Reverend Mother felt blindsided. Here she lay, less than two hours post surgery and Rachel was getting in her face, waving a birth certificate under her nose. Rachel was fairly gloating, acting as though she had caught her mother with her panties around her ankles. Her other children sat looking on the whole scene with shocked and dismayed expressions.
Oh Lord, what do I say? How can I even begin to explain? Rachel stood over her glaring, daring her to make excuses. Reverend Mother’s sudden flash of anger burned away her shame. How dare this brat ambush me in my sick bed! Without breaking eye contact, Reverend Mother spoke to the rest of her children. “Will you all excuse us?”
Rachel’s laughter was bitter, “Oh, I see how this works. You want an audience when you’re airing my dirty laundry. But the show is suddenly over when it’s your turn. You all stay where you are. I want you to hear this. I’m just sorry her little pet Thomas isn’t here,” sneered Rachel.
Reverend Mother spoke softly, “I was trying to spare your feelings Rachel. But if you want them to stay then so be it. I will not mince my words. The birth certificate is self explanatory. What do you want me to say? I was young and foolish when I got pregnant with you.”
“So, I was a mistake,” spat Rachel.
Reverend Mother looked her daughter in the eye. “I don’t believe in mistakes. Everything happens for a reason.”
“Don’t you dare sit there and try to cloak your sins in some sort of phony spirituality! You laid down with some random man and let him knock you up. Who would have thought it? The great Reverend Mother is just as soiled as the rest of us lowly sinners! You’re nothing but a hypocrite. All these years, you’ve been judging me when you’re no better,” Rachel’s laughter was a harsh bark.
She suddenly stopped and stabbed a finger at her mother, “No, you know what? You’re worse because I own up to my dirt. I don’t hide behind some tarnished veneer of respectability!”
“Now who’s passing judgment? You might want to climb down off your high horse before I knock you off little girl. Everyone knows you only own up to your dirt after you get caught rolling around in it. Once upon a time, I was foolish and made mistakes but you know what? I learned from those mistakes and changed my ways.”
Reverend Mother glared at Rachel for a silent moment before continuing,” You keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again, just like your birth father. You look just like him and you act just like him. I suppose that’s my penance; seeing him every time I look at you and constantly having to clean up your messy life. I feel the same wound reopened each time you disappoint me with your selfish and irresponsible behavior.”
“Well, that explains a lot. All these years, I’ve had to suffer the weight of your long suffering looks without knowing what I’d done to cause you so much pain. I always felt like nothing I did was ever good enough…”
“When have you ever done anything for yourself? I must have missed it. Everyone around you has to prop you up and carry you around on their shoulders. You’re so accustomed to it that you don’t even notice how much people do for you day in and day out. Always full of excuses and justifications. Do you think we don’t know the real reason you came home this time?”
Reverend Mother waited for a response before charging on, “telling you about the sperm donor who helped make you would become the ultimate justification for your wanton behavior. Gabriel was you father. He treated you like a princess and loved you as his own. That is all that matters. If you want to wallow in self-pity then go somewhere else and do it. We have all had our bellies full of your selfish temper tantrums.”
Rachel spun around and saw the truth of her mother’s words in her siblings’ faces. She stood irresolutely clenching and unclenching her fists, trembling with the tornadic emotions churning inside of her. She hadn’t intended to confront her mother so soon. Anger made her jump the gun. Rachel had spent the previous night rehearsing what she would say and relishing everyone’s shock and dismay.
She expected shame to rob her mother’s power of speech as she lit into her. Rachel was supposed to be the one with the upper hand, for a change. Instead, the whole thing had blown up right in her face. She came across as selfish and cowardly, attacking her mother while she was still weak from surgery and slightly groggy from the anesthetic. Rachel read it all in her sibling’s disgusted expressions.
Reverend Mother had valiantly waved away their attempts to rescue her from the onslaught of Rachel’s accusations. Rachel had tried to get up on her high horse, certain that they would come around to her side once they heard about their mother’s sinful secrets. But even in her compromised condition, Reverend Mother gave as good as she got, seizing the reins from Rachel and unhorsing her with disconcerting ease.
Rachel was dismayed to find herself looking foolish and weak yet again. As usual, they’re all against me. I’m the one hurting and they’re all looking at me as though I wronged her! I hate them all! She blinked furiously against the tears that threatened to blind her. She had to get out of there.
Rachel turned on her heels and stalked from the room. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing her break down. Joshua called after her and she started to run. Rachel burst through the front doors and continued running until her legs threatened to give out, heedless of the startled looks of those around her.
Joshua reluctantly returned to his seat, feeling as though he should have run after Rachel but not relishing the thought of having her take out her anger on him. What would I say anyway? Sorry you were born out of wedlock? Joshua could feel his mother’s eyes rake over him and his siblings. They all sat shifting uncomfortably in their seats, studiously avoiding her gaze.
Reverend Mother chuckled mirthlessly and lay back against her pillows, suddenly exhausted. She heaved a weary sigh. “Alright, let’s have it. Rachel has had her say. What do the rest of you have to say about her revelations? Anyone else want to lord something over me? I never knew she felt as though I was being judgmental. Is that the way the rest of you feel?”
Reverend Mother waited for them to confirm what she had begun to suspect. She spoke again, “I’ll take your uncomfortable silence as a yes. I thought you all understood that if I get on you it’s because I want you all to realize your potential. It’s my job to push you to challenge you. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I made.”
“But why do you always have to be so harsh? You could be a little…” Richard trailed off, searching for the right word.
“Nicer about it,” volunteered Harriet.
Reverend Mother laughed, “Nice? You want me to be nice? Now be honest, if I was nice would you listen? Would you be motivated to make any changes? Ever since you were children, niceness always went in one ear and out the other. You think I don’t know that most of the time, you make changes because you don’t want to have to come back home and tell me that you’ve accomplished nothing since your last visit?”
She laughed again and then grew serious,”Ever since Gabriel died, I’ve had to be a father and mother. None of us knows how long we have on earth. I learned that when I lost your father. I can’t waste time tiptoeing around for fear of stepping on someone’s toes. The world is a harsh place and you have to be strong enough to withstand whatever misfortune may befall you. When it’s my time to go, I want to know that you are all content with your lives and will be able to take care of yourselves.”
Reverend Mother fell silent and her eyes slid closed. Her children let her sleep, quietly taking their leave of her reflecting on everything they had heard.