Yes, we’re talking about ER again. No, I have no regrets.
Rachel Greene, daughter of Mark Greene and his first wife, Jen, is a brat. That’s all I have to say. I know she’s a fictional character but she’s a brat. But watching Rachel grow up, at times, with me during my own childhood and seeing how she reacted to stressful situations as both a child and an adult with my own heavy emotional burden and doing my best to work through my trauma: mostly thanks to the assistance of medication and therapy. But looking at Rachel’s character made me feel something I haven’t felt for a fictional character in a while: resentment.
Rachel Greene is first seen in ER as a child in the middle of a less than kind divorce between her parents. Jen is tired of Mark working too hard being a literal damn doctor and Jen wants to be a lawyer for some reason. Of course their daughter is caught in the middle of the messy divorce as Jen moves to Milwaukee and uproots her daughter’s whole life so she can go be independent, I guess. Rachel doesn’t take the divorce well, no kid can, really. She misses her dad, her school and her life in Chicago.
Mark isn’t guiltless; he’s forgetful, scattered and constantly overworked being a literal damn doctor. He forgets her engagements, doesn’t know her new friends and is fairly out of touch in her life due to the divorce and trying to move on with his life. Rachel feigns illness once saying that her dad’s patients were the only ones that got his full attention. It’s a biting line but also, very true: Mark’s attention never fully belongs to anyone but his patients; it makes him a fantastic doctor but a less than great lover and parent.
By the time we see Rachel again, she’s a teenager and she is horrible. I guess because my teen years were relatively quiet and I never went through a seriously outward rebellious stage thanks to being clever enough to hide my indiscretions on internet forums and LiveJournal posts. She was hanging out with the wrong kind of boys, doing drugs, listening to obnoxious music (okay, same but not the point) and was back in Chicago with her dad, his new wife: Elizabeth (played by the badass Alex Kingston) and their new daughter, Ella. Mark finally found love and is dealing with the last parts of having brain cancer and has most of his family together. Nope, Rachel ruins a lot of that by just being an impudent teen. Her rebellion ends up with her baby half-sister nearly dying when the toddler finds Rachel’s drugs and is poisoned.
She gets what is effectively a slap on the wrist for nearly killing a baby and almost ruining her father’s second marriage because…you know…baby almost died. She continues to be a brat and gets her normal life as much as possible while everyone else has to deal with the fallout of her actions.
Fast forward and Mark’s cancer is back and he has precious little time. Rachel deals with it the way I’m assuming most normal teenagers would and she continues to be selfish until she is spirited away to Hawaii, where her father is from, to spend his final days together learning about their family history and legacy. And how does Rachel respond to this? By ignoring her father, stealing his medication that may I remind you he needs for his brain cancer, drinking, listening to more obnoxious emo music and sulking. The episode is called On the Beach and it’s a masterclass in making you hate a character. Towards the end, Elizabeth, who by this point in the series has no reason to even acknowledge that Rachel exists after almost killing her child, finally sits down with her and says she has to grow up and that it’s unfair her father is dying but to take the time she has.
That’s where the resentment came into play. You see, I didn’t get the chance to watch my father go quietly into that good sweet night. My father died alone, unceremoniously in the middle of the night patiently waiting for an ambulance outside of our apartment door as to not wake his family when he started feeling funny. I was woken up by my aunts who already knew the news but didn’t want to shatter my 12 year old world just yet. I was allowed to do something fun, to play the game like this was just a slightly less than normal day and then later I would be filled in properly on the events. I was told by my grieving mother that my father died and that my life was never going to be the same. I didn’t get the luxury of watching my father fade away on his own terms with dignity like Rachel did. And if I had the chance, I’d do anything to get the time she did with her father, knowing that he was dying, to tell stories, make memories and spend more time together than they ever would be able to if both were to go about their normal lives.
Watching that episode, watching Rachel waste time left me seething with hatred: if only I had that chance, if only I could, what I’d give and before I knew it I was angry at a fictional character. When at the end of the day, there’s no promise of what I’d do if I did have that time with my father. I can’t promise that at 12 I’d have the maturity to spend the time I so wish I had now at 30. I don’t know if I’d be better than Rachel; my resentment comes with the luxury of having decades of hindsight.
We see Rachel again a few times in the series before the end, she’s older and heading towards college. She’s still alternative in some ways, making all the choices a young adult with a less than stellar childhood does but she’s mellowed out and matured.
I’ve made my mistakes during my teen years, my young adults years and even now; I’m still learning and growing. My resentment and anger at Rachel is really resentment at myself and others. There’s a joke in my friend group that if trauma and having a less than great childhood is an excuse for bad behavior that we all deserve a Purge-style hunt once a year. I’ve been very strict in my approach to separate my bad behavior from my trauma. If I am excessively flirtatious or bad with men, I don’t blame my father’s death: that’s on me. If I am sullen and weepy: I don’t blame that on the insecure attachment of a child that had to parent their parents; I blame the current flavor of depression that day. And the way Rachel Greene is written, constantly using her less than great circumstances as an excuse for poor behavior; I just can’t stand it. Maybe it’s the white privilege that allows her to openly rebel and feel so outwardly when I was never given that chance; maybe it’s just jealousy, maybe it’s just grief but I learned so much about myself and how much I still have grow when I began to examine my feelings about the very fictional Rachel Greene.
I’ll end this post with Dr. Greene’s final coherent words to his daughter, words I hold in my heart since I couldn’t get meaningful last words from my father: be generous; be generous with your time and your love and your life. Just be generous.