Another Legacy 1.23

Kiki walking down the hall

Four years have passed since Kiki came to live with Case and Ira, and the adoption still hasn’t gone through. Because Case won’t lie to her, and because of the social worker lady’s visits a few times each year, and because she’s a super good eaves-dropper, she knows she’s a foster child, and she knows that this means that where she is now might not be her forever home, and Case and Ira might not always be her really-tall-people. She could get taken away. She knows this.

It’s sad for her because she loves it here. This is her home, even if it’s not her forever home, and Case and Ira are her tall people, even if they’re not her birth mom and dad.

But she feels it’s even more sad for Case and Ira, because they love her. They tell her that every day, and she can see it in how they look at her, which is like how they look at each other, and she can taste it in the food that Case makes, especially the veggie dumplings with the just-so crinkled sides. It would be too sad for them if she ever had to leave, and she can’t bear that they would ever be that sad.

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

They don’t force her to always be happy. They leave room so that she can be sad sometimes. She thinks that, being an orphan, and a foster kid, and not having a forever home, it’s only natural that she be sad sometimes.

When she’s sad, they don’t try to talk her out of it. They just create this warm space, like a cloud she can live in, but not a bad cloud, a warm one, that glows pink, like sunset-pink–rose–inside, and she can stay in there until that warm pink rosy glow is all inside of her, and then she only smiles. That’s the kind of space they make for her.

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

She asks them sometimes how her mom and dad died. “From gentrification,” Case says. And she comes to learn that that means having to leave your home and get a new job and getting in an accident and then through medicine and drinking somehow dying. And she can understand that if one person dies, another might, too. She thinks it must mean that her mom and dad loved each other a lot.

“Angels are made of light,” Ira told her once.

So when she sees the flame of the candle, she thinks it’s her mom and dad. She always has, as long as she remembers. And she talks to them that way, too, through the flame.

“I’m doing really well here,” she whispers to them in the candle-flame one night. “I’m thriving, that’s what the social worker lady tells Cay-Cay and Ira.”

The candle flickers, as it always does when she talks to them in it.

“Is it true you can make wishes come true?” she asks them for the hundredth time. “I think it must be. I read that somewhere. If so, will you make my wish come to be? Will you make this my forever home?”

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

She waits and watches for an answer. Maybe it’s just the wind, but the flame begins dancing, and in her heart of hearts she hears a promise of “yes.”

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

“Thank you,” she whispers. “Cay-cay says that you will always be my mom and dad, no matter what happens. And Ira says that you are angels, always watching over me. And I think, if I can live here always, and grow up here, that you will feel really happy and proud of the person I grow up to be. You can’t help that, right? Cause I know how I feel in my heart, and since you’re there, you know how I feel, too.”

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

“Would you like a story, Kiki? Or would you prefer to sit alone?” Ira calls from the doorway.

“Oh, a story!” Kiki replies. “Is it Heidi?”

It is, and it is also Kiki’s favorite story, this little tale of an orphan girl who finds a new home in the mountains with a stern man who comes to love her.

“‘God is good to all of us,'” Ira reads. “‘He knows what we need better than we do. And just because he thinks it is better not to give you what you want right now doesn’t mean he isn’t answering you. You shall have what you ask for but not until the right time comes.‘”

Ira reads to Kiki

“Do you think that’s true?” Kiki asks Ira.

“Well, I’m not sure I believe in God,” Ira responds, “or at least, not that type of wish-fulfilling God. More like, you know, a universal consciousness, the spark of divine. But anyway, yeah, I think that principle is true, the bit about the right-timing, and all.”

Ira reads to Kiki

“I think so, too,” Kiki says. “I think sometimes, things are what we think are bad–and maybe they really are bad–but it’s not like the end of the universe. Sometimes, it’s just that we need a little bit of time, and then something really good happens.”

“Like we have to get ready for it,” Ira adds. “Ding! Time’s right! Cake’s done! Take the cake out too early and it’s a gooey mess!”

Ira reads to Kiki

Case joins them.

“I don’t have cake in the oven,” he says. “Are you hungry?”

“No,” Ira and Kiki giggle.

The family sitting at a table

“We were just talking about timing adjustments,” Ira says, “of the universe.”

“All things at the right time, eh?” Case asks.

Kiki has stopped listening to the words. She’s bathing in the sounds of the warbles, and that pink-rosy-glow forms a safe bubble over them and the light inside swishes and swirls, and she thinks that if anything is forever, and she actually knows that nothing is, but if anything were, it would be this. This moment of rosy glow.

The family sitting at a table

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Another Legacy 1.22

Kiki playing with blocks at night

Kiki’s toddlerhood was extremely challenging for me to play, not because of anything to do with Kiki. She was a dream: Her trait is inquisitive, so she was always happy learning, and in fact, was happy most of the time, even if her sleep and hunger veered towards red.

The first challenge was meeting those needs while trying to level up her skills. She needed so much sleep! And we didn’t have a tub on the lot, so it took a lot of time to keep her hygiene up.

Plus, after the composting toilet fiasco, the family funds were drained. We had to sell the tent, a bunch of party items (like the electronic piano and the Freezer-Bunny bar), and several of Ira’s paintings to scrounge up enough Simoleans to pay the bills.

And then there was the lag. Oh, my. The lag. Perhaps it’s because there’s a bee hive on the lot and each of those buzzing objects takes memory. Maybe it’s because it was fall, so the processing was consumed by falling leaves, and falling raindrops. Or maybe it was just because.

My mouse was giving out, too, though I didn’t realize it at the time. So I would click, and nothing. So much in-game time ticking away, and Kiki getting closer to becoming a child, and her skills still needing leveling, and her sleep meter ticking down to red, and even though I’ve queued actions, the lag is making everything take forever! And in real life, I was stressed as the date for my retirement approached, and the game did not provide relief!

But Kiki skills, nonetheless, maxing everything except imagination and communication, which reach the high fours.

Kiki playing with blocks at night

And Harvest Day comes, and three more gnomes spawn, including Grim Reaper Gnome, just to remind us that there are worse things than lag, a failing mouse, and pre-retirement stress!

Harvest Day gnomes

And the family continues to be as charming as ever.

Kiki is surrounded by angelic gnomes in the garden

Aadhya drops by on Harvest Day evening, with a gift for Ira, “because you’re such a good friend and neighbor.”

It’s a packet containing a rare seed.

“I’m not sure if I’m a good enough gardener to grow this,” Ira says.

“That’s OK!” replies Aadhya. “Case is. He can plant it. It’s for both of you.”

Aadhya hands Ira a gift

It’s a Death Flower, and it’s just the right season for planting it.

While Kiki naps (again), Case thinks about this strange gift. It’s thoughtful, touching even.

Case sitting on Kiki's bed

We think of flowers as symbolizing new life, new beginnings. But a Death Flower?

It doesn’t symbolize the end–it symbolizes protection, an escape clause.

All his life, Case never had an escape clause–it was always “accept the consequences, no matter what comes.” And he thinks it still is probably that way. But the idea of an escape–the idea that we could be protected, even from Death. There is something of the myth and mystery in that, even if it all hinges on delusion.

Case sitting on Kiki's bed

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Another Legacy 1.21

Case sits on Kiki's bed while she sleeps

On most days, Case works from home.

But sometimes, like this particular day, when he’s supervising the installation of dew collectors at a tree nursery across the bay, he has to go on site.

“It’ll be fine,” he tells Kiki in the early morning while she sleeps. “Ira will be here with you all day, and when I get back, you’ll be well fed and well rested and happy. Learn a lot, and I’ll see you soon!”

Case in work uniform and hard hat heading out

But all day is a long time to be without Case.

“Where he? Come home?” Kiki asks Ira.

“He’s at work,” Ira says. “I know. It’s different. He usually works at home. But it’s OK. He’ll be back at supper time.”

Ira and Kiki

Kiki and Ira spend the day playing with stacking blocks, talking, eating yummy snacks that Case left for them in the fridge, and playing tag. Before Case makes it home, Kiki is too tired.

“The little dragon went to sleep happy,” Ira read, “because soon, the big dragon would be home, with jewels and treasures, and when the little dragon would wake up, the cave would shine in splendor!”

Ira and Kiki

When Case gets home, he finds that the dew collectors on their own lot have sprung leaks, so before changing from his work clothes and checking on Kiki, he fixes them.

“It’s like being your own handyman!” Ira says.

Case fixing the dew collector

“How was the day, Ira?” Case asks, when he finishes and puts away the tools. “How was Kiki?”

“She was a delight!” Ira says. “Like always. She did the funniest thing. She went up to each plant and talked to it, just like you do. She held out her hand, like it was a pad of paper, and used her finger like a pen. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked her. ‘Research,’ she said!”

Case and Ira at the chess table

“It makes sense,” Case replies. “She’s imprinted us. You know, bonded. Like baby ducks. So we show her what grown up versions of our species do.”

Case and Ira at the chess table

Ira hadn’t thought of that. She wonders, but doesn’t say aloud, what Kiki would have learned about the actions and behaviors of people if her birth parents had lived, or if she’d been taken in by others.

“It’s Kiki’s good fortune, then,” she says. “It’s also a really big responsibility.”

Ira has some inclinations of her own that she wouldn’t want Kiki to pick up. She’d better learn to be a good role model.

Being a good role model isn’t something that Case needs to worry about. It just comes naturally to him, Ira figures.

At the end of the day, Case in his work uniform and hard hat sits at the foot of Kiki's bed

She watches them together and wonders, again, what it would feel like to have someone like Case taking care of you. But then, she realizes, that’s exactly what she has now. Living here, being part of this family, Case watches over all of them.

At the end of the day, Case in his work uniform and hard hat sits at the foot of Kiki's bed

The bees need tending, so in the cool of the evening, Ira dons the beekeeping suit and checks on the hive, harvesting the extra honey. The bees hum with good health.

When Aadhya drops by, Ira’s sitting at the chess table. She’s hoping to earn a chess scholarship, next time she applies to college, but it seems an unrealistic goal. She’s just not that good at the game.

“Where’s Case?” Aadhya asks. “Usually I see both of you out here playing chess.”

Ira in her beekeeping suit at the chess table with Aadhya

“He’s gone to sleep. Big day.”

“You know,” Aadhya confesses, “I used to feel so jealous whenever I came over.”

“Jealous why?”

“I wanted to be in this family. I wanted your role.”

Ira in her beekeeping suit at the chess table with Aadhya

“But I don’t really have a ‘role,'” Ira says, “not like that.”

“Yes,” says Aadhya, “you do. You’re part of this family.”

Ira in her beekeeping suit at the chess table with Aadhya

Ira reviews this conversation after Aadhya leaves.

Are they a family? She figures they are.

Does she have a role? She can’t imagine, now that she thinks about it, how the family would balance, if she weren’t here. There were plenty of times when she would pick up the slack, just naturally fill in when something needed doing, like caring for Kiki today and for the beehive tonight.

She guesses she does have a role, even if it doesn’t have a proper name.

Ira sits at the table outside

Room-mate. Lodger. Best friend. Auntie. None of those names fit.

A foster child. Two friends, who adore each other, living together.

A whole world, wrapped inside this tiny house, with three people, intertwined.

It wasn’t how she imagined her life would turn out.

But then, she couldn’t imagine it being any better, at this moment.

Ira sits at the table outside

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Another Legacy 1.20

Kiana looking upset as the fire blazes

Terrible things can happen.

Since my post on Dec. 5, when I reported that the COVID-19 death count in our county had reached 722, the count has risen by 362 bringing the total to 1,084, in less than a month.

The COVID-19 death rate in our county has climbed to 103.76 per 100,000, and the case rate is, stunningly, 7,093.9 per 100,000. These are terrifying and tragic statistics.

The holidays have interrupted reporting, so these numbing stats are, inevitably, lower than actual.

As a culture and a species, we grasp for optimism through exceptionalism–It can’t happen to us. It can’t happen here. It can’t happen this year. It’s 2021; everything is different now. Biden was elected; good things will happen.

But the tragedy continues. The disinformation campaign, in the political and public health spheres, escalates with predictable, but nearly incomprehensible, results.

Case putting out fire

Exceptionalism doesn’t apply to viruses or disasters or political corruption. Or video games.

In my game, Ira caught on fire–again. I thought of quitting without saving, deleting the cursed compostable toilet, avoiding disaster for my exceptional family.

Ira on fire

But I kept playing. It’s a legacy. We’ll deal with the consequences.

Fire blazing

Around the time of this game play, Deira’s game experienced a similar disaster, which resulted in the death of Aria, everyone’s favorite Sim.

While I was playing, I realized that Ira might die. It would be terrible and hard, especially for Kiana, who, in story, at least, has already experienced so much loss.

Case puts out fire

But Case pulled through. He, once again, put out the fire.

Ira’s white jogging suit was a disaster, but she survived without a scorch.

Case carries Kiana out

“I’m getting rid of that toilet,” Case says. “We’ll put in regular plumbing. Find a way to draw from the city water line, and have an old-fashioned flush toilet. At least it won’t catch on fire every summer.”

“I still can’t believe you saved my life,” Ira says, “again! Remember the last fire? This one was worse.”

“It was worse because Kiki’s here now. Can you imagine? That little girl does not need another trauma in her life.”

“She was retraumatized for sure,” Ira says. “I still hear her cries in my imagination. Is she sleeping OK?”

“Yeah,” Case says. “She calmed right down, and she fell right to sleep. She sings while she falls asleep. It’s the most amazing thing.”

Case and Ira talking

But it takes awhile to get the sewage and water lines dug and connected, and to fill out all the paperwork, and to save up money for the improvements, and before the summer is over, during another heat wave, the compost combusts, again.

Ira on fire again

Case is there in an instant. He’s had practice, by now.

Case putting fire out again

But this time, Ira’s not wearing her jogging suit. She’s wearing a negligee made from synthetic fibers that sends out wild purple flames and the scent of burning plastic.

Kiana upset

“No!” Kiki cries.

Her world crashes in on her. It’s dark and she’s alone and she’s hungry and she’s cold and there is no one.

Case puts out fire

Just because you’re little doesn’t mean you can’t love. And she loved from the moment she looked out at the world and into eyes she can’t remember now. And now, the dark eyes she can remember are swirling in flames.

Kiana cries

And she spent a long, long time in a place with white walls and white suits and faces with smiles that didn’t smile and noises all the time and she has known three places and one was taken from her and one, sweet days, she left, and now this place, home, is ablaze and Ira is at the center of the fire.

Kiana upset

But Ira doesn’t die. She is an exception, and Case is a hero, again, Kiki gets fed and cleaned up and played with and read to and tucked in. And life goes on.

“I hear you had another fire,” Aadhya says when she drops by one afternoon shortly after. “I mean, another-another one.”

Ira and Case sitting at the chess table

“Yeah, but Case put it out,” Ira says. “Our hero.”

“It was nothing,” Case says. “Anybody would’ve done the same.”

Ira and Case sitting at the chess table

“Being a hero is all fine and good,” Aadhya says, “but if you guys weren’t so careless, there’d be no need for heroics. I mean, dudes! You’re gonna retraumatize that little girl all over again. When are you going to grow up and get rid of the combustible toilet?”

“On Tuesday!” Case replies.

Aadhya yells at them

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Another Legacy 1.19

Kiki walks into the garden looking sad

Kiki isn’t always happy. Sometimes, she wakes up from a nap, and no one is in the house, and she is alone again. Always, there’s that little fear–will they come back?

The fear doesn’t make her more shy–it draws her out to meet new people.

Kiki talks with Aadhya

Most of the people she meets are really tall. She has to squint when she looks at them, even when she wears her sunglasses, because their heads are up in the sun.

Aadhya looks really tall, from Kiki's perspective

Conversations work best, she finds, when she pretends she’s a kitten. Kiki the kitten. Really tall people like kittens, so their voices grow soft when she meows to them and bats her paws.

Kiki talks with Aadhya

But she doesn’t have to pretend with Cay-Cay. He likes her even when she is a very small girl, even when her words don’t come out right, and even when she is sad and needs a hug.

Kiki finds Case in the garden to give him a hug

He hugs her when she’s happy, too, though, so she learns early that she doesn’t have to be sad for him to notice her. He will notice her anyway.

“I think Kiana is adjusting really well,” Ira says.

Case and Ira talking in the kitchen

“You’re doing all the right things, Case, to help her feel at home with us.”

“I think about what she’s been through a lot,” Case says. 

Case and Ira talking in the kitchen

“I know good things happen when you think,” Ira replies, more to herself, than anyone.

“I’ve been reading about attachment theory.”

Of course he has.

“Do you know,” he continues, “that even if early attachments are interrupted, it doesn’t mean that the child won’t ever form attachments again? And it doesn’t even really mean they’ll be scarred for life?”

Case and Ira talking in the kitchen

“I sort of figured as much,” Ira chuckled. “You’ve got all the right components to help somebody feel like they belong.”

Case and Ira talking in the kitchen

“Consistency, warmth, availability,” he adds. “Researchers say that these approaches help even adults who have had attachment issues.”

“Don’t I know it,” says Ira. “You’re always there, always kind, without being smothering. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a little kid who has an adult around who’s like that. Kiki’s really lucky.”

Case and Ira talking in the kitchen

“I think we should adopt her,” Case says. “Or I should, if they won’t let both of us. They said that they need to look for her family, because social services always tries to keep families together, whenever they can, so they’re looking for grandparents or uncles, aunts, cousins, that sort of thing. But the social worker also told me that they didn’t think they’d find any, or any that would qualify to take her. So there’s a chance we could adopt.”

“Do they let single people adopt?” Ira asks. “We could always get married if you had to have a spouse for that.”

“I wouldn’t want to,” Case replies. “It would feel weird. The social worker says there shouldn’t be any obstacle to being single, all things considered. But they need to finish their search, for the paperwork, then I need to prove that this really is a stable home.”

Ira feels confident that it will work out, even if it takes some time. Case isn’t ready to let himself feel optimistic. He’s not sure if he can trust things to work out when other people and their rules are involved. But he’s got to give it a try. He can’t imagine this tiny person becoming a really tall person anywhere but here, with him and Ira.

Case sitting in Kiki's bed

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Winter: On Wing and Prayer

Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge - Veteran, Nov-Dec 2020

This story is part of the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, coordinated and hosted by the amazing LisaBee. Please read the other stories, then, if you’d like share your votes for your favorites in the Veteran and Novice categories. You’re also encouraged to write and submit your own Sims short story! Deadline is Dec. 30. Note: Links to other stories and voting will be available at Lisabee’s blog on Jan. 1, 2021. Polls close Jan. 6, 2021

Stack of boxes of decorations in a dark hall

I can’t bring myself to decorate this year. I went to the attic, lugged down the boxes of construction paper chains and clove-studded styrofoam balls we made, my sisters and I, twenty years ago, but the boxes sit in the hall, as closed up as I feel inside.

My therapist tells me that grief is harder for sons and daughters, like me, who were emotionally neglected children. The only mood acceptable in our childhood home was cheerfulness stirred with an unhealthy dose of denial. It got us through with the illusion of being a happy family, especially during the holidays, when our good cheer ramped up with excitement and tension. But it didn’t teach us how to deal with other feelings.

If there’s anything this year has demanded, it’s been to learn to deal with those other things. That sounds too glib.

Everything sounds glib to me now, for the deepest words, the only ones that come close to touching this year, they’re buried shut.

Sometimes, I feel if I could only pull out one word, or two, that could express something of what we’re all feeling, I would be OK.

Looking sad

I figure I heard my dad say, maybe, 65,000 words–I mean, throughout my lifetime. Ten words a day, on average, for 18 years. Then, 10 words a day each time I saw him, which was maybe two or three times a year after that, for the next 10 years. And now, he’s silent forever. It’s not many words.

I must have heard my mom say 65,000 words a year–if not a day. You’d think the silence of her voice would be louder, but it’s my dad’s silence I notice more.

I don’t think I ever heard what I wanted to hear from either of them, not from my dad’s reticence nor my mom’s loquaciousness. And now, I won’t ever.

They died in April, a week apart, on ventilators, both of them, back in the days when doctors didn’t know to prone patients, back the first time hospitals were full, back when we thought that life would return to normal by now.

There’s no normal anymore. A few weeks after the Zoom memorial, the editor told all of us we’d be working remotely through June 2021, at least. The server team needed to stay where they could VPN in easily to the servers, but the writers, like me, could work from anywhere.

At the beginning of summer, when I couldn’t stand the idea of staying in my apartment through the heat of July and August, I moved up here to our family cabin. WiFi is surprisingly good, thanks to the State Park headquarters.

I tried to talk my sisters into bringing their households up here. We could form our own bubble, I figured, and I’d get to be with my niece and nephew. Good place for kids.

But my big sister was too busy with the kids’ remote learning, and her doctor husband couldn’t really leave his clinic. My little sister didn’t want to leave her Instacart job. “People count on me,” she said. “Maybe it’s not an important job, but it keeps older people safe.” Her boyfriend was earning overtime in the Amazon Fulfillment Center.

So, I’ve been isolating here by myself.

Jasper making sandwich

Sometimes my little sister and I will meet up online at ESO and run a dungeon or two. Sometimes her boyfriend will join us. We’ll talk on discord while we fight Daedra and Dremora.

But there are more nights when I’m alone. I don’t know if solitude helps processing grief or makes it harder. All I know is I have so much time to think that sometimes I can’t help but feel.

Crying on the couch

It was my little sister who turned me onto the discord channel for Covid Losers. Everyone there has lost someone or something to the pandemic. There are a lot of people like our family who lost parents. Then there are others who lost jobs, houses, plans, graduations, weddings, or their health.

It’s ripped into all of our lives.

Writing on the computer

Somehow, that doesn’t make me feel worse. It’s not schadenfreude, for I’m not happy at their suffering. It’s just that, I’m not so alone.

Brewing coffee

I wouldn’t wish for anyone to lose anyone or anything.

But talking to the others on discord, I realize that we aren’t losing alone. It’s like, we haven’t been singled out.

Eating alone at the counter

It’s swept through all our lives.

Drinking coffee

It’s winter now. Solstice. It’s dark by 4:15, and the silence is greater than I’d imagined.

I’ve been remembering how, even though my dad didn’t really talk, he used to sing.

Standing outside at night

He liked to sing happy songs, “Mares Eat Oats.” But he liked to sing hymns, too, especially the tragic ones. I must have heard him sing more words than I ever heard him speak.

When I was little, I used to listen for his bass, winding through the house. I could feel the low notes in my bones. Sometimes I sing now, in a voice that sounds like his.

On the solstice, I go out into the dark night. I think of everyone I know who has lost someone, something. I think of my two sisters and their households. I think of the countless people I don’t know, who have lost, too, and how this darkness holds all of us, in its silence, the stilled voices of those who no longer speak.

Profile in night

And in a voice that sounds like my dad’s, I sing into the darkness:

Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide thee
Only Thou art holy

Looking out into the peaceful darkness

As I sing, words don’t matter. It’s just voice, the deep resonance, that reaches out, fills the space, calls in memory, pulls out feelings. Around the world, people cry, and sing, and laugh, and weep some more, and this darkness surrounds them, with their living, breathing voices filling the emptiness.

This is the darkest night. Starting tomorrow, days will be longer.

Another Legacy 1.18

Ira stands at the mailbox

This is the day. Ira can feel it. She’s waited for months to hear back on her scholarship and university admissions applications, and nothing. Not a thing, all through the process of Case getting licensing to become a foster parent. Not a word while they’ve helped Kiki settle in. Just silence. It’s been hard to wait, but Case reminds her that bureaucracy takes time, and that doesn’t mean it’s not working, it’s just working slowly.

Too slow for Ira. But today’s the day. She is sure of it.

And it is. But it’s not the day she’d hoped for. She gets not an acceptance letter, not two award letters for scholarships, but rejection. Dismissal. Turned away. Doors shut. Worse than waiting, the worst news. Not knowing was better than this.

Ira looks dejected

How could she have been so foolish, to let herself dream? To believe that she, Ira Mahajan, could become the first generation in her family to attend college, and not just community college, but university, and not just any university, but a prestigious honors arts program? She was a fool to think it.

Ira looks discouraged

She’d been swept away by being around so many inspiring people–Case and Tina Tinker, who could do anything they set out to do, as if they’d never heard the word “obstacle,” as if just wishing it made you good enough, and so she believed that she was good enough, too, for she wished it, and she thought, for these few months of waiting, that she could be something other than a paparazzi who quit, someone who stayed at home and did, well, nothing. But she should have listened to her family and followed their lead. No one in their family amounted to anything, and why should she be any different? It hurt worse to try and fail than never try at all–that was the secret that her family knew all too well, and she was a fool to think anything different.

I am a community college instructor. I’ve been teaching writing, English comp, and literature at the community college for the past 25 years. It’s my passion. Many of us, including Jill Biden, teach in the community college because of women like Ira: first-generation college students, returning to their education after an interlude. Many of these students feel that they’re at a disadvantage–and they can experience tremendous cultural dissonance as they navigate the regimented scope of bureaucracy and intellectual norms that circumscribe the community college environment–and at the same time, they bring with them a wealth of experience, ideas, and latent enthusiasm that is unmatched.

There is a moment that often happens for these students in the writing and English comp class where their reading mind turns on, their critical thinking becomes engaged, and they find their voice. Suddenly, their passion is ignited–and it’s a passion that stems from a lifetime of living, of being unheard, and often unseen–or at least, not seen for who they truly are–and now, they are finding that their words take light on the paper or computer screen, and others take notice–but what’s even more important, they are hearing themselves. They have something to say, and their words resonate.

I know, for these students, that making it onto the path that leads to this moment can involve a few missteps. Maybe they had to drop out for a semester or two, due to the birth of a child, a husband getting laid off, a sick kid, a death in the family. Maybe they failed this very same class a few times, or had to take an incomplete. But they stick with it. They find, at last, a welcoming class, an approach that clicks with them. The kids are well. The money for rent, or gas, or food, is coming in. Nobody dies that semester. And they make it.

So I’m not concerned about Ira having a setback along the way.

Case isn’t, either.

“That sucks,” he says, when she tells him the news.

Case talks to Ira

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Ira replies.

“You were thinking you’d go to college,” Case says. “You don’t need to, you know. You’re exactly perfect just as you are. You’re the most intelligent person I know, and you don’t need to prove anything. At the same time, college is cool. It feels good to use your mind in that way. And research is the most fun. But just ’cause you didn’t get in this time, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever get in.”

“Yeah, right,” Ira says. “What university would want a loser like me?”

Ira is still upset

“You’re not a loser,” Case says. “You’re my winner. You make everything possible here.”

She snorts. He explains how he’d never have tried for his foster parent license if it hadn’t been for her. If she hadn’t been there, all these years, to encourage him and listen to him and help keep him on his path, he probably would’ve left this job and this town years ago.

He tells her about a colleague, one of the directors at the NGO, actually, who has a Ph.D. but who got rejected from university five times before getting accepted.

“It’s just… it’s like a game,” Case says. “You gotta know the rules. The right words to write. The right references, the right stuff to put on your application. You’ve got most of it already, and the skills you still need to develop, you’ve got time to work on. We’ve got a few months before the next round of applications are due. And I’ll help this time! We’ll get that application squared away so you get accepted right off the bat!”

“You think so?”

“Sure! Piece of cake!”

Ira and Case talking--Ira is inspired!

Of course she doesn’t have to go to college. She’s amazing as she is. But she wants her moment. She wants to find, for herself, that she can speak and be heard. That she can read those academic journals, like Case reads, and make sense of them. That she can see how where they are now, in time, and history, and culture, and dialogue, and collapse, and rebirth, and rise, and decay–how it all fits into the big scheme. She wants to feel her moment in this grand intellectual life.

And Case says she can do it. And she thinks, maybe she can.

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Another Legacy 1.17

Case sitting on Kiki's bet

In the morning, it’s silent. Kiki sleeps. Case listens to Joe Hisaishi’s “One Summer’s Day,” played by Hisaishi himself on piano, looping over and over again.

He swallows happiness with his vegan BLT. Tomatoes are the happiest, and crisp lettuce is a close second.

When Ira grabs a plate of leftover grilled fruit for breakfast, her #samefood, Case gives up the best seat in the house, so she can have it.

Ira sitting on Kiki's bed

“It’s nice how the sun comes in, right?” he says. “This is the best window in the house.”

Case and Ira talking

Kiki’s breaths come soft and slow, like a kitten’s. Something about having a small, warm, sleeping body next to us brings a comfort that can’t be found anywhere else.

Ira dimly remembers being that size, sleeping on her dad’s chest, rising and falling with each of his breaths. When I was Kiki’s size, my dad used to tuck me in by “squeezing me like toothpaste.” I’d crawl down to the foot of the bed, under the covers, and he’d push me up by the toes, until my head reached the pillow. I slept so soundly, under heavy blankets, with the soft moon shining in my own window over my little bed.

Ira looking happy and thoughtful

“Chirp, chirp!”

“Is there a baby bird in here?” Ira asks, as Kiki stirs.

“It’s Kiki!” Kiana laughs.

Kiki wakes up

“Where Cay?” Kiana asks.

“Case, this little bird wants you!” Ira calls.

Ira hears Kiki chirp

“Not a bird,” she says.

“Would you like a story, Kiana?” Case asks.

It’s the best thing.

Case reads to Kiki

About halfway through the story, the odors in the house are not the best thing.

“Let’s finish the story later,” Case says, “and get you cleaned up first.”

Case and Kiki looking happy

“No!” Kiki yells. “No clean!”

“Fu-” yells Case, “–udge!” Ugh, it’s their first morning, and he’s messed up already. What to do? Yes, stories need to be finished, and it sucks to have them interrupted midway, but also, diapers need to be changed, and some odors just can’t be allowed to linger! And what do you do when everything is important and needs doing now? Case should have realized he was not up for this. What was he thinking?

Kiki is mad and Case swears

He remembered when he was a kid, even a little one, how annoying it was to be interrupted when he was focusing on something he enjoyed. He also remembered how he hated to have his clothes changed. He had to choose them and put them on himself. If he didn’t the socks would somehow get on crooked, and the seams would be all wrong, and buttons would be pressing against his skin. It was awful.

Sit. Breathe. Case closes his eyes. Breathe. Breathe. Sit. Breathe.

OK. Really, he needs to change her, that’s more important. And he’ll either let her put on her clothes herself, or he’ll do it so carefully, that the heels of the sock match up with her little heels, and the toes of the sock are all straight, with no weird wrinkles, and the seams are not crooked, and everything feels right.

And it goes just as he plans. She’s mad through the whole thing, pouting, glaring at him. But he focuses on doing the entire process right, in the most comfortable way, and when he’s done, he asks if she wants more story, and she replies, “Hungry.”

Her vegan BLT makes her forget all about being mad. Crumbs fly! Vegan mayo is sweet and goopy! And lettuce! The sandwich is delicious, but it’s even more fun to smoosh.

“Good to see you enjoying your meal!” Case says.

“Yum-yum!” replies Kiki, angry no more.

Kiki comes outside. She's not mad anymore.

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Another Legacy 1.16

Kiana reaching out for Case

It takes a few months to complete CPR and First Aid training, put references in order, fill out the application and have it processed, and get licensed for Foster Care, but it only takes a few hours for to bond. By the time they step off the bus from San Myshuno, after a two-hour ride spent telling stories, eating snacks, watching for horses and cows out the window, and talking about home, with its new cozy canopy bed, fridge full of apple slices, raisins, cake, and peanut butter, and garden thrumming with bees and scented with flowers, Kiana has become fast friends with Cay–or as she sometimes likes to call him, “Cay-Cay.”

“Up! Cay-Cay!”

Kiana has bright red hair and red-framed sunglasses

But instead of picking her up, Case kneels down and wraps his arms around her. He wants her, even at such a tiny size, to feel that she can see him eye-to-eye, that she can stand on her own feet, supported by him.

Case hugs Kiana

“This home, Cay?” she asks.

“Yup, Kiana. We’re home.”

Kiana asks if she's home

And as those words leave him, Case feels butterflies. Happiness shouldn’t be this strong, and for a minute, he wobbles as he stands. And just as quick as the happiness, a dash of fear–what if he can’t keep her?

“Kiki coming, Cay-Cay!” she says, and Case pushes aside the worry, swallows the happiness, and steadies himself. He’s gotta be strong now. She’s counting on him.

Case smiles so widely as Kiana toddles after him

“Snack, Kiana?” he asks when they’re inside. 

She’s grabbed the tablet and all her attention is focused. 

“You like to read, eh, Kiana?” he says.

Kiana sitting on the floor playing with a table, while Case sits on her bed

“Kiki done reading!” and she jumps up and begins to dance, no music, just the little song she sings without words in a sol-mi tune.

Kiana stands up

Eventually, she asks for food, and Case makes her a peanut butter and banana sandwich, cut in little triangles. She gets the peanut butter all over her face and fingers, and Case finds a soft towel that he runs under the warm water. So gently, he wipes her cheeks, and wraps each tiny finger in the warm moist cloth. 

While Case washes the dishes, she wanders out the door. Case watches her through the window above the sink as she wobbles across the yard to where Ira stands in the dusk, finishing a small painting.

“Who you?” asks Kiana.

Outside at night, Kiana wanders over to talk with Ira, who's painting

“I’m Ira. Who are you?”

“I know Ira!” Kiana says. “Ira Cay-Cay friend. Kiki. Kiki friend Cay-Cay, too. Friend Ira.”

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Another Legacy 1.15

Ira and Case talking

“That’s tragic,” Ira says.

Case has been explaining the results of the tracking project that the community labor specialist and community resettlement director at his NGO have been working on. They’ve had a few successes–people who actually have come back to take jobs installing solar panels or overseeing community gardens. By far, they’ve had more misses–people they simply haven’t been able to track down. And then there have been profound disappointments, such as the situation Case is telling Ira about.

At first, it seemed like everything was going to work out OK for the Donovans. Pete Donavan got a job driving a truck. His wife became pregnant and quit her job as a waitress. Pete was making enough money for them to put a down payment on a trailer to live in. Then Pete got into an accident at work. The rig was totaled, and he nearly was, too. His back was hurt so bad that he was prescribed pain medication, and he became addicted to opioids. He died from an accidental overdose. His wife did, too. Or so they said. Her blood alcohol level was pretty high. Their baby, now a toddler, survived, and had been taken into state custody. She was waiting for placement in foster care. That was a few months ago.

“I can’t bear thinking about her there,” Case says. “I want to do something.”

Ira and Case talking

“I think I should take her,” Case says.

Ira and Case talking

Ira just looks at him.

Ira and Case talking

“As a foster parent,” Case explains. “She’s going into foster care, and I think I should be the foster parent.”

Ira and Case talking

“Being a foster parent is kind of a big deal,” Ira says.

“I know,” Case replies. “I’ve been talking to Angie about it. She’s the resettlement director. She says it can be done.”

“But aren’t there, like, lines of people waiting to become foster parents?”

“Not according to Angie. To adopt, yes. But it’s too early to put Kiana, that’s her name, up for adoption. And there’s a shortage of foster parents.”

“But does she think you’d get approved?” Ira asks.

“Yes,” replies Case. “That’s the thing. She thinks I’d have a good chance. And she’d even help with the paperwork and references. She knows people at the agency.”

“Then I think you should do it,” Ira says.

Ira and Case talking

“You do?”

“Yes! And I’ll be here to help, too! Until university starts, that is. But that’s months away! I haven’t even gotten accepted yet. And once classes start, I’ll still have time to help with a little kid!”

Ira and Case talking

Ira continues explaining how much she likes kids and what a good idea she thinks it is and how, if it makes Case feel like he’s doing something right, then it must be the right thing.

Ira and Case talking

At this point, in my own creative process, I’m thinking about the ways that stories find us, when we’re writing SimLit, and that’s probably my favorite thing about it. For the last few chapters, I haven’t inserted my own voice or observations–I’ve been in storyteller mode, because there was a story that wanted to be come to life.

But where do these stories come from?

It’s an interplay between the themes I’m exploring or drawn to in my own life, the game theory demands of playing a legacy, and my interpretation of the autonomous actions, interactions, and expressions of the Sims.

Take this conversation for instance. Now, due to playing a legacy, I’m gearing up for another generation. Due to Case The Sim’s aromanticism and asexuality, it’s pretty clear that he won’t be initiating a romantic or sexual relationship autonomously or by whim. So, I’ve been considering adoption for a while. But what motive would make sense, for someone who gets a stronger dopamine shot from pursuing his special interests than from interacting with others? Clearly, doing the right thing and making a positive difference has become core to my interpretation of Case. This is also a theme that stirring in my life: it’s behind my early retirement, choosing to do the right thing for my household, rather than acquiescing to the social pressure my work places on me to return to the office during a raging pandemic. But nothing is that simple or easy, so I can turn this nut around over and over trying to find where to crack it.

And that’s what Case keeps doing, as he explores the personal, societal, and economic ramifications of the projects, plans, and actions he’s carried out as a project manager for the environmental NGO. You see, the thing is, Case really cares. I really care, too. I care about all the colleagues I likely won’t see again, unless I just happen to run into them in post-pandemic days, at the garden center or the natural foods store. Maybe Home Depot, if I decide to paint my front door all sorts of beautiful colors. I care about the website I’ve tended for the past 23 years, through so many redesigns and so many iterations of HTML. I care about fricking file naming conventions–what if the next person includes spaces in the name of  a PDF they’re posting? Or, worse yet, what if the PDF isn’t ADA-compliant? All these details that have been so important to me for so long.

So, certainly, the fate of a little orphaned girl is way more important than whether the next web editor forgets to add an alt tag to an image or embeds a video that hasn’t been closed captioned.

Writing helps me transfer my passion to someone else, to matters, albeit fictional, that are actually significant and make a difference. At a time when I am letting go of an area where I made a difference, and questioning whether that difference really mattered, developing this theme in fiction moves me forward in a way that’s healthy.

Ira and Case talking

And it’s not just me who’s going through this process.

Three of us, Deira, Shadami, and me, are playing and writing our legacies somewhat in tandem. They’ve observed connections in the creative process we’re all going through, also. For each of us, the legacy introduces different ways of being–people who are somehow different–and in our games and stories, we’re exploring how to get by with those differences.

So far, each legacy story is nontraditional, and each heir is building the legacy in a nontraditional way. We each have our own riff on the narrative structure, and this variation helps us see that even something as prescribed as a legacy story can twist into an exploration that is individual in nature.

Ira and Case talking

“So you’re supportive?” Case asks.

“I really am,” Ira replies. “I think it’ll be great.”

They’ve been talking so long that they’re both hungry, and Case heads to the icebox to make cucumber-and-mesclun sandwiches.

“What are you researching?” he asks Ira.

“I’m just looking up the legal requirements to become a foster parent,” she replies, “and also the wait period. It’s rather involved.”

“I know,” Case says. “Angie told me about it. There’s licensing, and inspection, and pre-training, and post-training. Oh, and CPR and first aid, too. But, you know, a family isn’t built in a day.”

Ira and Case talking

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