Living Through the Years

An assignment for her sociology class leads Rachel to find out more about her family history, spanning nearly a century, from 1920s Chicago to present day Los Angeles.

When the stock market crashes, a man feels tormented after losing almost everything and leaving his family in poverty. And the only way to numb the awareness of his failures is by turning to alcohol.

Another seemingly happy young, successful father and husband struggles with his feelings for an African-American man who works for his wife's father, during a time when homosexuality is seen as a mental illness and racism is flagrant.

An addict tries to keep herself clean after she has a family but, as cocaine becomes the popular drug of choice, and a close friend dies, she falls hard back into her old habits.

And Rachel's own mother questions whether or not to keep her child after getting pregnant while attending university. That only opens up a whole argument about abortion she doesn't want to hear.

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She didn't even put her phone down during dinner. Using one hand to scoop up the forkfuls of Mexican rice, it allowed her to use the other to hold her phone. Her eyes didn't even steer away from the screen. She was too eager for every new message that popped up.

The comments had rolled in faster than they had before. She was being called nasty things. Awful things. Things that weren't true. And people would swallow it without any evidence. She was never the target of slut shaming. Now that she was, she saw how damaging it was, mentally and emotionally. What right did these people have calling her a slut or a whore?

Rachel didn't sleep around, but if she did, she didn't think the comments would have been warranted then either. Girls didn't deserve to be criticized for their sexuality. It made them feel ashamed, when there was no reason for them to be overwhelmed by that insecurity.

Why was this happening to her? This criticism was coming from her wearing a short skirt. Nothing else. Why did it get so out of hand?

"You know, if you put your phone on the table, it's not going to sprout legs and run away," her mother said, disrupting her concentration.

Finally, Rachel looked up, lowering her phone, but deliberately keeping it an angle so her mother couldn't see the screen.

"Sorry," she said, leaving the Instagram page she was on and setting her phone down.

"That's better. Dinner time isn't phone time," her mother said. "I know that sounds annoying, but I didn't want to see you staring at your phone the entire time we ate. What's so important that you can't even put your phone down for two seconds, anyway?"

"It's nothing," Rachel responded. She didn't feel right lying, but if she did disclose the truth, it would result in her mother's concern. This was a situation Rachel could resolve on her own without dragging her mother into it.

She collected another forkful of the rice. "What happened between you and dad?"

Her mother frowned at her, in the midst of chewing her food.

"I know it's a random question," Rachel said. She figured her mother probably felt uneasy with her abruptly bringing up that conversation, but she'd been wondering about it since she had lunch with her father.

"It is," her mother. "Why do you wanna know?"

"I have this essay for my sociology class,"

she replied. "I get to choose from a bunch of different topics, but there's this one where I get to choose four family members in history, and how they basically dealt with obstacles with the resources they had and how people were in that time period. I thought one of them could be you."

By the time she'd explained all of this, her mother was done chewing. "I'm hardly interesting enough to write about," she said. "I didn't accomplish that much."

"You did. You basically had to raise me by yourself, didn't you?" Rachel asked. "How involved was dad in the whole thing? I mean, he couldn't have been that supportive if you guys don't speak much now."

Her mother was digging into her meal with her fork. "Don't get me wrong, okay? Your dad is a great guy now, but back then, he was just a stupid kid. The reason I never told you about it was because I know you love him. And he loves you."

Rachel smiled. She appreciated her mother omitting those details to avoid potential pain. But she wasn't a kid anymore. And she wouldn't have asked if she couldn't endure the truth.

"You don't have to worry about that," she assured her mother. "I just want to know because I think it'd be good to write about."

"You're sure you don't want to write about your other relatives?" her mother asked, taking another bite of her food.

"Yeah... I mean, I do want to, but I want to write about you too. You had me when you were young, but you were the same age as grandma when she had you, weren't you? But things were different for both of you."

"I still don't think I've achieved that much. I didn't raise you on my own, you know. Your grandparents were both supportive. And I don't think I could have done it without them."

"Yeah, but it's still a big deal," Rachel argued. "A lot of other girls in that situation would've dropped out of college, but you didn't. You still went to school and still got a job. I think a lot of people use pregnancy as a setback, but you never saw it that way. You never saw... me as a setback." It sounded corny, she knew, but she was proud of her mother. That was a sentiment she didn't speak of enough.

"I see what you mean," her mother commented, after consuming the portion in her mouth. "How long do you have to do this assignment?"

"It's due in two weeks," Rachel replied.

"Okay, then we can set time aside to talk about it. I'll try to think of other relatives you can write about too."

"Thanks." Rachel collected some more rice atop her fork. "I don't think I even know much about our family history."

"There's a lot of interesting stuff," her mother said. "You could even ask your grandma. I think she'd love to share some stories. She's been through hell of a lot. A little more than I ever did."

"I've been wondering who else I should write about," Rachel said.

"Don't worry. I don't think I ever told you about your great grandparents. My mom's parents dealt with some... pretty interesting things."

"Interesting enough that it'll get me an A on my essay?" Rachel asked.

"Trust me, you'll get a good mark," her mother assured her.

Throughout the brief conversation, Rachel wasn't remotely tempted to stare at her phone even for a moment. But that distraction ended once the conversation was over. She glanced at her phone, momentarily, then decided the outcome would be disastrous.

At least, for now, she could pretend like it wasn't an issue.

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