Accountability Part 2 – Chapter 1

PART 2

RE-EDUCATION

1

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?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“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.”

“No, ma’am.”

“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?”

“Excuse me?”

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.

Advertisements

Accountability Chapter 6

6

I remained quiet after the incident at the restaurant. Palin was convinced of her innocence and because of her intense passion so was Robert. Like the rest of the family, I assured Palin I believed that the waitress had stolen the necklace. The restaurant had given Palin two hundred dollars to replace the necklace, and assured us Amy, the waitress, would never set foot in the Old Stone Church again. She would also never get a good recommendation from the restaurant which would probably mean she would never work in the restaurant industry again. I started to see the true nature of Palin. She was self-centered. She was manipulative. She was a teenager. I walked around her very lightly the next couple of weeks so her wrath would not fall on me. I had other things to worry about, first.

Dr. Nancy Ann Blur was going to be at my house in less than two weeks and I had to make sure my children and Palin were presentable. I believed it was important for me to maintain the same high standards I had over the last three years. I was really worried about my excellent rating. After every day with Palin, I worried more and more about how Palin would behave while Dr. Blur was at my house. I thought of everything I could do to try and make sure she was on her best behavior that day. I even thought of bribing her with clothes, electronics, or hairspray, anything that would get her to behave. I quickly dismissed these options because I knew there were many laws against it. The Department of Motherhood considered bribery to be cheating and would imprison individuals who attempted to get high marks by using this tactic. There were newspaper reports every year about mothers who had tried to do this and had been caught.

Begging her would not be a good idea either because that would make me look weak in her eyes. It would just open the door so she would be able to walk all over me in the future.

The only thing I could do was try to reason with Palin and hope she would act her best when Dr. Blur showed up at my house.

The next couple of weeks proved to be an exercise in futility. Palin would never get up in the morning. Nine o’clock in the morning was considered early for her. She never made it to school on time and there were a couple of times she woke up so late that it was even pointless to try to get her there at all. Her boyfriend, Dustin, showed up at the house almost every night. I caught him sneaking out of the house one morning, a day after the incident at the restaurant and I didn’t say anything. Because I didn’t react properly to the situation, he started becoming more brash. He would walk into the house anytime he pleased. He would stroll in the front door while we were having dinner, or watching television. He would wave to Robert and then Palin and he would run up to Robert’s office, shut the door, and not come out unless they had to use the restroom or wanted to grab something to eat. I walked by the room once and there were awful grunting noises coming from the room. I decided to avoid the room at all costs because I really didn’t want to know what was going on inside of there. I told Palin I didn’t mind Dustin coming over, but to please make sure he wasn’t there during the morning of the assessment. She assured me he wouldn’t be.

The bigger problem was the influence Palin was having on Lindsey. My daughter looked up to her half-sister, and she wanted to start acting like her. Instead of Lindsey wanting to be mommy’s little girl, she would do anything to act like Palin. She would try to dress like her. She pretended she didn’t care about anything anymore. She even went as far as using a black Sharpie marker under her eyes in order to imitate the raccoon look Palin had. While I was trying to scrub it off, she started to quote the standards but couldn’t explain how that meant I wasn’t living up to them. This was hard to take from a three year old girl who believed she had more privileges than an adult.

As Lindsey tried to imitate Palin’s behavior, Zach started to do the same with Dustin. He started to believe it was important for him to have a girlfriend. He talked about all of the girls in his class as his hoes and bitches. I got a call from his teacher once, explaining how she had to discipline Zach for trapping a girl in the corner of the class’s closet and kissing her. When the teacher found him, he had his hand up her shirt and was cupping her chest as if she had a breast. I know I never had taught Zach how to do this and I am sure Robert had never taught him either. It didn’t change the fact that Robert seemed pretty proud of his son after I retold him the story. Zach could have only been learning this from one place and it was from the deviant coming over to our house every evening.

Things were getting pretty stressful around the house. I knew I only needed to make it through the assessment and then I would be able to regain control over my life, my house, and my family. Until then, I would have to try to make the best of the situation and create an atmosphere portraying the perfect American family.

I had gotten back into my routine, well, at least the best I could, considering the circumstances. Palin was doing everything possible in order to disrupt my schedule. Even with these disruptions, I don’t think Robert was able to notice anything different. Breakfast, the sports page, and a hot cup of coffee were always sitting ready for him when he made his way downstairs every morning. Dinner was served on time and every once in awhile Lindsey and Zach would join us for the meal. Palin actually made it to one dinner, but otherwise she would take her dinner up to her room, alone with Dustin. The house was always clean and presented a wonderful and nurturing environment. I was even able to sneak into Palin’s room one day while she was at school and clean it for her. She got really mad at me because I threw away something she said she really needed. I couldn’t decide what it was. All I threw away were scraps of paper, bottles of hair products, and moldy food in baggies underneath her bed mattress. It was those baggies that really stunk up Robert’s office. They smelled like a skunk had sprayed in the baggie. I couldn’t understand why anybody would be saving them. After that she promised me she would keep her own room clean and for the most part she did. It was never up to my standard of clean but it was a small victory on my part.

The only concern I had left was the children themselves. I knew how important it was to make a good first impression with the assessor. If Dr. Blur could come into the house and see all of the children lined up nicely in a row with clean, fresh and respectable clothes on, then the assessor would be more likely to overlook smaller indiscretions during the assessment. A first impression is always important.

I took the kids out of school one day right before the assessment so we would be able to spend it on the perfect outfits for the day of the assessment. We went to Maydee’s Department Store, and I made sure all of the children understood the importance of our mission that day. I told them if we could get the perfect outfits before lunchtime than I would take them to their favorite restaurant, Crave. After lunch I would take them out to a movie and afterwards we would go get some ice cream. Lindsey and Zach seemed excited about the day, and even Palin showed some interest because it meant she would miss school. All she had to do was get a free meal, a new outfit, and a little bit of entertainment. When we got to the department store, I told Palin to go select some clothes while I helped the two younger kids find something appropriate. I told her to keep in mind that what she was looking for was to be up to my standards and not the typical clothes she wore. She rolled her eyes at me as she wandered over to the young miss section of the store. I watched, and worried about what she would find in the store.

I took Lindsey and Zach over the kids section. For Zach, I found a lovely polo shirt with a nice clip-on tie, some khaki slacks and a navy blue sweater vest. While he was in the changing room trying on the clothes, I went over to the girls section to try and find a cute dress for Lindsey. I was able to find a nice yellow sun dress with pleats. I knew with Lindsey’s light complexion the color would just make her glow. It would be a shocking display of cuteness no assessor would be able to escape and Dr. Blur would be no exception. Around the time I was able to collect all of the clothes we needed, Palin came back from her shopping spree. She had a bag from the department store in one hand, and I was a little shocked because I couldn’t figure out how she had paid for the clothes without my help.

She told me, “Oh, I just had them punch in your credit card number and everything was alright.”

I was a little taken back. “How did you get my credit card number?”

She laughed a little before saying, “Come one, Rachael, it is not exactly your credit card number. It’s really Robert that takes care of all of the financial needs of this family. He just lets you use his credit card in the meantime. By the way, what I found was so perfect I just couldn’t wait to find you before I bought it.”

I was really worried about what I was going to see as she pulled out her purchase from the bag. This garment would be the first thing the Secretary of Motherhood would see when she walked into my house. I was afraid it would be some black piece of clothing leaving not much to the imagination because it was either really short or really tight fitting. What I saw really surprised me. Once again, Palin, when given the opportunity to find the perfect clothing for the occasion, came through. She spread the dress out in front of her and modeled it with only her head sticking out over the hanger.

It was a full length dress with a conservative collar, and long sleeves. It was an off-white cream color with stitches of wildflowers up and down the dress. I could imagine Palin in the dress while she was modeling it for me. The image that came to mind was Palin, Lindsey and Zach standing in perfect attention as Dr. Blur entered the house. The secretary would be bowled over by these three perfect children. By the end of the assessment, she would pull me aside and tell me I had created a new standard of motherhood. I would be in all of the newspapers and they would offer me up as the ideal every mother should push to attain. Later on, I would realize how foolish such fantasies were and I know now the best I can do is just do enough to get by. I should just quit trying to live up to the impossible standards set up by a group that has no business making rules about something they knew nothing about.

Even though I’ve just recently come to realize these cynical thoughts, the rest of that day, I reveled in the fact I had the perfect family. I once again toyed with the idea it was my superior mothering abilities that were starting to turn Palin into a fine, young lady. It would only be two days later when this idea would be shattered by what happened during the assessment.

I remember the day of the assessment like it happened yesterday. I got all of the children up early. Lindsey and Zach were troopers as they woke up and helped straighten up the house as I cooked breakfast. I was even able to get a response out of Palin as I knocked on her door to wake her up. I knew she was moving because I heard her make it out of her room and into the bathroom while I was still cooking breakfast. The shower was running when I started to lay the plates of food on the table and Robert was the perfect angel after he was finished because he came over to me, gave me a kiss and told me good luck on the assessment.

After breakfast was complete, I sent the kids up to their room to get dressed in the new outfits. Palin had come downstairs with her hair wet and wearing nothing more than a very large bath towel. I should have noticed what a zombie she was at the breakfast table, but I was too busy making sure everything else was perfect. Her mouth mushed up a piece of toast while I cleaned the kitchen. She was quickly back upstairs before I could ask her how she felt that morning. When all of the kids were dressed, I had them stand in a row in the hallway in front of the kitchen.

Lindsey and Zach stood up straight as if they were in The Sound of Music and were about to sing a song for one of our guests. Palin, who was still trying to wake up a little bit, leaned against the wall and rolled her neck around in order to pop out some of the creaks from the night before.

“You all look so wonderful. Palin, please, stand up straight.”

She rolled her eyes, curled her upper lip and pushed out a sigh.

“Palin, you look like such a nice young lady when you stand up straight.”

Lindsey stood up straighter next to Palin and patted down her dress. She looked up at her half-sister and said, “You need to stand up like me, Palin.” Lindsey twirled around to show Palin how pretty she could be in her dress.

Palin looked down at Lindsey and slouched even further down on the wall, “Ugh, you are way too perky in the morning.”

“But if you stand up like me, we can be like twins.”

“Why would I want to be a twin with a fucking twat like you?”

“Palin!” I shouted at her to reprimand her for the cruel way she was acting to her sister, but the damage was done. Large tears bulged at the tip of Lindsey’s eyelids and her lips quivered. I waited for the moment the water would rush through the lashes and release her scream. Luckily, it was only a stage one tantrum, and I would be able to get it under control quickly.

Palin decided it was better to make the situation even worse by looking over at Zach and saying, “And you look like a fucking douche bag.”

Lindsey’s wail started at the same moment Zach registered what Palin had said and rushed over to her to throw punches. I picked up Lindsey quickly and started bouncing her up and down hoping this motion would appease her. “It’s alright honey. Don’t cry. Palin didn’t mean it.”

Zach was at Palin with his fists. He was trying to pound Palin in the leg with the heal of his fist. “Take it back. Take it back. Take it back.” The fists were not finding the target because Palin kept on pushing Zach aside before he got close enough to land a punch with any damage. The last push left Zach on the ground, wallowing on his back like an overturned turtle.

The way her brother was being treated caused Lindsey to scream even louder. In between the screams, Lindsey found enough breath to say, “I am not a fucking twat.”

“I know you are not, honey. Please quit crying. Everything is alright.”

Palin had turned away from the scene and started heading up the stairs towards her room. Zach had up-righted himself and started in for another lunge at Palin. He alerted Palin of his presence by shouting, “And I’m not a fucking douche bag.”

“Mommy, is Zach a fucking douche bag?”

I started to head after Zach to stop him from hitting Palin. At the same time, I tried to comfort Lindsey. “He’s not, honey. Please don’t say that word.”

I wasn’t able to catch Zach before he reached Palin’s threshold. She was able to turn around and push him in my direction. I jumped forward and was able to catch Zach before he went tumbling down the stairs. The force of my son running into me, made me lose my balance. I started to take a tumble up the stairs. My hands reached out to brace my fall. I dropped Lindsey as I reached out for anything to help prevent me from smashing into the ground. The first thing my hands were able to grab on to was the top of Palin’s dress.

The fabric of my existence was ripped by a tearing sound reverberating off the wall of my house. The sound continued as I exposed all of Palin to her new family. My nose smashed onto one of the edges of the stairs and a new sound pierced the air. I looked up to see Palin shrieking at the way I had taken away her decency. Looking back, I still wonder why she was so upset. She spent most of her time when Dustin was at our house by strutting around in barely anything more than her birthday suit. I tried to shake off all of the pieces falling apart as a watery haze swam through my vision. Palin clutched her arms to her chest, turned around and ran off to her room.

“Mommy!!!!!!” screamed Lindsey from where she laid on the floor.

“Mommy!!!!!!” screamed Zach as he struggled to get out from underneath my legs.

I let go of the long strip of fabric still clutched in my hands. I heard the door slam down the hallway. “Palin, get back here,” I commanded, hoping for once she would obey.

Above all of the commotion taking place on the stairs, the doorbell rang.

Accountability Chapter 4

I’m still working on putting together my thoughts about my recent trip to Cambodia. Look for it soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the next installment from Accountability.

4

Robert’s alarm woke me up. I jumped in bed as if I was rushing towards the stove to get breakfast ready for my family, but was even more shocked to find myself still in bed instead of in the kitchen like I usually was. When I saw I was still in bed, my heart jumped. I looked over at Robert who was turning off the alarm. He rolled over in bed and jumped back as well.

“Honey, what are you still doing in bed?” he asked.

It had been years since I had slept until Robert’s alarm went off. I had created one of the world’s best internal clocks. It would wake me up at exactly 5:45 every morning. It was almost as if somewhere in my head every morning there would be the electronic click of my clock telling me it was time to get up. My internal clock would always allow me to get out of bed early enough to stare down the stove and get myself ready to take on the challenges of the day. The last time I had slept through my internal alarm clock was when I was running a temperature and had a sore throat. I had taken some cold medicine the night before and it really knocked me out. Robert had been late for work that day and the kids were all out of pace because of the delay. After that morning, I swore I would never allow that to happen again, yet here I sat in bed with Robert’s alarm clock blaring fifteen minutes after my internal alarm clock should have warned me to get up.

“Honey, are you going to make me breakfast?” Robert asked. I’m glad he did because it shook me out of my daze.

“Yes, honey, sorry. I’ll get right on that.” I tried to get out of bed, but my brain swam around in my head. I looked over the edge of the bed to see only one pink fuzzy bunny slipper staring back up at me. I had no idea where the other one was, but I didn’t have time to concern myself with that because I needed to get breakfast ready for my family; otherwise their day would be off kilter. I shook the cobwebs off my brain and left the lone bunny where it sat looking for its partner. I slipped on my pink bathrobe to get breakfast ready.

At first I couldn’t understand why I had slept in so late, but as the events of the night before were starting to sift through the sleepy fog of my mind, I was able to start to piece things together. Palin had been a demanding girl all afternoon long. She kept on asking me to do this or that for her. Any time I didn’t respond to her request, she would remind me of one of the standards. When she started to make a drink and I took offense to that, she reminded me of Standard Number Two: A child should never be denied the experiences that life has to offer. When I picked up her purse to move it someplace where it wouldn’t be in the way, she pulled out Standard Number Five: A mother should trust their child’s judgment to do the right thing in any situation and should never violate this trust. When she talked loudly on the phone about finding something she called a score, and I asked her if I could use the phone so I could call Robert, she started quoting Standard Number One: A mother should ensure the popularity of their children to make sure that they have a healthy amount of self-esteem. It didn’t matter what the situation was, she had some answer passed down by the government which would counteract anything I believed would be the right thing to do.

Lindsey didn’t help much either. When she learned that Palin was her sister, she instantly fell in love with her. She started hanging around her wherever she went.  I don’t think Palin felt the same way Lindsey did, but when I told her I needed to go pick up Zach from school, she offered to stay behind and take care of Lindsey. Allowing that request was my first big mistake of the evening.

In the short time I was gone to pick up Zach and come back home, Palin had taught her about the exciting game of dress-up. Instead of making it an innocent game of dressing up like a princess, Palin decided to show her the latest in teenage fashion. She had poofed out Lindsey’s hair so it looked like a blonde palm tree sitting on top of her head. She had painted her face in dark eyeliner and bright red lipstick. She even added just the right amount of rouge to highlight the apples of her baby cheeks. This, together with the choice of clothes, only made me question if this was a joke or if Palin had such terrible fashion sense she would think this made Lindsey look good. For a shirt, Palin had selected Lindsey’s bikini top. She also made sure that the Lindsey was able to show off how sexy her chubby legs were by taking her nicest skirt and cutting it so short it hung to the edge of her thigh. For a topper, she took a pair of my high heels and had her walking around the hardwood floors in them. The scratches, I’m sure, are still on those floors. I couldn’t decide if she looked more like a whore or a clown. Lindsey, on the other hand, thought she looked pretty and started to throw a temper tantrum when I demanded she take off the clothes she was wearing.

While I was trying to avert a disaster with Lindsey, Palin thought it was a perfect time to take on my other child, Zach. She showed him how to unlock channels on the cable box while feeding him large amounts of espresso she had made in the kitchen (she didn’t clean up after making that mess either). By the time I made it back to the family room, Zach was running around crazy and screaming all the fun new words he learned from the exciting new channels he discovered. He even went as far as to tell me to, “Take it like a bitch, Mommy.”

By the time I was able to catch Zach to try to calm him down, Lindsey was strutting through the house in nothing but her birthday suit. I tried to tell Lindsey to put on some clothes before her father came home, and she told me she couldn’t because she didn’t have any more clothes. It was partly true because she had thrown them all out the window of her room and they were now being ravaged by neighborhood dogs collecting them as new chew toys.

I held on to Zach who was trying to squirm out of my grip while chasing after my naked daughter. Palin sat on the couch laughing at all the mayhem while smoking a cigarette and ashing it on the Persian rug in the family room.

This is when Robert walked inside from a hard day at work. I was so happy he was home. He was able to help me bring control back to the madness taking over my life. We were able to collect enough clothes from the front lawn to dress Lindsey. For the rest of the evening, she was wearing a frilly skirt I had bought for her to wear on Easter Sunday and a t-shirt with a picture of Mama Buddy on it saying, “Isn’t she cute?” Robert placed Zach on a tread mill and told him to keep on running until he ran out of the excess energy from the espresso. I was given enough time to clean up the kitchen and prepare a quick dinner while Robert visited with his other daughter in his office.

While they were visiting, I made my second mistake. I made myself a cocktail. In fact in the course of the evening, I made myself quite a few cocktails. I knew drinking was against the standards but I knew they were lenient if a mother didn’t drink to excess. Plus, I needed a little something to help take the edge off the experiences I had from that day. The thing I found that worked the best was a gin and tonic, and by the time dinner had been served, I had a little bit of a buzz going on. The rest of the night was a blur. Palin kept on demanding things from me, and every time I went back into the kitchen, I would add a little splash of Tangueray and a bit more tonic to my never-ending drink. Robert was cordial with our new guest and I don’t even remember putting the kids to bed before I crashed in my own bed. It was probably best I couldn’t remember everything that happened afterwards, but what I did remember helped explain the way I felt this morning. It was also the reason why I was running so late.

While I was collecting my thoughts from the previous day, I rushed to the staircase, but was forced to stop when I saw Lindsey. She had her back to me and was standing at the top of the staircase looking downstairs and holding her blanket in one hand with her two favorite fingers in her mouth. I suddenly realized something new about my child I had never realized before. She was on as much a schedule as I was. I could not think of a day I had not come around from the beginning of my cooking routine to see her standing at the top of the staircase waiting for me to tell her to go wake up her brother. It reminded me how lucky I was to have such a wonderful child and it pained my heart that I was going to have to break her routine by showing her I was off my schedule. She was going to be disturbed because I was actually behind her instead of downstairs making breakfast as I should have been.

She turned around when she realized I was behind her. She took her fingers out of her mouth and said, “Do you want me to wake up Zach?”

“Yes, honey,” I said as I ran past her on the stairs, and stopped before I got half way down. I looked back up the stairs and called after Lindsey. She stopped and popped her head back down the stairs. “Can you make sure that Palin gets up too? She needs to get to school also.”

“Okay, mommy,” was her reply, and she ran off to accomplish the tasks I had sent her off to do. I went back to trying to get things on track.

I ran into the kitchen, grabbed two frying pans and a large griddle and placed them on the stove. I turned the burner on under one of the frying pans. I opened the fridge and grabbed a package of bacon, a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, and the orange juice.  I slammed the fridge door shut, and didn’t realize my bathrobe had been caught in the door. I was moving so quickly to the counter next to the stove I forgot about not having the traction offered by my bunny slippers. I slipped and fell hard on my back. Luckily the only thing damaged in the fall, besides my pride, was the gallon of milk which had cracked on the hardwood floor. It was creating a big puddle on the floor.

I threw the rest of the food on the floor, and grabbed the container of leaking milk and tried to stand up. It took a little effort because of the way my bathrobe was caught in the fridge door, but I managed to do it. Milk continued to spill on the floor as I released myself from the fridge trap, and rushed over to the kitchen sink to put what was left of the gallon of milk in there. So far a quarter of a gallon of milk was lying on the floor, another quarter was soaked into my pajama bottoms, and the other half was slowly leaking out into the sink. I knew I needed to save some in order to salvage breakfast this morning, so I went back across the kitchen to get a container to pour the rest of the milk into. I didn’t make it all the way over before slipping on the milk in the middle of the room and landed face first on the floor.

I moaned as I crawled my way over to the cabinet to grab a pitcher. Luckily, we kept them in one of the lower cabinets, so I didn’t need to pick myself off the floor in order to obtain one. Of course my pajamas gathered more milk as I shuffled my way across the puddle. I tried to look at the positive of what was happening. My pajamas were helping me clean up the mess, so I wouldn’t have to get further behind by spending so much time mopping up the mess. I got the pitcher and poured the last quarter of a gallon of milk into it, hoping it would be enough to make breakfast. I also grabbed the towel from the sink and threw it down on the puddle. I pushed it around with my foot, hoping to mop up as much milk as I could, and with the help my pajamas offered, it did a decent job of picking it up.

I picked up the wet towel and threw it into the kitchen sink next to the broken, empty milk jug. I walked over to the package of bacon and grabbed a knife from the magnet on the wall. I cut open the package and ripped the bacon out. The first piece of bacon started to sizzle by the time I put down the second one. I looked at the temperature of the burner and realized I had it on high. I turned it down a bit and continued to put bacon in the pan. I had gotten to the last piece of bacon, when I heard a scream, rattling nerves even more, “Where is my orange juice?”

Zach was sitting at the kitchen table. He was pounding the surface with his fists and demanding his orange juice. I gave one second of thought to where Lindsey was, but realized I needed to put out one fire at a time. “I want my orange juice!” Zach continued to shout as he stared at the kitchen wall opposite from where he sat.

“I’m sorry, honey,” I said as I walked over to the table with two glasses and the orange juice. I poured him a glass and he picked it up with both hands and started to drink. I figured, since I was close to the front door, this was a good time as any to go and get the paper. I went outside and picked up the paper. I was hurrying back inside when I heard Shelia exclaim over my shoulder, “My lord, Rachael, are you okay? You look awful this morning.”

I turned, and smiled back. “I’m okay. I just had a little accident this morning, and I’m running a little behind.”

“Did you hurt yourself?”

“No,” I said as I continued to run back in the house, “just a little spill. I’ll tell you all about it later.”

She was such a busy body.

I ran into the house and closed the door behind me. A sight I was not expecting threw off my morning even more. Lindsey was standing in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, staring at the door, and holding a shred of her blankee. Her bottom lip was quivering, and when she saw me, she skipped all the stages of temper tantrum and went straight to stage four. Her howl banged off the walls and reverberated throughout the whole house.

I threw the paper on the floor, and ran over to pick her up. It might not have been the wisest of decisions because her howl went straight into my ear. I started bouncing her up and down to calm her down when Robert came to the railing from our room and looked down at me. He was only wearing only a towel around his waist and he was still wet from his shower. “What is all of that racket down there?”

I looked up at him. “Something happened to Lindsey’s blankee. I’m trying to calm her down.”

“Well, do your job and hurry it up.” He turned to go back into the room and stopped himself before he went back. He looked at me over the rail with some concern. “Are you okay? You look terrible.”

I kept on bouncing Lindsey to calm her down and said, “Yeah, I just had an accident. I’m okay. I’ll clean up in a bit.”

He gave me a look with one eyebrow raised. “You are off this morning, Rachael. Let’s not make this a regular occurrence.”

My heart sank. I was letting my family down. I had gotten so drunk the night before I didn’t even remember going to bed. I woke up late this morning. Breakfast was going to be late. Zach wouldn’t get to school on time and I would be scolded again by the teachers at the school. Lindsey was crying loudly in my ear. I couldn’t think what had gone wrong, but my own daughter gave me some insight as to where the true source of my problem began.

“Palin ripped my blankee,” she screamed in-between sobs.

Of course, it all started to go downhill the moment that girl showed up on my doorstep. I couldn’t figure out why I was put in charge of this girl. She didn’t even come from my genes. She was some accident from my husband’s past and now, for some godforsaken reason, it was my responsibility to take care of all of her problems. Not only that, but she, herself, was becoming a ripple in the smooth fabric of my family’s life. She disrupted the normal flow of everything and now she had made my daughter cry by destroying the one thing she cared more about in this world than anything else.

I looked down at the distraught child in my arms and said, “Well, Lindsey, mommy is going to take care of this right now.” I placed her on the ground and told her to stay there as I marched up the stairs to Robert’s office. It had been converted the night before to accommodate our guest.

When I got to the door, it was slammed shut and the other half of Lindsey’s blanket was dangling from the doorjamb. I tried to open the door, but Palin had locked it. I banged on the door and shouted so she could hear me, “Palin, open up this door. Right now!”

I got no response.

I tried again and met with the same result. I was once told it was a sign of insanity to try to same thing again and again while expecting different results. I knew banging on the door wouldn’t open it up, so I tried to think of how I could get in. I saw there was a tiny hole in the doorknob and I knew what I had to do.

I marched back into the kitchen past my child screaming in the hallway and the other one sitting at the kitchen table trying to pour more orange juice into his glass.

“Mommy, I want more…”

“Not now, honey, I have some other things I need to attend to.” I had to stop Zach because my mind was set on accomplishing the task at hand.

I went to the junk drawer and yanked it open. I shuffled through it looking for one of the long wooden skewers I knew was in there. I found two in the back and I grabbed them. I marched my way back up the stairs past the one child pouring orange juice into his overflowing glass, and the other one still screaming in the hallway. I marched right up to the door of my family’s office, and banged on it one last time.

“Palin, this is your last opportunity. Open this door now, or suffer the consequences.”

Once again I got no response. I gave her three opportunities to do the right thing and now it was my turn to take control of the situation. I stuck the skewer into the tiny hole in the knob and wiggled it around until I heard the mechanism for the lock click. I opened the door. The ripped part of Lindsey’s blankee fell to the ground. What I saw as I stood in the entryway to the room took me by surprise. A teenage boy, who I never saw before, was pulling up his jeans over his bare butt. Palin, not taking any notice of the show going on in her room, stood on the bed trying to unlatch the screen to the window.

“What in the world…”

Palin turned away from her task. She quickly hopped off the bed and rushed over to where I stood in the doorway of Robert’s office. She started waving her finger in my face and yelling at me, “Goddamnit, can’t people get some privacy in this house? You had better start listening to my needs, Rachael, or we are going to have a difficult time getting along with each other. You better keep that in mind because I think your assessment is coming around soon.”

I was too stunned to hear what she was saying. I pointed at the other guest in my house that was walking over to me while tucking his shirt into the jeans he just put on. I pointed at him and asked, “Who is this?”

He grabbed my hand I was using to point at him and started to shake it. “Hi, I’m Dustin. It is very nice to meet you, Rachael.”

Palin smacked him on the shoulder, “Don’t talk her, Dustin. Get out of here.”

He let go of my hand and walked out of my family’s office. He waved at Palin as he walked down the stairs to where the orange juice mess and my screaming child were. “Bye, Palin, I’ll see you later, at school.”

“Bye, Dustin. Remember you need to buy condoms before tonight.”

I stood there pointing between her and the teenage boy who just exited my house while trying to articulate words to say about what I had just seen.

Palin looked at me like nothing had happened and said, “What the hell happened to you? You look like shit.”

Her disrespect helped me find the courage to put this little girl in her place, “Listen here, young lady. I don’t know who that was or who you think you are, but this is my house and you will live by my rules.”

She turned her back from me and walked over to her suitcase. She pulled off her shirt exposing the dark red push-up bra. She took out a new shirt from her suitcase and put it on. “Oh well then, just leave me a copy of them and I’ll go over them in the next couple weeks.”

“What?”

She slipped on her shirt which was tighter than the one she wore yesterday and had a picture of a mushroom on it. “Hello, Rachael. I just moved in here. How am I supposed to know all of the rules of your place after one night? I mean, am I just supposed to guess it is against your wishes for one of my boyfriends to come over here and spend the night? Also, I don’t appreciate you barging into my room anytime you like. I deserve my privacy. Remember Standard Number Five: A mother should trust their child’s judgment to do the right thing in any situation, and should never violate this trust. We might have to look over your list of rules and make sure they conform to the intent of the law. Right now, I don’t have time for that because I have to get ready for school. What’s for breakfast by the way?”

I could feel my blood surge through my veins and pump hard in my temples. My breathing became heavy and haggard as I took a step into Robert’s office, but before I could place my barefoot onto the carpet, I felt a tug on my pajama bottoms. I turned around to see Zach tugging on my leg.

“Mommy, there is…”

I lifted Zach up by his shoulders and placed him outside in the hallway and told him through clenched teeth, “Not right now, Zach, I have to have a talk with your step-sister.”

“But, mommy, there is a…”

I ignored him as I turned back to the girl in Robert’s office who was looking in a mirror I didn’t remember being in the room before. She was spraying healthy amounts of hairspray into her hair to create the poof effect she had worn ever since we met.

“Listen here, young lady. I didn’t ask for you to move into this house, and I am sure you didn’t ask to be here, but I want you to know your behavior is totally unacceptable. You are not my child. You are a mistake my husband had at a very early age, and if you continue to act this way, I will make sure you and all your poor attitude are out on the curb before nightfall. Do you understand me?”

She rolled her eyes at me and snorted out a little laugh. “You can’t do that.”

“Mommy,” said Zach from outside the room.

“Why not?” I asked her.

“Standard Number Four: Proper, loving shelter shall be supplied to everyone under the legal care of the mother. You need me to stay here under the law, and you need to make sure it is a loving way, mother dearest. So I suggest you watch what you say before I report you to the proper authorities.”

“Mommy,” Zach said again.

I pointed my finger directly into Palin’s chest and said, “Why you little b…”

“MOMMY!”

I turned to face Zach, and yelled at him, “WHAT ZACH?!”

“The kitchen is on fire, Mommy.”

The fire alarm started to blare from downstairs. I quickly grabbed Zach and Lindsey and ran out of the house as smoke started to billow from the kitchen.