clicky-Pen ready to take notes.
I looked over at her. “What are we doing here?”
Dr. Blur opened the back door to the restaurant and motioned for me to enter. “I’ve made arrangements with this fine establishment to help us out with making you a successful mother we hope you will be some day. Please, come on in.”
I walked through the door hesitantly. On my right hand side, there was the kitchen. On the left hand side there was a staircase leading to an upper level of the building I didn’t know existed.
Dr. Blur shut the door behind her. “Please, Miss Ervaring, up the stairs.” I walked up the stairs. It led to a small room full of dry goods. When the place was a church it must have been the choir loft. It has since been covered from the view of the rest of the restaurant with a one-way mirror. It allowed me to look over the restaurant and all of the people enjoying themselves. Dr. Blur indicated two chairs at the edge of the loft allowing me to see perfectly well everything going on. I sat down and looked over at my captor. “What do you want me to see here?”
Mr. Clicky-Pen started to scratch something into the clipboard. Dr. Blur looked at her watch, “Just look down below. I think it will become apparent in just a few moments.”
I scanned the floor of the restaurant, trying to find what Dr. Blur wanted me to see. Being back in the building reminded me of the night I had spent there with my family. Before the night collapsed into disaster, it was one of my last happy moments. The pride of being the perfect American family welled up in me again, and I looked for the table where we had spent that fateful evening. It was almost empty, just as it had been the night we celebrated as a family. There was a man sitting at the table in the middle of the restaurant, apparently waiting for the rest of his party to arrive. The man sitting at the table was Robert. I got up from my seat and put my hands on the one-way mirror to get a better look. It was definitely Robert.
He stood up a second after I had because the rest of his party arrived. There was a woman leading my two children into the restaurant. She had the short blonde bob so common at the Capital Limited Re-education Center. She was wearing one of the dresses except in a way that highlighted her features. It was made from a golden fabric that shimmered as she walked up to the table. I hadn’t seen any of the women wear anything like it at the Capital Limited Re-education Center, but it still screamed re-educated mother. The sleeves of the dress were pulled off her shoulders to show off their milky whiteness. It also accentuated her ample breasts seeming somehow to defy gravity as they bounded into the room. The tight waist of the dress highlighted her skinny frame while the flowing skirts conjured up images of child-bearing hips. She was leading in Lindsey and Zach, and they obediently followed behind.
The children were ignored as Robert came over to greet this woman. He grabbed her behind the waist and drew her into him. They passionately kissed each other as if they hadn’t seen each other for months. Tongues were being used; they groped each other in the middle of the public place. It was Lindsey who broke them from their embrace as she tugged on the hem of this lady’s dress. This Jessica Bell was visibly upset by the intrusion, but it allowed the lovers to return to reality enough to gain composure so they could enjoy a family style evening at the restaurant.
It was pure torture to sit there and watch this woman take my place as the mother of my children. The worst part was how terrible of a mother she actually was. She didn’t care about Lindsey or Zach. Instead all of her energy was spent focusing on the needs of Robert. She was coy as she drank from her wine glass. She rarely touched her food during dinner, but spent the time with her hands underneath the table as she edged her way closer to where Robert sat entranced. There were many times I wanted to scream for her to take her hands off my husband’s lap.
What bugged me the most as I watched them eat their meal was the way he was so smitten with her. He hadn’t looked at me that way since I had given birth to Zach. Before I was sent to the Capital Limited Re-education Center, he hardly looked at me at all. Most of the time I saw him, he had his face planted firmly behind a newspaper or involved in whatever television program was on at the time. He never had time for me. I couldn’t say the same for this Jessica Bell. He made sure to have a lot of time for the new model he traded me in for.
Those bright eyes of hers just shimmered in the flickering candlelight. Her laugh was infectious. She made sure to laugh at all of his jokes, and he ate it all up as if she really cared about what he had to say. And when her hands did grace the top of the table, they so expertly flipped her hair away while shielding her face in an expression of mock humility. She had my husband completely under her control. She knew just how to flirt with him. She would show enough interest just to tease and excite him but bring it back in time to keep him involved in her personality. I used to have that power, but after I added on a few pounds from my pregnancies and strapped a screaming child to my hip, it was no wonder he forgot all about me. As I sat there watching him with that Jessica Bell, I started to wonder how I was able to entice him enough after Zach to be able to convince him to help me conceive Lindsey. Granted he was pretty drunk the night of her conception and I was able to keep the weight down after my first pregnancy, but that was definitely not the case after the second pregnancy.
It bugged me so much to watch them because I could see she thought she was so pretty. I knew she was going to blow up huge after she had her first child, and the way he was acting with her that night, it would be only a short matter of time before this happened. I really wondered if they needed to be that close to each other. They weren’t paying any attention to Lindsey. They could have left her at home by herself and she would have been much safer. I couldn’t understand how that Jessica Bell could have ignored her like that. Lindsey had been banging on the table for twenty minutes and I thought more of her macaroni and cheese had been thrown into the air than made it into her mouth. She did throw some of it at her new mother hitting the woman right between the eyes. That got her to stop flirting with my husband long enough to pay attention to my child. That was when I saw the ugly side of her. Apparently, if someone got her mad, those pretty little eyes of hers didn’t look so pretty.
She picked up her steak knife and threatened my daughter. I wanted to scream for Robert do something before she hurt Lindsey. I started to feel proud of the man I married when he took hold of that Jessica Bell’s hand. He gave her that smooth talk he was so good at giving. It always worked with me when I would get angry. He always knew the right words to calm me down, so I could see the reasonable side of things. He was able to coax the anger out of his new woman. She took a nice slow breath and relaxed. She started to realize Lindsey was just a little girl. She could see how her overreaction was scaring Lindsey. She started to see there was no need to take things to the extreme. There was no reason to threaten her with a steak knife. She slowly put it back on the table and the situation returned to normal. She continued to ignore my children and Robert continued to flirt with her.
It was around the time of dessert when I remembered I was in the room with Dr. Blur. She had been taking notes the whole time. My hands had been pressed so hard against the glass that when I removed them, they left imprints behind. Dr. Blur had enough written down to start a new thesis for a second doctorate. I turned to look at her, “I’ve had enough. Can we go back home now?”
She clicked Mr. Clicky-Pen and placed him back in her pocket. She adjusted her glasses on her nose and said, “I thought this would do you some good, Miss Ervaring.” She stood up and patted me on my shoulder in a bizarre attempt to make peace with the situation and said, “Yes, let’s go home.”
I drank a healthy amount from the bottle of gin on the drive back to the Capital Limited Re-education Center. I didn’t even bother to pour it over ice, but drank it straight from the crystal bottle. Dr. Blur tried to console me as we traveled along the lonely highway. She was not able to achieve her desired purpose. The bitter liquid did help me to feel a little bit better. It didn’t really help me solve my problem, but created a blanket of numbness I was able to wrap myself in. By the time we made it back to the Capital Limited Re-education Center, I was good and drunk.
It was late at night when we arrived and I was escorted to my room. I bet they thought I would stumble my way over to the bed and pass out. They probably thought they would have to wake me up in the morning to a raging hangover and I would spend the day in classes nursing it, not really paying attention to the lessons. After my mind would clear up, then I would be able to let the healing process begin. I’m sure they even thought by the end of the week I would be wearing that ugly orange dress haunting me during my stay at the Capital Limited Re-education Center. They probably hoped I would start to comply with the rules and ideals laid out by the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. What I did instead was something I don’t think anybody would have guessed.
I did stumble into my room. The dress had been turned around to greet me as soon as I entered the room. The poster of Evelyn Bronson mocked me from behind my bed.
I tried to avert my eyes away from them as I shuffled my way over to the bed. The pillow laid upon it was curled up like a little child in the fetal position. The blanket was crumpled up in the posture of an older sibling looking over the younger one on the bed. The image reminded me of my children, Lindsey and Zach. I sniffed hard to repress the meltdown I could feel invading my heart. It still swept over me so bitterly I needed to bite my lower lip to help gain control. The pain helped and I could taste the metallic flavor of blood on the tip of my tongue. It left a hollow void in my soul, so I gathered up my composure and did the only logical thing I could think of; I leaned down and kissed the pillow where the head of the little child should have been. I stroked the top of the pillow as if I were patting down the hair falling out of place as if it was really a child sleeping through the night. My motions must have had an effect on the blanket because it uncrumpled itself to show me it too yearned for some of my affection. I went over to where it laid, gave it a kiss on the forehead, and gently petted its hair.
“You’re a good boy, Zach,” I told the blanket. “You’re doing a good job of looking over your sister.”
I then looked over at the pillow, and said, “You’re a wonderful girl too, Lindsey.” I patted her head again. “You be good for your brother and your father. They’ll both appreciate that when they get older.”
It was comforting to look at the blanket and the pillow. It was as if I were able to say goodbye to my children. In my heart, I knew I needed to make sure these last words of wisdom I gave them reflected how much I really loved them. They needed to be able to carry that feeling in their hearts for the rest of their lives. Instead of these words of wisdom I so desperately believed in, all that came to me was a bedtime story I thought would help them understand everything happening in their lives.
I nestled in between the blanket and the pillow, my brain still swimming in a pool of gin, before starting.
“Once upon a time there was a mother who loved her children very much, and they loved her as well. She would do anything for them. She wanted her son to grow up and be a strong man whose strength would one day save the world. For her daughter, she wanted her to grow up to be a beautiful woman whose huge heart would show the world the meaning of kindness. The woman believed her love would guide the two to grow up to be the best they could be. It wasn’t always an easy task for the mother because when her children were naughty, she had to punish them. They needed to know the difference between right and wrong, and the mother believed this was the best way to make sure they understood. It would hurt her very much to have to do this, but in the long run she believed it was what was best for her children. Even though these bad times would come, it was rare. It was all because when the children were being good, they would have so much fun with their mother they were rarely tempted to do naughty things.”
The children were so attentive. They lay on the bed and looked up at me as I told the story. I rubbed a tear away from my eye.
“Now, other mothers did not believe the same way as this mother did. They believed teaching their children about right and wrong interfered with the child’s happiness. The child would not always get what he or she wanted and because of this the children would respond by throwing ugly temper tantrums, holding their breath, and tossing their toys across the room until they got what they wanted. The mothers would give in to the children and give them what they wanted instead of taking the time to explain to them why their behavior was wrong. The mothers believed this was an easier way of dealing with the problem. What the mothers didn’t realize was their children’s temper tantrums would get louder and more violent the older they got.”
This philosophy of mothering was reminiscent of the conversation I had earlier in the evening and it gave me the strength to continue with the story.
“Now, one day, in the town where the mother with the two lovely children lived, everybody got together to decide which was the best way to raise a child. They all decided creating resistance in a child’s life was a cruel and unusual way to raise them. They believed the path of least resistance was what was best and the children would grow up just fine. All they needed to do was give them everything they wanted. The mother of the two lovely children was the only one who disagreed with the townspeople and even though she believed her argument was logical and powerful, it did not sway any of the other people to believe the same as she did. She was a lone wolf and was forced to raise her children the way the rest of the people had decided was best.”
I could feel the courage from the mother in the story fill my heart. I hoped the courage I was feeling would be imparted to my children as they listened to the story, even if they were only a pillow and a blanket.
“Now, the mother of the two children still did not accept the rules the rest of the townspeople agreed to. She refused to raise her children the way the town forced her to, but she also knew she could not outwardly show this because if she did the town would come and take her children away from her. This would have destroyed the mother. She loved her children so much she could not live without them. She also couldn’t let them grow up without the skills they needed in order to survive in the cruel and harsh world. This would be worse than having the children taken away from her, so she did the only thing left. In the middle of the night while the rest of the town slept, she gathered up the warmest clothes of her children and packed them into backpacks. She also grabbed a couple of the children’s favorite books and each of their favorite toys. In a backpack for herself, she packed enough food for three people for a week, and some warm clothes of her own. She snuck into her children’s room and woke them up. She told them to be quiet as they snuck down the hallway and out the front door. While the full moon rose in the sky, a person could see three figures enter the woods on the edge of town, never to be seen again.”
The power of the legend I had just told hung in the night air before me just out of my reach. I leaned down and kissed the blanket one more time and then hugged the pillow gently. I stood up next to the bed and looked down at the children I had put to sleep.
“I wish I could say that mother was me.”
I turned around and walked away from the bed. I took off the t-shirt they had given me to wear that evening and threw it on the floor next to the door to the bathroom. The jeans ended up on the floor of the bathroom. I turned on the shower and let the room fill up with the steam from the hot water. When the water was hot enough, I climbed in and let the water pour over my body. A bar of soap sitting on a small tray on the side of the shower stared up at me. It was still scummy from the last time I had used it a couple of weeks earlier. I picked it up and started to rub the foam all over my body. The smell of lilacs and strawberries mixed in with steam floated through the air.
The smell reminded me of a time when life was more innocent and the hot water took the grime and pain from the last couple of weeks out of my pores. I wished it wasn’t so, but it felt wonderful. A layer of skin peeled away from me and ran down the drain. I could feel the resistance wash away and a new layer of skin grew over it. All the tension built up in my muscle slowly faded away and I felt a new sense of self I had never felt before in my life.
As I was soaping up my legs, I felt harsh stubble had grown on them during the last couple of weeks. I took some shaving cream from the side and lathered some on my legs. I took a fresh disposable razor and started to scrape away the stubble. Little auburn hairs collected in a whirlpool before being sucked down the drain. Afterwards, my legs felt silky. It felt as if I had pulled a new layer of skin over my legs and it refreshed my spirit and consoled my heart.
I got out of the shower and dried my hair with one of the freshly folded towels in my bathroom. I wrapped another towel around me to feel more human. It made me feel as if I was back at home. Even though nobody was there to see me, I showed some modesty behind the large white fluffy towel as I prepared myself in the mirror. When I was a child, my mother taught me how to apply make-up so it made me look beautiful but didn’t make me look like I was wearing a lot. Those lessons were not lost on me as I went over to the stack of cosmetics for the first time since I arrived in my room. I looked at the instructions taped to the mirror and started to follow them to the letter. First, a layer of foundation was needed. A little bit of rouge to the cheeks to allow the color to highlight them. A ruby red lipstick to highlight poutiness for my lips while creating a come-hither look. Mascara to make the eyes pop and to extend the eyelashes so they were bashful and battable. Finally, blue eyeliner on the eyelids, enough to point to the eyebrows which revealed my natural hair color, but not too much to distract the viewer from the beautiful green eyes hidden underneath them.
When I was done, I looked in the mirror. I no longer recognized myself. A new person stared back at me in the mirror. I took off the towel wrapped around my hair. The platinum blonde horrifying me earlier was now something I was becoming accustomed to. It hung limply to my scalp, so I took the brush and started to work out the knots collected in it due to my lack of attention over the last weeks. After I was done, it laid flat due to the natural weightlessness always associated with it. When I would make myself up in the past, I would buoy it up a little bit with some hairspray and a once over with the hair dryer, but I knew with the length it was now, it would only create a hairstyle similar to the one Palin wore. I needed something the members of the faculty at the Capital Limited Re-education Center would appreciate more. I took the curling iron and plugged it into one of the electrical outlets next to the wall.
While the curler was warming up, I smiled into the mirror. The usual bright whiteness of my teeth had dulled in the last couple of weeks due to my lack of dental hygiene. I looked around and saw the Capital Limited Re-education Center was kind enough to supply me with a brand new toothbrush, still in the packaging; toothpaste, the whitening kind; some floss, and some white strips. I went to work on my teeth for the first time in a long time. The dull flavor of gin slowly vanished and by the time I had finished applying one of the white strips, the curling iron was heated up.
I took time being meticulous making sure my hair looked presentable. My bangs hung above my brow defying gravity. The rest of my hair framed my gentle ears and alabaster neck. It made my face look like the Mona Lisa ready for display at Louvre in Paris, France. The picture was almost complete. There was only one last thing I needed to attend to, one last final touch.
I let the towel covering my body drop needlessly to the ground. I walked over it into the other room. The light from the bathroom poured out of the doorway and into the center of my quarters giving the atmosphere a lonely feeling. The light stretched out to the dressmaker’s dummy. It highlighted the dress in a golden bath of light. I walked over to it, feeling the cold linoleum under my feet. When I had reached the dummy, I turned it, so the back of the dress was facing me. I untied the knot holding the apron to the dress. I took the apron over to the bed and folded it nicely. I placed it gently next to the blanket and the pillow.
I walked back over to the dress. I slowly unzipped the back of the dress to make it easier to take off of the dummy. I slipped it off. The dress rustled in the dark room as if to thank me for finally taking it off the dummy. I put my hand up the skirt and slithered my body through until my hands were able to find the entrance to the sleeves. I pulled my arms to my side and the dress fell around my body and into place. I arched my back, so my fingers could find the zipper. I tugged the zipper and hopped around the room in a bizarre dance, sometimes placing my hands on the lower portion of my back and other times reaching them over my shoulder, but in the end I had zipped the dress completely up.
I walked over to the bed and picked up the apron. I sucked my stomach in just a little bit before I tied it around my waist. When I released my belly, the apron held tight to the pressure. I could feel my figure already improving in ways I hadn’t experienced since the birth of my first child.
I walked back to the dummy, and with my toes, I worked the shoes around until I was able to slide them on. When they were on, I created a clacking sound as I made my way back to the bed. I gently sat down so I would not rumple the dress. My hand smoothed the skirt and the apron in front of me. I crossed my legs and folded my hands in my lap. I looked towards the door, waiting for morning to arrive.
In the morning, Karen was so surprised to see me sitting on the bed, she dropped the tray of food she was bringing for me and ran over to give me a hug.
“You’ve finally decided to accept the program. I was starting to worry they were going to dump you into the Basement. I just couldn’t stand to see another woman fall victim to that fate.” She pulled back from me. “Stand up. I want to see the full effect.”
I stood up and patted down the skirt. I could feel a blank stare harden itself around the features of my face. After the night I had just experienced, it was hard to let any emotion come out. Karen took a few steps back in order to get the complete picture.
“Honey, it is almost perfect. Can you give me a smile? They are going to want to see you enjoying your time in the program; otherwise they won’t believe you are really accepting the program.”
I tried to let a smile come out. It felt like one of those smiles one puts on their face before they get a picture, real but not sincere. Karen could see the lack of emotion and her usual worried eyebrows returned.
“Not quite where it needs to be yet, but baby steps. You are moving in the right direction. That will give you some time. We can work on the smile later.” The blank expression returned to my face. Karen noticed this and tried to find a way to move me back in the right direction. “We still need to celebrate any success. Why don’t I get you anything you want for breakfast? What would you like, honey?” She looked back at the mess on the floor by the door to my room. “It looks like I am going to have to get you another breakfast anyway.” She went over to start to clean it up. “I’m sorry about the mess, but I was so surprised I lost control of my hands. I haven’t been so happy since…” There was a hesitation in her voice. “Well, it has been a long time, and now I don’t have to worry about your future.”
She started to pick up the larger pieces of food on the ground and placed them back on the tray. Seeing her on the floor like a maid made me feel guilty for the way I had treated her during the last couple of weeks. I knew I couldn’t let her clean everything up by herself, so I ran into the bathroom to grab one of the towels to help her.
I brought out the towel and used it to mop up the juice and green tea creating a huge, multi-colored pool on the floor. I felt some camaraderie as I knelt on the floor next to Karen. It was the first time I felt any connection to this woman. I had seen her every morning for the past couple of weeks as she fed me, led me down the hall to my class, and tried to encourage me to make the right decisions in order to successfully complete the program. She just wanted me to be the best mother I could be for my children, and I stepped all over her efforts. I started to feel ashamed for the way I acted the last couple of weeks. It also made me curious about whom this woman actually was.
“Karen, where are your husband and your children now?”
For the second time in one day, I surprised Karen. She dropped the large chunk of a plate she was holding onto the tray. The shock waves it created made the mess splatter again on the floor.
I looked up from the job I was doing and saw Karen try to hide her face from me. I felt even guiltier. “I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?”
She responded by picking up the tray and quickly leaving the room. She didn’t even return to bring me the special breakfast she promised me. It was another model mother, wearing the same pink dress and smiling a sickly sweet smile. I wondered what it was I had done or said that could have caused such a reaction. I vowed to reserve my questions the next time I saw her, but I wondered if I would see her again or if I had gone too far across the line.
I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when she came back later that night, but I could feel the strain within our relationship. She quickly brought in my food, and she had another package for me. She left it on the bed and quickly exited the room. I opened it up after she had left, and was surprised to find a pair of pajamas. I was starting to see it paid to play along with the game. They no longer required me to walk around wearing a thin piece of fabric. I could now join the ranks of humanity. Clothes were now at my disposal. They had removed my hospital gown during the day while I was in class learning how to be a good mother. I would never see it again. They also brought in a new, clean dress. It was the same color and style as the dress I had already submitted to wear. They must have thought since I had accepted the program I would no longer have a desire to wear anything else. I will admit it was nice to be able to wear clothes again. At night, I slept better because I didn’t have to try to huddle up under the blanket while keeping my body covered with the hospital gown. The pajamas were like a welcomed friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was also nice to walk around my little part of the Capital Limited Re-education Center in something more than a slip exposing my butt half of the time which made life rather uncomfortable the whole time.
I actually started to excel at my studies too. I was always really good at school and I enjoyed reading, taking notes, and performing on tests. It made me feel really smart. I went from being the worst mother in re-education to being one of the best. Even though my last name had changed and they should have moved me up to a different spot in the classroom, they did not. They left me in the far back corner, either to make a spectacle of me or to forget I was even there. The other mothers in re-education needed an example of what not to do. In order for the program to work, everybody had to buy into it or it did not work. My rebellious act was not doing the Capital Limited Re-education Center any favors. The Department of Motherhood did not want to remind people that participation was an option. Even when I did start to accept the program, Dr. Blur was hesitant to call on me in class because she did not know what would come out of my mouth. It was fun to watch the surprise on her face as I correctly answered the first question she allowed me to respond to. Afterwards, she started to call out my name more and more. Even the corner couldn’t hide how much I started to shine as a mother.
Dr. Blur had set up the program so within three months, the mothers in re-education would be tested to see if they had passed the course. In order to graduate, the mothers would have to pass the Mother Examination. Every perspective mother was required to pass the test by at least seventy percent. The mothers who passed and who still had husbands would be allowed to return to their families. It seemed to be a regular occurrence for husbands to divorce mothers who were sent off for re-education. At the time, I believed I understood why. It was embarrassing for the husbands to see the women they have married have their pictures in the paper for being an unacceptable mother. For a man, it showed he had a lack of judgment. He was unable to find quality in this world. He instead would just settle for the first thing he could get his hands on. It wasn’t about quality, it was about settling for happiness. It made the husband who found great mothers look like stalwart and smart men. They would be the ones getting the promotions at work. They would be the ones progressing up the social ladders. They would be the ones to admire in this world. It only made sense that a husband who married a woman who was a failure would want to get rid of his mistake as quickly as he possibly could. That was why when it came time to take the test, there was only one woman left whose husband had not divorced her, Sandy Slaver.
The rest of the women who had passed the test were given two options. They could go out into the world and start all over. This would mean they would be assigned a new job and if they ever wanted to be a mother again, they would have to find someone new to marry them. There weren’t many jobs available for women after the implementation of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. The act made it impossible for women to have a career in anything besides a secretary, a nurse, or, God forbid, a teacher. Mother was the only honorable profession left for women. It would be difficult for women who took their own chances to be mothers again. They would be thrown back into the dating pond. These want-to-be-mothers would have to compete with all of the young girls just graduating from high school who had just learned all of the important things they taught girls there like how to cook food, keep a house clean, and how to look pretty for the man they would eventually marry. Most of these want-to-be-mothers didn’t have a chance of competing with a girl like that. They would find themselves old maids begging their family for a home to live in.
The other option was a better one. This one would actually allow the women to take what they had learned at the Capital Limited Re-education Center and apply it. They would be shipped off to the Mother Mall. Capital Limited was kind enough to create a large building on the outskirts of every major city. This building was a warehouse, three stories high and included a basement. It was advertised on the side of the road by a large sign which could be seen for miles around. It was a big blue sign with big yellow block letters on it saying one simple word, “MALL”. Yes, its real name was the Mother Mall, but those four letters were all the Capital Limited Corporation needed to advertise what they sold there. Everybody knew what was being sold in these buildings. There was an advertisement for it on all major broadcasts, and it had a catchy little jingle that stuck in people’s heads reminding them of the place:
“Mothers are great; mothers are sweet.
Wouldn’t a new mother be neat?
One who is gentle and one who is kind;
One who doesn’t smack your little behind.
Well, there is a place with the best mothers of all,
Just look for those four letters down at the Mother Mall.”
I had never been into one of them, but I knew of their existence. They started to pop up all over the nation about a year earlier, thanks in part to the Department of Motherhood and Capital Limited Corporation. They claimed it was a necessity because of all of the mothers who needed to go into re-education. There were so many divorced mothers being re-educated and so many husbands with nobody to raise their children that there needed to be a place where these two parties could get together. The next logical choice was to set up a market where the husbands could go and purchase what they needed. This is where the idea of the Mother Mall came from.
Husbands could go to the Mother Mall and for a price fitting their needs find a mother who could raise their children. The husband could wander around one of the three levels or down in the basement depending on how much they wanted to spend. This is where the score on the Mother Examination became very important for the mothers graduating from the Capital Limited Re-education Center. Depending on how well a mother scored, she would be placed on a certain level. Women who scored over ninety percent would be placed on the top floor. If they scored just below that but still over the eighty percent mark, they would be placed on the second floor. Finally, if they just passed the test they would find themselves on the ground level. If they did not pass they were put into the Basement. Their pricing depended on which level they were placed. Of course, the more money a husband spent meant they would be getting a better mother to raise their children. It was a win-win situation. The husbands would be able to find a mother suited to their needs and the newly re-educated mother would be able to put her skills to work. It was even the patriotic thing to do because it allowed the mothers to become a commodity to help improve the economy. It was for all of these reasons that many of the women chose this option when they graduated from the Capital Limited Re-education Center.
I worked really hard to get back on track so I wouldn’t fail the Mother Examination by the end of the session. I was a little nervous about taking the test because I felt, with a little more time, I would be better prepared.
When the morning of the test came, I knew I was prepared enough to pass it, but I wasn’t sure if I knew enough to become one of the mothers on the top floor of the Mall. I was nervous about taking the test and getting on the ground floor because of who would end up purchasing me there. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like if I had failed the Mother Examination. I was okay with scoring well enough to be placed on the second floor. This is where I felt most comfortable. Yes, it would be lovely to be on the top floor because the husbands who really cared about their children’s well-being would shop on that level. They would be willing to spend the extra money to make sure they had one of the best mothers, but I was still not sure living with a husband with such expensive tastes would be conducive to my lifestyle. Their houses would probably be really big. I would have to spend most of my day making sure the place was cleaned and I wouldn’t have as much time to make sure the children were being raised properly. I would prefer to live a life similar to the one where I grew up.
The bottom floor scared me a little bit also, but in another way. The husbands who shopped there would definitely be looking for a bargain. They wouldn’t care if the mother was skilled enough to earn high marks on their assessments. Instead, they would look for one to keep the kids under control enough so they would be able to enjoy their evenings with sports and beer drinking.
I really wanted to be on the middle floor of the Mother Mall. The husbands looking for a mother there would have enough money to buy a good mother but wouldn’t be able to splurge too much to buy one beyond their means. These husbands lived a comfortable life and were never in want. They did not believe they were more important than they really were. The people who lived in this area didn’t have to flash all their money around in order to be accepted by other people they lived near. These people would instead sit on their front lawn while their children played with the other children on the street. They would wave to each other and greet each other with kind words. They would watch out for each other’s children and come together for the bigger holidays like the Fourth of July and Halloween. When tragedy did visit one of these families, they would all come together to help each other out. It was what life was meant to be like. This was the life I was hoping for after I took the test.
I was pretty sure I would do well on the test, but the day of it, I was still nervous. When they turned on the lights in my room, I was already dressed and sitting on my bed just like I had after the night I found out Robert didn’t love me anymore. The relationship between Karen and me had improved to the point where she would talk to me again but only about things concerning motherhood. She would never mention a thing about her past. On the morning of the Mother Examination, Karen entered the room a moment after the lights came on carrying my breakfast. She was surprised to see me sitting there ready to be fed. It startled her again. I don’t know if she was having memories of that morning I had asked her personal questions, but whatever the reason, she became flustered right away.
“Good morning, Karen.” I said, “Are you okay?”
She quickly composed herself and brought my breakfast over to my bed and placed it down next to me. “Of course, dear. It was just a shock to see you all ready this morning. I thought I would be able to sneak in and drop your breakfast off while you would still be in the shower.”
I picked up a piece of toast and took a nibble off the corner. “Well, I was a little nervous last night with this being such a big day, so I got up a little early to get ready. I wanted to be ready for the Mother Examination, and I was hoping to talk to you a little first, before I had to go down and take it.”
A look of apprehension snuck into the corners of her face. “Of course, dear. That’s why they assigned me to you, so I would be able to mentor you when you needed me. What would you like to know?”
“Oh, I had just a few questions about what the test was like.”
I could see relief spread over her face. The tension I had noticed in her body also quickly disappeared. She sat down on the other side of the bed and asked me, “What would you like to know about the Mother Examination?”
I gently placed the half-eaten piece of toast back on the plate, and stood up. I rubbed my hands together in a show of nervousness as I meandered my way over to the empty dressmaker’s dummy. “This test just has me worked up. I don’t know what to expect when I see it. I know you can’t give me the answers or anything, but could you at least tell me what the format looks like?” By this time I had reached the dummy and I turned around to face Karen. She was sitting on the bed with her hands in her lap. “I just want to do my best, so I can do my best after I leave the Capital Limited Re-education Center.”
Karen considered the question for a second, trying to think of the best way to answer it in order to alleviate my fears. “To start off with, honey, I don’t think you need to worry too much about it. You are a very intelligent woman and I have watched your progress over the last couple of months. You’ve gained a wonderful understanding of the material.”
“That’s good to hear.” I turned away from her again and made my way over to the door.
“As far as the test is concerned, it is not as difficult as you think. It is a series of multiple choice questions covering the Ten Commandments and the standards. Then the second part is an essay part. They give you a series of situations and ask you how you would handle them. If you have a firm grasp of the standards and the Ten Commandments, you should be able to come with appropriate answers rather quickly.”
I made it to the door. I turned around to make sure I was facing Karen again. She still sat on the bed unaware of my real purpose. Her lack of observation allowed me to cup the doorknob in my hands behind my back. The skirt of my dress hid this move from her view. “You seem to know a lot about the Mother Examination. Have you taken it before?”
“All of the mother mentors need to take the test at least once before becoming a mentor.”
“Can anyone become a mother mentor? Because I was thinking if I was able to do this, maybe I should consider this path instead.”
She began to get nervous again. She started to look at me a little more closely to see if I was actually up to something. Karen must have decided I wasn’t because she said, “It doesn’t take a lot to become a mentor. You just have to prove you were a mother at one time, and pass the Mother Examination.”
I went with the flow of what she was saying. “You must need to score pretty high in order to gain that honor. I’m pretty sure they don’t just let any mother who gets a 70 percent on the Mother Examination have the option of being a mentor to upcoming mothers.”
“Oh, you don’t need a 70 percent to become a mentor. You just need to pass the test.” She began to relax again.
“Oh, you just need to get a D on the test to be qualified to become a mentor.”
I was shocked and almost wanted to scream at the absurdity of the situation, but if I had it would have ruined my main goal. I quickly composed myself before asking, “Is that why you became a mentor, because it was so easy to become one?”
She stiffened up again. I could see it in her shoulders, but she tried to play it off as if it were no big deal. “That was one of the reasons.”
“Was what happened with your husband and your children another one of the reasons?”
She looked directly at me with a sharpness in her eye piercing directly to my soul. She picked up the tray and started to head towards the door. “I think we’ve talked too much for today. Good luck on your test.”
She made it to where I stood in front of the door, but I kept my ground and wouldn’t allow her to make an exit from the room. “What happened to you, Karen? What happened to your family?”
Karen tried to maneuver her way around the door but I blocked her every move. It still didn’t stop her from trying. “Get out of my way.” I could see the breakdown in her face as the pain from my question hit her heart.
“I’m not getting out of the way, Karen, until you tell me what happened to your family. I need to know, and I think you need to tell someone. Why not let that someone be me?”
She threw the tray at me, but I dodged the avalanche of food coming my way. Karen lunged for the door, but I was able to maintain my hold on the doorknob. She used her bulk to try to push me out of the way, but I was able to detain her in the room.
“Karen, nobody would choose to make a career out of mentoring other mothers unless they had to. I never hear you talk about your children or your husband. I’m starting to wonder if they are even a part of your life anymore. What happened to your family, Karen?”
All the effort was too much for her, and the years of holding her burden finally released itself. She dropped to the floor and the skirt of her dress fanned out on the floor around her. She hid her face in her hands and started sobbing. I was a little leary of her playing a trick so she would be able to get out, so I tried to console her from my position in front of the door.
“It’s okay, Karen. Just let it out. By telling someone what happened, it will give you some release and you will start to feel better.”
“It’s just awful. It’s not fair what they did to me.”
I took a step away from the door. “Who? Who did what to you?”
“Do you know who I used to be?” she said into her hands. “I used to be somebody important. I used to have the respect of thousands. I used to be admired by millions. But all of that was taken away from me.”
I walked up to her and put my arm around her shoulder. I sat down with her on the floor and she leaned her head into my shoulder. Her sobs continued, but she had started to gain enough control over herself so she could tell me her story.
“Many years ago I worked for a very successful company. Did you ever hear of Homewide Inc.?”
I looked down at her in amazement. “You worked for Homewide Inc.?”
Karen looked up at me from where she was sobbing on my shoulder and said, “I was the CEO of Homewide Inc.”
I was completely stunned, but looking through the thick layer of make-up I could see the same woman who once debated Dr. Blur about the state of motherhood on national television. The name also sounded a little familiar now that I thought about it, but she must’ve dropped the Shatney part of her past name.
“You ran Homewide Inc.”
She sat up and sniffed. “Oh yes. Not only did I run the company but I was very influential in the development of its products. Do you remember those books with places for children to put stickers in and then they were able to write their own story based upon the stickers?”
“I loved that as a child. I had ten of those books I wrote and I would have my parents read them to me before they put me to bed every night.”
“That was one of mine.”
A new respect for this woman started to well up inside of me. I couldn’t believe some of my favorite childhood memories had been created because of this woman who was sitting in my cell and crying. “That company was amazing. Whatever happened to it?”
Karen sniffed. “The National Caring and Loving Behavior Act happened. All of a sudden the development of the nation’s children became the buzz word. Women were no longer expected to have a career, but instead they were expected to stay at home and raise their children. It was imperative for the developmental views of some people in this nation. Of course, because of all of the freedoms placed within the Constitution of the United States, the creators of the bill couldn’t come out and say they needed women out of the picture. Instead, they needed to sneak it by through different means. They started to have national news broadcasts focus on their ideals when they talked about the state of motherhood within America. They could create television programs focusing on the same idea and try to instill those ideals into everybody in America. It was the reason you started to see shows like the Buddy Bears on television.”
It started to make sense. When I thought about it, I could remember the ideals of America changing right about the same time the act was passed. At the time, I hadn’t noticed because I was too wrapped up with Robert and starting a new life with him, but looking back I could remember it. Sitcoms turned into family affairs, and cartoons became ones in which the family unit was centered on the mother. I looked over at Karen. She was starting to compose herself. “That still doesn’t explain what happened to your company. You would figure they would want products like the ones you designed because then it would give mothers the tools they needed in order to be effective.”
“You would think that, wouldn’t you? This wasn’t the case though. In order for their agenda to be plugged into the psyche of America, they needed to make sure everyone tuned into it. They needed people to watch their televisions. The products I sold worked in the complete opposite way. They nurtured the imagination of children. Kids weren’t participating with their media if they were using my products. They needed to shut me down.”
“So what did they do?”
“The logical thing, they went after my husband, Richard. I didn’t know it at the time, but Richard always harbored a deep resentment for me because I was more successful than he was. I thought he was happy in his career as a restaurant manager, but he wasn’t. He always wanted to be the breadwinner for the family and he wanted our sons to look up to him as the father figure he always imagined himself as being. The National Caring and Loving Behavior Act was a godsend for him. It gave him the out he needed in order to remove me from my position at the company. I, of course, was really busy at my job. I wasn’t able to spend much time at home raising the children. This had become Richard’s responsibility, but of course he wasn’t the one being held accountable under this legislation. It was only the mothers. A couple of failed assessments and Richard was able to send me off for re-education. The company, of course, didn’t want a failed mother working on their products, and I was removed as CEO. Richard was able to divorce me and the company went into the business of developing video games. Of course, nobody in the company knew what to do in that field and things quickly fell apart. They had to file for bankruptcy a year later, and the company went out of business. I lost my career, my family, and my life all because of that act. But even though it looks like I’ve sold out to this act, I’ve slowly been working to make sure the life I once lived is still available to all women some day.”
For the first time since I had met her, I felt true sympathy for Karen. She was delusional. There was no way her old life could ever compare to what she was doing now. It was pathetic to think that being a mentor to failed mothers was the same thing as creating those wonderful tools all mothers could use to raise children.
I pulled her in closer for a hug and patted her back hoping my gesture would comfort her from the pain she was feeling. Her sniffing had stopped and it seemed she was able to get things under control again. She told me, “Thank you, Rachael. You’re right. That did help me feel better. I should have done that a long time ago.”
There was a clicking sound from the door. I looked up to see it being opened. On the other side stood Dr. Blur. Steven was standing closely behind her. The good doctor was holding Mr. Clicky-Pen and her clipboard. She looked down at where Karen and I were embracing on the floor. “Karen, we need to talk,” was all she said.
Karen gently pulled her head away from my shoulder. I could see the face she usually wore once again plant itself upon her features. I realized for the first time this look was really a look of fear. She stood up and composed herself before walking to the door. She stopped just before she walked out into the hallway to join Steven and Dr. Blur. She turned to me. When she was sure the other two weren’t looking, she winked at me and smiled. Dr. Blur shut the door and left me in my room alone.
I never saw Karen at the Capital Limited Re-education Center after that morning. It was like she had completely disappeared. They replaced her with another mentor who wore the same pink dress and had the same sickly sweet smile. I never bothered to learn her name. She would only show up to give me my breakfast or dinner and quickly leave. When I asked her what happened to Karen, she would reply she had been re-assigned and leave it at that. It didn’t matter much anyway because my re-education was at an end.
I had taken the Mother Examination the day Karen and I had our talk. I did rather well on it too. A week later the results came in on the tray with my breakfast. It was sealed in a business envelope with an address window on it with my name in bold letters. I was a little afraid to look at them first, but I knew this fear was ridiculous. I waited until I knew I was alone. I did not want to have to break down if the results were not what I had hoped they would be, but when I opened the envelope and looked at the results I breathed a sigh of relief. The score of 80 percent showed brightly in between the jumble of the other words surrounding it on the page. I just barely scored high enough to be placed on the second floor. Husbands-in-need-of-a-mother would not be able to distinguish me from the ones who scored an 89. Even though I would never be able to see my children again, it comforted me to know I was going to be able to find another family who would at least be kind, gentle and loving. I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a husband who could barely make ends meet. It meant I could focus all of my energy on raising the children, instead of having to struggle with the finances and the children at the same time. My life was about to change again, drastically.
The Capital Limited Re-education Center had a graduation ceremony scheduled for us. We were all given new dresses for the ceremony. The color and type of dress indicated how well we did on the Mother Examination and where we would be placed after the graduation. If a mother was given a white dress, she would be going back to live with her original family. A gold dress signified she would be placed on the upper floor of the Mother Mall. The graduates who were to be placed on the second floor were given a green dress, and those on the ground level were given a blue denim dress. Those who were going to try it on their own were given uniforms meeting their ambitions. Women who wanted to try to become nurses were given stark white nurse dresses and little white hats with a red cross emblazoned upon them. Women who wanted to become secretaries were given business suits and were required to wear cat-rimmed glasses even if they didn’t need them. And women who wanted to take their chances out in the dating pool were given a red frilly prom dress with a short skirt. Back in high school, this was the kind of dress insuring a wonderful night for the lucky boy who took the wearer out to the dance.
This was also the order they in which would enter the ceremony. I was proud of the fact I would be part of the group entering the ceremony in the third position. There wouldn’t be many women in front of me. Talking to the other ladies, I found out there was going to be only one who was allowed to wear white at the ceremony, and only four who were going to be wearing gold. There was also one woman who elected the prom dress, and two who wished to try their hands at nursing. Five women were given their business suits and for the most part, the rest of us were going to be given green dresses. There were a couple who were going to wear the blue denim dresses, but for the most part if a woman had passed the test just barely and had to wear one of these dresses, she usually chose to opt out of this assignment by going into one of the other fields besides mothering.
Classes had turned into a more enjoyable affair after the test. We would spend time preparing for our graduation, and working at activities we found enjoyable but at the same time helped to make the Capital Limited Re-education Center run more smoothly. We could choose to cook the various meals, or participate in the gardening that needed to be done. There was also sewing that needed to be finished because there were so many dresses that needed to be made in order to fit all of the mothers being brought here for re-education. If one of the graduates wasn’t able to handle any of these then she was assigned to the task of cleaning up the rooms while the other women were at their classes or doing the laundry and cleaning up the dresses so they could be ready to be worn again by the students at the center.
Due to my abilities in the kitchen, I was given the more prestigious job of cooking the meals. It was in the kitchen where I was able to find the happiness I once enjoyed as a mother. It was two weeks after we got results back before we had our graduation, and being able to work in my own arena allowed me to start to feel human again. There were four of us given the task of putting together the meals for the rest of the mothers being re-educated, and we became pretty good friends during these two weeks.
One of them was Sandy. She was the woman who was going to be wearing white during the ceremony. We were so happy for her because she was lucky enough to have a husband that still loved her. She talked on about how excited she was to be able to see her children again after the ceremony. She had a pair of twin girls, Maxie and Mandy, who were just turning seven and had just started kindergarten while she was working her way through the program. Sandy always talked about how she missed a couple of the more important moments in their lives, like the first day of school, the first lost tooth, and both of them learning to swim for the first time. Even though she had missed these milestones, she was still happy to be able to get back to these moments again.
It had been really difficult for her and her husband ever since they found out they were pregnant. They were struggling to make ends meet. They were both in education and she was required by the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act to quit her job as soon as she found out she was pregnant. They were left with only one small income to pay all of their bills and make ends meet. When they discovered she was pregnant with twins, it only added to the problem. They were pretty sure they would be able to provide enough with only one extra mouth to feed, but when they learned it was two more mouths to feed, they constantly worried about how they were going to make it work. They knew it was going to be a tight fit but they were sure they were going to be able to make it work.
It was during the seventh month of the pregnancy things became even more complicated. The twins were threatening to be born early and the doctors didn’t know if they would be able to survive if they were born that early. The doctors did everything they could to make sure the twins continued their development in the womb. Sandy was required to stay in bed and do nothing in order to ensure the health of her children. That was the first year she failed her mothering assessment. She had kept her assessor waiting at the door because it took her a long time to slowly move down the stairs of their tiny townhome to answer it. The place was a mess because she was required to stay in bed whenever possible and did not have time to keep it clean. Her husband tried to help, but being an English teacher, he did not have much time to help around the house. His job was just as important as hers or they wouldn’t have the required income to make ends meet. She was also marked down because she was standing when she answered the door. It was not healthy for the children and an obvious violation of Standard Number Six: A mother should regard the safety of their children as a top priority.
The twins were born later that day after the assessor left. They were born a month and a half early and were forced to be kept an incubator during the first two months of their lives. The bills piled up and Sandy and her husband had their home foreclosed and had to move into a one bedroom apartment. Mandy was a healthy girl and grew strong, but there were added complications with Maxie. While the twins were still in the womb, they were inflicted with Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. If the doctors would have detected this earlier, they would have been able to do something about it. Because of the insurance the Slavers had, the doctors wouldn’t look into this beforehand because then it would be a pre-existing condition, and Maxie was born less developed than Mandy. Basically what happened was Mandy took most of the nutrients from Sandy and didn’t give her sister as much. Because of this, Maxie’s kidneys didn’t develop properly and she ended up having medical problems for the rest of her life. When she was old enough, she was forced to have a kidney transplant in order to live. Until then, any of the nutrients her body needed were feed to her through a tube to her stomach.
A trial like this would tear many families apart, but it only brought Sandy and her husband closer together. Life was still difficult but every day they were able to spend with their two daughters was a joyful miracle. Maxie struggled developmentally, but they were able to find a kidney transplant donor when she turned the age of three. She would have to have another one later in life, but things were working out well for the time being. Life was always hectic. There were impromptu doctor’s appointments, rough nights and long days. Mandy and Maxie both had to learn to grow up quickly for the sake of each other, but this sometimes caused Sandy to neglect her duties as a mother according to the precepts of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. She always struggled to maintain a proficiency mark on her assessments, and finally she slipped below the mark she needed. She was taken away from her family and was sent to the Capital Limited Re-education Center to be re-educated in the arts of motherhood. She had been away from her family for the last couple of months, but she was ready to return to her children. All of the other graduates were so proud she would be representing the color white during the graduation.
When the day before graduation approached, we were all excited to be able to return back to society. Because of this excitement, not much work got accomplished that day. We were required to work in our stations during the day, and in the evening when we would return to our rooms, our dresses would be there waiting for us. We were all excited to try on a different color than orange and to see how wonderful we looked as we walked down the aisle towards our new lives. I remember thinking how stunning I would look in the green dress. It would highlight my eyes and I was sure by the end of the week, there would be a new husband ready to snatch me up at the Mother Mall. I thought I would have a bunch of new children to raise and it would ease the void in my heart from the loss of my own children. Things were starting to look up for me until I returned to my room that night.
When I walked in, I was expecting to see the green dress waiting for me on the dressmaker’s dummy, but that is not what I found when I entered the room. Sitting on the dummy was a vile blue denim dress instead. I quickly turned around to get out of the room to tell somebody about the mistake, but the door had already locked behind me. It didn’t stop me from jiggling the knob a few times to see if I could open the door. It had never worked in the past and this time was no different.
I knew there was a mistake because I had scored an eighty percent on my Mother Examination. That had qualified me to wear a green dress during the graduation. I would have taken a different job if I knew I was to be sold to some lower class citizen. There was no way I would have accepted the denim blue dress. I was not some bargain they could place on the bottom floor and try to pawn off to some cheap husband who could care less about the quality of mother he was getting. I deserved better than that. The women who wore the blue denim dresses were the type of people who raised children like Palin. My mind raced with images of different Palins of various ages running around a trailer home. All of them would have that absurd poofy haircut she always wore. There would of course be the teenage version lying on the couch, smacking her gum, and talking to her boyfriend on the phone. There would be a boy version running around the trailer with a football helmet on to tackle various forms of furniture and put dents into the weak siding of the walls. There would be a little girl version who would stand on the front porch and lift up her dress for any of the white trash neighbors who were willing to pay her five dollars. And there would be a young boy who would sit in front of the television and play video games too violent for him with women characters who barely wore any clothes at all.
The worst part of it would be I would be in the middle of it wearing that denim blue dress. My imagination continued to run away from me because I would look down at my belly and see I was seven months pregnant with another Palin wriggling away in my belly. I could feel her working on her hair within my womb and she would kick me demanding I eat bags of junk food and drink beer because it was against the standards not to give her what she wanted.
My husband would walk in the door. It would be another Palin except he would be wearing a wife beater underneath a greasy mechanic’s jumpsuit. He would see me in the kitchen stuffing my face with Doritos and swilling a beer as the kids ran around the house creating havoc. He would instantly get mad at me because I hadn’t done up my hair properly. He would demand I get in the bedroom right away. Of course, I would have to obey. In the bedroom, I would have to get down on all fours on the bed and he would get behind me with a brush and a gallon of hairspray. He would flip my skirt up so he could have his way with me while he styled my hair. The baby would continue to kick. The teenager would come in and take pictures with her cell phone. The teenage boy would sit in a chair in the corner and take notes. The little Palin girl would pull out a case of makeup and start to pile it onto my face, and the little Palin boy would make a game of it by seeing it he could hit my side with Nerf darts.
At the end of my vision, all of the Palins would start pointing at me and I would look exactly like one of them. I would end up being a Palin. It was all because there had been a mistake with the dress I was supposed to get.
I turned around and looked at the place where I knew the camera was in the corner of the ceiling watching my every move. I waved at it, trying to catch somebody’s attention. I took off my high heel shoes and started to throw them up in that corner. The first one bounced harmlessly off the corner of the room. The second one was thrown just right. The heel came crashing into the lens. An explosion of sparks blew up from the corner of the room and came cascading down on the floor below. I knew this final act would get their attention. It was only a couple of minutes before the door opened and Dr. Blur walked in with Steven behind her.
“Miss Ervaring, what is going on in here?” she asked as Steven shut the door behind them.
“There is a blue denim dress in the room,” I said pointing at the hideous monstrosity.
Dr. Blur looked at me incredulously, “Yes, Miss Ervaring, there is a denim blue dress in your room.”
She didn’t understand the significance of my panic. “I’m supposed to have a green dress. I got an eighty percent on my examination. I’m supposed to go to the second level. I shouldn’t have a blue dress.”
Dr. Blur furrowed her brows and looked down at her clipboard to see if what I was saying was true. She flipped through a couple of pages as my heart beat harder. I knew there had been a mistake and the clipboard would tell Dr. Blur everything she needed to know to correct it. She read down the page she was on until a look of surprise came over her face. Her fingers flipped through other pages until she found the one she was looking for and scanned it. When her finger stopped on the information she needed, she let out an, “Ah!”
I felt it was safe to respond, “So I did score an eighty percent?”
Dr. Blur looked up from her clipboard. “Yes, Miss Ervaring, you did score an eighty percent.” I was able to let out a sigh of relief. “But there hasn’t been a mistake with the blue dress.”
Dr. Blur collected the pages back into an organized stack. “Let’s be honest Miss Ervaring. An eighty percent is just barely squeezing by on the Mother Examination. It could have easily been a seventy-nine as it could have been an eighty.”
“But it was an eighty.”
“But that is not the problem with the Mother Mall. You see there has been a surplus of mothers on the second floor. There really isn’t much of a demand for them right now. Most of the husbands in the market for a mother are either looking for a high end mother or one of the lower end mothers. A score of eighty doesn’t qualify for you to be placed on the top floor of the Mall. So that places you on the bottom floor where there is a higher demand. That’s the reason you have been given the blue denim dress. Does that make sense?”
I stood there stammering, “But I got an eighty percent.”
Dr. Blur took a couple of steps closer to me and Steven followed behind her. “Yes, Miss Ervaring, you already said that and I explained to you what the real problem is. It has nothing to do with what you scored, Miss Ervaring. It is more a matter of economics. We need mothers for the lower class. You’ve been chosen to be one of those mothers.”
“But I got an eighty percent.”
“I’m not a lower class mother. I’m a middle class mother. I got an eighty percent.” I was hysterical. Dr. Blur’s explanation made no sense to me. It should have been a matter of black and white, but she was throwing grey into the mix. It didn’t seem fair to me. I could care less if they needed women to take over the lower class families. I had worked hard on the program after I had accepted what was necessary, but that did not seem to matter to these people. All they cared about was the demand of their society. I did not understand why I needed to be a part of their concerns.
While I continued on babbling about how I had gotten an eighty percent, I moved closer to where Dr. Blur stood in the middle of the room. My arms were raised and I waved them about madly as I tried to make her understand I deserved a green dress and not a denim blue one. She tried to calm me down by stating my name over and over again. Mr. Clicky-Pen waved down in front of me as if he would simmer me down, but I continued to move her and that infernal pen closer to the corner of the room. I needed for Dr. Blur to understand. I needed Mr. Clicky-Pen to quit concerning himself about my business and my affairs. I needed to get out of the Capital Limited Re-education Center and be placed with a loving family who met my needs and my lifestyle.
Dr. Blur stopped moving when she was backed into the corner of the room. I grabbed her by the shoulders and started to shake her as I yelled over and over, “I GOT AN EIGHTY PERCENT.” That was when I felt the needle being jammed into my arm. I had completely forgotten about Steven. He was injecting some liquid into my veins. My panic hit a new high, but it was quickly quelled as the clear liquid in the hypodermic needle began to race into my bloodstream. I don’t even remember slumping down to the floor. Everything went black and the argument I was trying to have was over as far as Dr. Blur and Steven were concerned.
When I came back to, I was slumped in a chair. I could feel my body flopped over it like rag doll. My butt barely hung onto the edge and my legs were shot out directly in front of me. My left arm was pinched into the chair’s arm rest. I could feel the flow of blood cut off from it to the rest of my body. My head was drooped over to the left side and rested on my left shoulder. My right side of my neck was stiff from being placed in such an awkward position. Drool had been dribbling out of the corner of my mouth for awhile and I could feel where it was pooling up on the clothes I was wearing.
I hadn’t bothered to open my eyes yet because my head felt as if it was swimming just under the surface of the ocean during a turbulent storm. It swayed and rocked to some unrecognizable beat thumping through my temples. I groaned, hoping it would alleviate some of the pressure, but it only made my head hurt more.
I heard the sound of people walking around in front of me. I could feel their eyes upon me, but I still didn’t want to open mine because doing so would require me to acknowledge the feeling I was having. I wished I could ignore the pain for just a little longer. They tried to whisper to keep things from me, but I could still hear what they were saying.
“What do you think happened to them?”
“I don’t know, but they were like this when I got here.”
“Do you think they drug them in here and placed them like that?”
“After the couple of months I have been through, anything is possible at this point. They were definitely put in here against their will. I worked with both of them in the kitchen the last couple of weeks and look, they are both wearing the blue dresses right now.”
“According to them, neither of them was supposed to get the blue dresses.”
“Well, you can’t trust them. That one, Rachael I think her name is, took forever to become a part of the program. I had a few classes with her and it took her forever to accept wearing the dress in the first place. As far as you know, she could say anything to make herself look better in our eyes.”
“But I saw the results of her Mother Examination. She was so excited she scored what she needed to in order to be wearing a green dress. She got an eighty percent. According to my understanding, she shouldn’t be wearing the blue dress.”
“What about the other one?”
“She was supposed to be in white.” Hearing this, made me stir a little bit more.
“Quiet, one of them is starting to wake up.”
I slowly blinked my eyes open so I was able to adjust them to the light of the room. I saw the room was full of my other classmates and they were all wearing the dresses they were supposed to. There were a lot of them in their green dresses as they milled about the room. I raised my head from where it rested on my shoulder and tried to sit up in the chair they flopped me down in. A dull ache thumped against my brain and I had to quickly close my eyes in order to make the pain bearable. When I was able to get my head to quit swimming, I slowly opened my eyes. I looked down at myself. I had been dressed in the blue dress while I was knocked out, and I could see the puddle of drool on my shoulder make a nice stain adding to my humiliation. I was in too much pain to care much about what I was dressed in at the moment.
I looked around the room, and I could see various women huddled together trying to avert their eyes from where I was sitting and whispering into their hands. I felt like the center of attention and it made me even more self-conscious. I wanted to rip off the dress and run from the room naked, but pins and needles ran up my left arm from being slouched in the chair in such an awkward position. The rest of my body felt so worn I could barely move it to make sure it worked the way it was supposed to. It wasn’t worth the effort and I came to the realization it wasn’t the women in the room I should be mad at. It was the system that placed me in such a precarious situation. These women were just trying to get their lives back together just as I was. It wasn’t fair of me to place blame on them because they had fallen victim to the same unfair circumstances. I should have felt proud they were going to be able to break away from this situation without the same troubles I was going to encounter. I left them to their whispers and their pains because their lives were full of just as many uncertainties as my life was.
I looked to the right of me and I saw another woman slumped in a different chair wearing a denim blue dress as well. She was also starting to stir from her slumber. As she wiped the sleep from her eyes, she looked down at her situation. I could see the pain flow into her face as she realized she was not given the opportunity she should have. My heart sank when I recognized it was Sandy. If I thought about the travesty of the way I was treated, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how she must have felt. She was meant to walk down the aisle during graduation wearing white. Her husband was supposed to take her home to her children tonight. I couldn’t imagine him changing his mind at the last minute and deciding she wasn’t worth hanging on to. There was no way he would have asked for a divorce at the last minute.
I reached over to Sandy and squeezed her wrist to show her I felt some empathy for her. She looked up from the dress she was wearing and looked over at me. Tears were welling up in her eyes.
“Sandy, what’s going on?”
She leaned over and hugged me tightly. “Oh Rachael, please tell me this a bad dream. Please tell me they don’t plan on selling me off as a cheap discount.”
I wanted to comfort her in her grief and tell her what she wanted to hear, but I knew anything coming out of my mouth would be a lie. Instead, I took her in my embrace, and cradled her head in my hand.
“They told me yesterday I would be shipped off to the Mother Mall today wearing a blue dress.”
“But Sandy, I thought your husband was going to come by and take you home tonight.”
“Dr. Blur… Dr. Blur said…” She stumbled over her words unable to get them out.
“What did Dr. Blur say, honey?” I asked her as I patted her head and calmed her down.
“Dr. Blur said this was not the way re-education worked. It seems Jeffery needed to come up with the money they spent on my re-education and if he was unable to do so by the time of my graduation than an automatic divorce would be implemented. In order to make their money back, they would sell me at the Mother Mall. They told me this just yesterday, and acted like I should have known about this the whole time.”
“Wasn’t your husband able to come up with money?”
She really started to cry and that moment. “Where is he supposed to come up with money like that? We were barely making ends meet to begin with. All of the doctor bills were piling up just to keep my daughter alive. That’s not to mention the mortgage, food, clothes, and transportation. How is he supposed to add the expense of re-educating his wife on top of all of those other expenses? What they are asking of us is impossible.”
I just couldn’t believe this was happening to her. There was no way this was legal. They couldn’t just divorce two people because it helped them meet their financial ends. If re-education was so expensive, why did they require mothers to go through it and then tell them the expense of providing this service was placed upon them? It was absurd, and it made me so angry I no longer thought about my problems. I started to feel genuine pain for what Sandy was going through.
“Can they do that? Don’t they need the signature of one of the people in the marriage in order to make the divorce stick?”
She looked up at me. “That’s what you don’t understand. He did sign it. I know they forced him to sign it. He wouldn’t have signed it if they didn’t have something hanging over his head. They must have threatened to take away the children if he didn’t sign the papers.”
My thoughts went back to the night of my voyage to the Old Stone Church. I hoped what she was telling me was closer to the truth. I had never met her husband before, but after I saw Robert move on without me, I began to wonder if all the men in the world were nothing more than slime. I was sure they would do anything in their power to have a new woman if one was available for them. I was sure my view on men at that time would not help with her situation, so instead I thought it was better to comfort her by saying, “I’m sure you’re right honey. Everything you’ve told me about your husband points to him being a wonderful man. He would never do anything to jeopardize his love for you and your children.”
“Do you think so?”
“I know so.”
I wasn’t able to comfort her anymore because Dr. Blur walked into the room. A hush fell over the ladies as she walked over to a set of double doors at the far end of the room. She stood there patiently as everybody gave her their attention. When she had what she wanted, she said, “Okay, ladies, it is time to get ready for your graduation.”
It was meant to be inspiring, but only half of the room started to cheer after they heard her say it. The rest of us performed the conciliatory clap and waited for what else she needed to tell us.
“I need you all to line up in your groups. The gold dresses first, followed by the green, blue, secretaries, and then nurses.” I suddenly remembered there was supposed to be a woman in a red dress as well. I looked around to see if I could find her, but instead when I looked behind me, I saw Steven standing there looking down at Sandy and me.
“Ladies, I suggest you get moving to your spots.” He leaned down closer to both of us so we could see his bloodshot eyes. “Now!”
The threat was real enough and we got up to find our places. We made our way towards the back of the line. There were quite a few more women in blue dresses than we expected and fewer women in nurse uniforms and secretary clothes. We were required to walk in the hall in two columns and I stood next to the woman who was supposed to enter the graduation in the red dress. She looked as if she had the same headache Sandy and I were experiencing. I wondered how many more women were thrown into a blue dress to make the re-education process more profitable. I thought about running from the hall and trying to make it on my own outside in the harsh desert. It would had to have been better than what my fate offered after graduation. When I looked over to the side, I saw Steven standing there with his arms crossed looking directly at me and shaking his head. I decided I would have to find another way and another time to save myself from this hell. I returned my attention to Dr. Blur.
“Remember ladies, this is a big moment for the re-education program and we need you to put on our best faces. Big smiles and stand up straight. Show them how proud we are of you.”
The double doors opened and the song “Pomp and Circumstance” could be heard playing from loud speakers somewhere in the room. The mothers in the gold dresses made their way into the room. I could see flashes of lights exploding as soon as they entered. Sandy was standing right in front of me and before she crossed the threshold into the room, she looked back at me with a worried expression on her face. I smiled at her to reassure her, but I didn’t know how helpful my gesture actually was.
She crossed into the room and I could see a hand from the other side of the wall reach out and grab her wrist. She was tugged from out of the line and a collective gasp came from the politicians, reporters, and merchants inside of the room. I stepped inside and looked to see what happened to Sandy. I saw her running down a skinny aisle towards a door on the far side of the room. She was being led by a man wearing ragged khaki pants, a faded black shirt and skinny tie.
My attention was directed away from the scene when I heard Dr. Blur shout from where she stood at the front of the procession, “Stop them.”
Steven was still in the place where the ladies were standing in line and he tried to push his way into the graduation room. He was wiggling his way around me so he could give the renegade mother pursuit. It hit me that this might be Sandy’s last chance to escape into a life of happiness, so I stuck out my foot and watched as Steven took a vicious tumble onto the floor. I felt proud of myself as I saw him sprawled out.
I looked up to see how Sandy was doing with her escape. She had made her way to the door, but Dr. Blur had taken it upon herself to stop the renegade from ruining her ceremony. She left her place in line and ran over to where the two were pushing their way through the crowd. The good doctor flew through the air like a linebacker sent after the quarterback. Her arms were spread out wide. Mr. Clicky-Pen still waved madly from her right hand. She gathered the renegade couple up in her arms and threw them to the ground. They all disappeared from my point of view as the crowd moved in to watch the show unfold for them.
Dr. Blur came back into view as she stood up. She had a wild look in her eyes as she looked down at the two deviants on the floor. “Get back in line, bitch!” she screamed at them.
She raised up her right fist with Mr. Clicky-Pen in it. He threatened the couple on the floor by pointing his dangerous tip down at them. Dr. Blur jumped at the couple like a wrestler performing a body slam on one of his enemies. With her right hand she came down in a stabbing motion. An arch of blood rain squirted in the air from where the action was taking place. The crowd gasped in awe.
The events during our graduation were the top story on every news broadcast that night. The People’s Network gave the most accurate description of what happened, but many late night comedians and other newsrooms had dismissed their reporting as a type of propaganda that should be admired for its effort but should be ignored for its content. All of the other newsrooms told the story of how Jeffery Slaver entered the graduation apparently hopped up on some kind of drug and waving a pistol around madly. According to these reports, he tried to gun down his ex-wife because of the terrible way she had raised their children. According to the press, Sandy had done such a terrible job of raising the children that the twins were so out of control there was no hope of them ever recovering from this crime against them. Maxie was refusing to take the medication she needed in order to live. She was now on her deathbed and was still not getting the medical attention she needed. The tragic part of all of this, as reported by the television, was that Sandy had just finished her re-education and would have gone back to the family to give them the love and care they needed. Due to the fact Jeffery couldn’t get over the fact his ex-wife might not be the mother he had always hoped for, he refused to take her back into their household and the divorce stuck. Sandy was going to be shipped off to the Mother Mall where she could become a wonderful mother for another family in need. Because the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act was so strict about women who had been divorced by their husbands, there was no way she could return to the twins who really needed her.
The media painted a picture of Dr. Blur being the hero of the whole incident. Before the crazed husband was able to squeeze off a shot into the crowd and into his innocent ex-wife, Dr. Blur rushed over to try and calm him down by talking to him. Unfortunately, Jeffery was so whacked out on drugs that Dr. Blur was forced to restrain him through physical means. The press told of how Dr. Nancy Ann Blur was holding a pen in her hand as she went through the motions of restraining him. The pen happened to stab Jeffery Slaver in the jugular during the struggle. There was nothing anybody could do for him as his life blood spilled onto the floor. He died fifteen minutes later due to blood loss. I had always suspected Mr. Clicky-Pen was a murderer, but I never believed I would have been witness to one of his heinous crimes.
Because of the untimely demise of the evil husband, he was never able to comment on the events of that day. Sandy, on the other hand, was in such shock from the events she was sent to a mental hospital to recover from the traumatic experience. She was unavailable for comment also. By the time she was made available, the media had moved on to the next story and had forgotten about the incident completely, except for the People’s Network. They interviewed her as she sat at the Mother Mall waiting to be bought by a new husband. She told her side of the story, but the other networks once again dismissed it as a blatant attempt to try and push the ratings up in the programming of that propaganda network.
After Jeffery was swept off to the morgue, Sandy off to the funny farm, and the blood off of Dr. Blur’s face, the ceremony continued. Dr. Blur said some nice words which were overshadowed in the press by the preceding events. We all walked up on stage and a camera flashed as we shook the good doctor’s hand and received our diploma. Afterwards, they quickly funneled us out of another door and onto a bus waiting just outside the Capital Limited Re-education Center. We were barely given enough time to wave goodbye before the bus trucked off down the road to our temporary home and our new life. We were now products of the Denver Mother Mall to be sold to various consumers in order to promote the well being of the future of America, its youth.
I spent the trip staring out the window once again. I had become accustomed to the desolate landscape, and it was nice to see the reversal on my way to the Mother Mall. Before I witnessed life being taken away from the terrain; this time I was able to witness life’s return. The buildings grew in size the closer to civilization we got. The foliage went from limping and gnarled to straight and proud. Commerce grew from family style to conglomerate. Even though I was returning back to the land of my youth where my hopes and dreams resided, I still felt I had left something behind at the Capital Limited Re-education Center. Maybe it was my youth. Maybe it was my hopes. Maybe it was my dreams. Whatever it was, I didn’t have to time to think about it because I was traveling into an unknown and I didn’t know what to expect when I got there.
We needed to travel through Elbert County in order to get to the Mother Mall. My interest was piqued as I looked out the window at familiar signposts and landmarks. Nothing much had changed except I had been removed from the equation. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see my old home from the highway, but I looked out the window, anyway, when we neared the turnoff to my old residence. The thought of the new mother playing in the yard with Lindsey and Zach while wearing that golden dress scratched its vicious claws into my heart. It was too painful to even think about. I needed to turn my head away and look out the other side of the bus. This didn’t help my spirits either. On the other side of the highway was the town’s trailer park. I could see women outside as children ran around without any supervision. Laundry hung from clothes lines outside of the trailers and a collection of junk gathered in what was supposed to be their front yards. I looked down at the denim blue dress I wore and was instantly reminded of my past, my present and my future. The thought of all three together made me want to break down and cry, but the experiences of the last couple of months taught me by doing this I wouldn’t achieve anything. The best thing I could do was keep my composure and make the best of the situation I found myself in.
I started to feel better as we rolled on through the county and into Castle Rock. We passed by the Old Stone Church where my hopes, my dreams, and my innocence were crushed. I was able to handle the view of this sight much better than the one of the town I once lived in.
We turned onto the highway and headed up the hill towards Denver and the Mother Mall. Life became more civilized and my heart thumped harder as I started to question this civilization. I knew at any moment I would see the sign I dreaded the most. When the bold yellow letters stating we were nearing the MALL rose on the horizon, my heart was beating extremely fast. My breath was shortening and I knew I was coming to the end of this part of my journey.
We pulled off the highway and police were around the Mother Mall to direct the traffic so we had easy access to the building. We pulled into the parking lot of a large warehouse-style building. It was painted dark Navy blue and must have taken up three city blocks. Men milled about the entrance and I suspected they were talking about the merchandise the large building held. The bus pulled up to the back of the building. There was a small, nondescript grey door on the big blue building. We could hear the breaks sigh from the bus as it came to an end of its long journey. The grey door opened and Steven came out. He goose-stepped his way to the door of the bus. The bus driver opened it for him and he stomped his way to the front of the bus. Even though he had the attention of every woman on the bus, he thought it was his duty to shout, “Attention!”
I could see Steven counting to ten in his head before he continued. “At this time I need all of the new mothers wearing blue dresses to make their way off the bus. After you have made your way off the bus, I need you to stand in a single file line at the foot of the grey door. Do you understand me?”
When nobody responded to him, he said, “Good. Now move out.”
Around twenty women got up from their seats and slowly made their way out of the bus. I was the second to last one to exit. Getting off the bus and feeling the nice summer sun fill my pores with the vitamin D I so much craved over the past few months was amazing. Even though I knew it was only a mirage in the truth of my life, I felt freedom for the first time in a long time. The woman behind me was stuck in the shade of the bus’s entrance as I stood on the cement in front of the Mall and soaked up the freedom. She must have looked over my head to question Steven as to what she was supposed to do now because I wasn’t obeying the simple order he had given. While I let the sunshine soak into me, I heard him shout, “Move it, lady, or I’ll make sure you find yourself down in the basement with the rest of the bargains.”
It was worth the few seconds to have that feeling of freedom again. I moved to find my way to the end of the line and I stood there waiting for the next instructions. As the other woman found her place behind me, Steven goose-stepped his way to the grey door. He opened the door and I could see a black hole waiting to suck us all up. He continued with the instructions, “When I enter this door, you will follow behind me. You will stop when I stop. When I stop, I will unlock a door and open it for you. The first person in line will walk through that door. After I have shut and locked that door, we will continue down the hallway. I will continue with this procedure until all of you are in your rooms. Do I make myself clear?”
We all stood there and stared at him in disbelief. He apparently didn’t like me joining the other women in their silence because he stomped his way over to my face and started to yell at me. “Do I make myself clear, Miss Enjoying-the-Sunshine?”
I inched back from him. “Yes.”
He inched closer to my face. His beady eyes squinted open just a hair more. “Yes, what?”
“Yes, sir?” I asked him, hoping whatever I was saying was right.
He turned away from me and made his way back to the front of the line. “Good. Let’s move out.”
He walked into the door and I could see the shadow of the building envelop him. Each of the women made their way into the darkness and I followed behind, making sure not to hesitate. When I made my way inside I could see it was a dark but very clean hallway. There were doors, evenly spaced all of the way down the left hand side of the hallway. Some of them had papers on the doors. As I walked by them, I could see the ones with papers on them had a name on it with a date underneath it. None of the dates was longer than three months. When we made it to the first door without a piece of paper on it, Steven stopped in front of it. He opened the door and the first lady walked to the edge of the door hesitantly. Steven must have been in a hurry because he pushed her in, shut the door and locked it. He put a piece of paper on the door and continued down the hallway.
As I passed the door, I could hear her banging on it, and a muffled voice asking to be let out. The next door we reached without a paper was opened for the next woman. She didn’t hesitate at the door like the first woman but quickly entered the door. Steven shut the door and made his way down the long hallway.
By the time we reached the end, four of the women had already made it through doors. The hallway turned left and once again stretched off into eternity. We continued down the hallway, stopping every once in awhile so Steven could usher one of the women through one of the doors. As soon as we made it to one of those doors, I wanted to peek inside to see what the inside really looked like, but Steven was so quick about shutting the door my curiosity was never satisfied.
We made it to the end of the long hallway and once again it turned left. At this time there were only two of us left. My turn was next and my heart held both anticipation and trepidation as we made our way to the next door without a piece of paper. The anticipation filled my heart because I really wanted to see what was in the rooms, but the trepidation was because I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like what I saw when I got in there. Steven finally stopped in front of another door and it was my turn to walk through the threshold.
I walked through into a lighted room. The door shut behind me as I walked through and I could hear Steven lock it. I turned back to look at the door to see if I could escape in any way, but I knew this would be impossible. Instead, I turned around to see what my new environment looked like. I was in what would best be described as a small great room. There was a kitchen on one side of the room with cabinets, a small island, a refrigerator, a microwave, an oven, and a dishwasher next to the sink. This spread out into a small living room area. There was a coffee table sitting in front of a flower-patterned love seat. The table was littered with old Better Homes and Garden and Women’s Life magazines. On the far side of the room was a mop, brushes, a dust pan, cleaning supplies, and a vacuum cleaner. There was a small bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower in the corner of the room. I found myself in a smaller version of a normal living area.
All of the walls were bare expect for the one directly across from the door I had just entered. This wall was made completely of glass. I could look out the glass and see a huge showroom where men walked up and down looking at women trapped in similar rooms all over the big warehouse style room. I could see some of the women were busy keeping their little area clean or cooking dinner, whereas others were relaxing on the couch and just letting the day pass them by. There were a couple that stood in the middle of their little boxes with looks of shock on their faces as if they didn’t know what to do. Looking closer, I realized these women were the same ones I had just graduated with.
I just stood there and stared at the bright lights of the showroom as they shined into my room. I could see the husbands walking from booth to booth to see what mothers were available. I quickly learned the idea was to always be “on” as a mother. This would sell me better because a good mother was never allowed to rest. It didn’t stop the mothers from resting when there weren’t many potential husbands on the floor. It was helpful to know when to be “on” and when it didn’t really matter. It was still difficult to be put on the spot like that. Over the next couple of months while I lived in my new booth, I would try really hard to impress a husband when I saw he had made his way to my window, but it still felt as if I was acting on this stage and it wasn’t the natural way to do things. When I saw a husband make his way over to my booth, I would concentrate more on my reflection in the wall made of glass and less on who was paying attention to my skills and worth as a mother. I hated that reflection, but I concentrated on it because I believed it would get me out of the situation I found myself in.
I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. My hair was cut short in a little bob resting nicely on the back of my neck right above my shoulders. I was forced to wear a hair clip with a blue bow in it on either side in order to keep my hair out of my face. I believe the owner of the Mother Mall thought this made the mother attractive while still being able to get serious work done in what they called a household, such as laundry, cooking and cleaning.
I also made sure the dress I wore was always clean and presentable. I wanted to look my best, so I would have to spend as little time in this place as I needed to. I also made sure the apron was always tied tightly around my waist so it would accentuate it. I wanted to show perspective husbands I had a thin enough waist fro them to wrap their arms around, but my hips were strong enough to bear the burden of child birth. The apron served a second purpose as well. It kept all of the dirt and mess accumulating throughout the course of my day in this tiny box and keep it off my pretty dress.
I wandered around my cubicle making it look like I was the perfect mother. It really helped that I was placed in a room with furniture from the 1950s. It completed the whole picture. A perspective husband would see me working in this environment and start to think about his own mother and the living room and the kitchen in which he was raised. We were the spitting image of what it meant to be the perfect all-American mother.
All in all, I looked and felt like June Cleaver. The poster in my cell back at the Capital Limited Re-education Center had predicted my future and I knew the only way I could escape my fate was to get out of this place.
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