There was nothing more important to Dorothy Rogers than her family.
She married Hal right out of college. He had talked about going into politics, but business would do. It was just as respectable. He had come from a good family (so important) and became quite successful. She, too, was successful—by the end of her twenties, she had given her husband three beautiful children, two boys and a girl.
Timothy was rambunctuous as a child. Always getting into trouble. He was precocious and not afraid to speak up, but he was a good kid.
Stephanie, though—she was a handful. She was abrasive and obstinate as a young child and in primary school, she was quite the tomboy. Getting her into a dress was like pulling teeth—and yet pulling teeth was not something she would shy away from.
William, though… William was different from either of his siblings. He was quiet and shy, he disliked fighting so much that he didn’t even seem to have a problem with his sister fighting his battles for him—and she was willing enough to do so.
“We need to toughen him up,” Dorothy would complain to her husband before bed.
“Leave the poor kid alone,” Hal Rogers would groan at his wife. Hal didn’t care about family like she did. “He’ll grow out of it.”
In a way, he did. But not in the way that his mother would have preferred.
Stephanie, at the tender age of eighteen, just months from graduating high school, became pregnant. Her mother was distraught. “How could you do this to me?” she kept screaming. “How could you do this to your family!”
“‘My family’ is not the one this is happening to. I am!”
“You are the one who did this!”
“You think I asked for this? You think I wanted to get pregnant?”
That, of course, launched a tirade about knowing to keep your legs together.
In the end, there wasn’t really any “choice” involved for Stephanie. Dorothy insisted that her daughter go out of state “to visit relatives” so that she could have the procedure done in secret. She wasn’t, strictly speaking, pro-choice, but if it was that or be a grandmother before her time to an illegitimate mistake, then so be it. As for Stephanie, she’d been debating herself and was relieved to have her mind made up for her. If I’d wanted to have it, she told herself, I would have told Michael first, and forced her hand. But she also knew she would regret her decision.
“At least you’ve never gotten a girl knocked up,” Dorothy said to both of her sons together.
William looked away shyly, as was his way, but it was Timothy who said “Yes, mother,” even though it was Timothy who had by that time funded two abortions of his own to keep girlfriends quiet—and one of those times, he had had to force the poor girl into it.
William was the next one to be disgraced. It took a long time for him to acknowledge his sexuality, even to himself. For his parents’ sake, he did his best with girls and even slept with them, but only to keep his secret. It was one of those girls, though, who finally confronted him about it. “It’s okay if you are,” she said, more heartbroken than she let on, “I don’t judge. I could even hook you up if you want.”
And she did. She had a cousin who was William’s first love—the first that counted for him, anyway. But he let his mother continue to think that “Natalie” had been the one who had gotten away, since it pleased her to think that and since he wasn’t one to make waves, much as his later boyfriend Serge wanted him to. “It is a new world,” he told William in the world’s thickest, saltiest French accent, “She will know now from you or she will find out later. Like this, you can control the narratif, no?”
But William had no control over narrative. He just moved to a part of the country where his mother didn’t hold sway—or so he imagined—and lived as private a life as he could manage.
“Won’t you come home, though?” his mother would beg, and there was only so long he could put that off until she sent him a ticket and told him to make it work.
She found him with his boyfriend in flagrante.
He assumed after it happened that she would tell people—his father, at least—but when he brought it up, Hal Rogers was speechless. He had no context for having a gay son. It was unthinkable to him.
It was as unthinkable for Hal Rogers as it was unspeakable for Dorothy.
“I always knew,” Stephanie told him. He didn’t bring it up, but it was all their parents wouldn’t talk about. “I mean, I figured. Guess I’m just smarter than Mom and Dad.” She put her hand on his. “And more supportive.” And then she hugged him and kissed him on the forehead.
Stephanie, meanwhile, had ended her series of shallow affairs by falling in love with a successful black man. If Linus Hinkle had been any lighter-skinned, he would have been exactly what her parents required in a son-in-law. He was a respected doctor, about four years from going into private practice, he had no tattoos or piercings, he was handsome, strong and healthy and just not anywhere near good enough for their daughter.
“I’m not racist,” Dorothy assured anyone who didn’t just cut her off right there, “I’d just prefer not to have grandchildren who come out looking like they’ve just spent nine months up a chimney!”
It was a phrase that had Stephanie and William both cracking their knuckles and gritting their teeth, but Linus, whose mother had “raised him right”, as they say, just smiled, nodded and never spoke to his mother-in-law unless she addressed him.
After she had had two children of her own, Stephanie volunteered to act as a surrogate for William and his husband, Adam. There was some strangeness, perhaps, in a woman bearing a child for her brother, but since the egg wasn’t hers and the sperm wasn’t his, they didn’t think much of it—and nor did they think of their poor, distraught mother and what she might think of it.
“Of all the things!” she bellowed when she found out, and soon she called her favorite son. “Your brother and sister are determined to ruin me!” she cried to Timothy. “It was all supposed to be perfect! They were my little angels! But now I see you were the only angel I bore, weren’t you, Timothy? You’re my little angel!”
“Yes, Mother,” said Timothy Rogers.
He had married well: the boss’s daughter at a Fortune 500 company he was now about two years from running. She was nearly as vapid and shallow and conceited as he was, but she was just starting to realize there was more to him than met the eye. When she actually caught him with their youngest daughter, when she saw what he’d been doing to her, all the pieces fell together and something changed inside her as she made a decision about him in the last few moments of her life.
Stephanie wasn’t surprised when she heard he’d been arrested. She was shocked, shaken, but some part of her had always known what he was capable of, could almost remember…
William was there with their mother when they heard the verdict. He knew Timothy had tried to cover it up, had tried to make it look like a burglary gone wrong, but his brother had never been as smart as their mother had always made him think he was.
She insisted on seeing him before the sentence was carried out. She begged him to tell her the truth, to tell her that he was innocent, but he couldn’t do both of those things, so instead he told her “I had to do it, Mother. Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? Think of what that whore could’ve done to our family name!”
Dorothy never did accept any responsibility for spoiling her favorite child, for teaching him that appearances and perceptions were more important than real people’s lives.
“Why do you think she doesn’t get it?” William asked his sister.
Stephanie shrugged and sighed. “She has a very different idea of what Family means. Family is blood to her. It’s a name. It’s a history and a future. But that’s not what family is, is it? We know that. You and me? We know that family is the people that we choose to share it with. Family is a present.”