Another Legacy, 2.1

After she loaded the boxes of her things, her easel, and a few mementos from home into the moving van they’d rented, Kiki took a moment to let all the feelings settle. This was the day she was going to college. She wasn’t sure when she’d be able to return home again, with her busy schedule on the soccer team, so each breath was something to savor. The fresh air of home!

She felt gratitude, mostly. Sure, she was scared, excited, nervous, anxious, sad, and homesick already, but she was also incredibly, amazingly, unbelievably full of gratitude.

Her scholarships covered most of the fees and living expenses, and family funds made up the little bit still needed. She wouldn’t have to take out student loans. She’d been given everything–a home, great role models, discipline, and belief in herself–from Case and Ira. She was ready for this, no matter how much of a challenge it was.

After unpacking her things and setting up her easel, after Case and Ira drove off to return the rental van and head home, Kiki stood before her new campus home. It as beautiful, and she was here!

A college athlete! The moment she’d accepted the position on the team, she began practicing with the ball. She could juggle it 88 times without dropping it! She wasn’t sure, exactly, how that would help her in a game, but it was an addicting habit.

Ira had advised her to check out the syllabi for her classes online and get started right away. “Once the term is underway, you won’t have time to catch up!” she’d said. “So start out ahead.”

She was taking all core classes, and studying music theory, art history, and photography was fun. She couldn’t believe this was what she was supposed to be doing, and not some guilty pleasure she was sneaking in between other obligations.

The next evening, Case dropped by.

“I thought maybe you forgot your book on medieval pigments,” he said.

“Well, I don’t think I need it at this moment,” Kiki replied. “I thought I’d get it next time I came back home, but thanks!”

“Of course,” Case said. “You let me know anytime you need anything, Kiki!”

She gave him the tour of the house.

“You seem settled in already,” he said. “How’re the roommates?”

“I haven’t met them yet,” Kiki said. “But the house seems clean enough, right? They must be decent!”

The next several days, pre-term, flew by. Kiki was busy with team practices, researching for the presentation she’d have to give by the end of the semester, and planning her term paper. She wanted to be so ready once the semester started.

She discovered that she loved being on the team. Her teammates and the coach were so focused on the plays, strategies, and developing skills that there wasn’t any time for socializing–it was all soccer, all the time. As the youngest trainee (and probably, because of being recruited through the special Inclusion and Diversity Incentive), she became something of the team pet. Everyone loved her. But it didn’t bother her. It felt cozy, somehow–like she was the little cousin.

They won the pre-season game. Since it wasn’t an official game, Coach pulled Kiki off the bench to get some field practice. She scored a goal and blocked a crucial pass. Everyone said they won because of her.

She felt like the star of Cinderella’s dream. Is this really going to be her college experience? To go from being an outsider in high school to becoming a member of the winning team?

On New Year’s Eve, she finally met her roommates. They said their names so quickly that she didn’t catch them, and she felt embarrassed to ask them to repeat them. She wasn’t really sure she could remember their faces, either, so if she met them on campus, she wasn’t sure she’d recognize them. She hoped that wouldn’t lead to awkwardness. Would they think she was cold in not greeting them?

Before she thought up any strategies for potential social situations with them, the doorbell rang. It was Ira.

“I couldn’t let the New Year roll in without being here to wish you a good one!” Ira said.

“You came all this way,” Kiki replied.

“Of course, darling,” said Ira. “I’d cross the world for you. And campus is really just a hop, skip, and a jump from home!”

Kiki had forgotten how close the university and home were–they felt universes apart.

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Another Legacy, 1.38

One last push and Ira will make it–the completion of her long era as a student. She’s defended her thesis, held her last individual show, and now, all she needs to do is write her short biographical statement for the MFA Graduates’ Show.

How can she sum up the essence of herself in under 60 words?

Ira Mahajan developed her eye for the out-of-place in her early career as a paparazzi photographer. She brings that sense of the strikingly absurd, mixed in with the everyday, to her work as a painter. Having been a student for over a decade, she’s not sure yet what else waits for her, but she is eager to find out.

She truly feels unsure about what she’ll do with her time when she doesn’t have a perpetual to-do list with impending deadlines, but she’s kind of eager to find out. One thing’s for sure, she’ll start by finally getting some sleep.

It’s a long morning of sleeping in that she daydreams of while waiting for the winter graduation ceremony to begin.

But when the other graduates show up, the daydream fades, and the excitement of reality jumps in.

“We really did it!” Ira exclaims.

“Bro! Dude! We’re here!”

None of them are sure what they’ll do after graduation–that is, the next day, or the day after that, or the month after that, and this realization casts a bit of somber cloud over their jubilations. But still. What an accomplishment. And in the quiet moments before filing in to the ceremonial hall, they each pause with their own reflections on hard work, perseverance, and privilege. They made it.

Graduation is held on Winter Fest, and after the morning event, the family joins in with their holiday traditions. Their house is still too small for an inside tree, and once again, as it did on the Winter Fest when they found out that Kiki’s adoption was going through, it snowed during the night.

But Kiki and Case love being outside best, especially in the snow, and Ira feels happiest when they are happiest.

“How is it to finally be an MFA?” Case asks Ira.

“I’m not sure,” Ira says. “What if I don’t do anything with my graduate degree?”

“Does it matter?” Case asks. “I mean, look at who you are. How wonderful you are, as an artist, a thinker, a person–a friend. And so much of that has been developed while you’ve been a student. Just as you are right now, I can’t imagine you need anything else.”

It’s the sweetest, most validating thing anyone could have said to her. She does feel pretty well perfectly complete.

They have a grand feast with tofu turkey, mashed potatoes made from potatoes they grew in their own garden, ginger-carrots (also home-grown), and cranberry sauce.

“Best feast ever, right?” Case says.

Kiki closes her eyes and realizes this might be her last holiday while still living in the house. They haven’t decided yet, but there’s a chance she might move onto campus, and if she does, she knows how one thing leads to the next, and she’s not sure the stone cairns that mark her path will lead her back home once she sets out on her way.

Father Winter comes at dusk.

“I hear you already have every heartfelt wish,” he says, “but I brought you some presents, anyway.”

A few days after Winter Fest, they hear from the university. Kiki’s been accepted for early admission in the Fine Arts Distinguished Degree program. She’s racked up a slew of scholarships–enough to pay tuition, books, and then some. She was even awarded an athletic scholarship. It seems a bit odd to her, since she’s never been on a team, but her P.E. teacher did write an amazing recommendation based on her fitness scores. When they dig deeper, they discover that it’s part of the Inclusion and Diversity Initiative. The athletic program is given an incentive by the university to include a certain number of students with disabilities–and Kiki’s autism diagnosis counts. If they meet their quota, the athletic department gets more money. Simple as that.

Kiki’s not sure how she feels about being accepted under those qualifications, especially as she’s never had team experience. They’d start her as a trainee, and she’d have to go to daily practice, every game, and discover her potential. If she did OK, she could stay on the team and continue to receive the athletic scholarship. One other thing: she’d have to live on campus. And she’d have to start soon, before winter break were even over.

She thinks it over during her run. She loves being physically active, more than almost anything, and the idea of being on a team excites her. She’s never really been part of a group, and here is a chance to do so. And she’d get to learn an actual sport. The other kids used to call her a spaz, back when before she got fit, and she was never chosen for sports at recess–not that she was the last to be chosen, she simply was not ever chosen. This could be a chance to turn that around.

When she gets home from her run, she gazes at Ira’s graduation photo. All during childhood and her teen years, Ira was there studying, painting, practicing violin–working so hard. Ira never backed down from the challenge.

Now her MFA with Honors diploma hangs on the kitchen wall to testify to that hard work.

Kiki will step up to the challenge, too. It will mean leaving home sooner than she’d planned. It will mean stretching herself beyond any concept she’d had before of what she was capable of doing. But now, she wants to be a scholar athlete more than anything she’s ever wanted. She isn’t sure she’ll be able to do it, but she has Ira as her role model, and she wants to try.

Case and Ira throw a going-to-college party for her. They invite all the friends, and to Case’s surprise, they have a full house.

Case feels as proud of Kiki for taking up the challenge as he does of Ira for meeting her challenge. If he’d stopped to think, he might’ve felt proud of himself, too, for what he’d accomplished, in the community, his career, and the lives of his family. But that’s not his nature, to feel proud of himself.

Instead, he stands at the window and looks out on all the memories with the bittersweet taste of goals met, griefs endured, and love tended.

And with that, Gen 1 comes to a close.

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Another Legacy, 1.37

“I’ve decided I want to graduate early!” Kiki announces at breakfast the next morning.

“Say what?” says Ira.

“Wait a sec!” Case says. “You want to what?”

Kiki explains about her counselor’s text.

“Just think how much I could learn if I don’t have to go to school!” Kiki exclaims. “I could work on my painting, step up my workout routine, start a daily yoga practice! Maybe learn a new language! I’ll be so ready for college in the fall! Or maybe, by some stroke of luck, I could even get early admissions and start Spring semester!”

Once they get past the shock and the idea of a change in plans, Case and Ira can’t think of a good reason for her to postpone graduation, and all the options she envisions for the coming months sound promising, so the wish becomes reality.

Kiki graduates early, and before they know it, they’re having a graduation party.

No one from high school comes, but Olive Tinker, Lea, and a few family friends show up, eager to usher in this new stage of life for Kiki.

Case puts birthday candles on the graduation cake. “It is like a birthday,” he says, “for the new high-school-graduate you!”

Kiki knows what to wish for. While a few months off of school sounds enticing, Kiki’s secret desire is to somehow get accepted early so she can start after winter break. A college student! She can taste it with every bite of vanilla icing!

Ira, who’s been a student for the past ten years, can’t imagine one more semester. She’s so close to done. All that’s left is the defense of her dissertation and the adjudication of her last show.

Case feels a bit overwhelmed. So many changes!

Ira’s accomplishments–the stellar grades, the acclaim at her art shows, the so-close-you-can-touch-it graduate degree in fine arts–these are successes that she hasn’t even realized she’s achieved yet. But Case feels respect, admiration, and gratitude. He’s so glad she’s been here to be a role model for Kiki.

On her first Saturday as a high school graduate, Kiki drinks each breath on her morning run. It’s the flavor of freedom. No homework! No classes on Monday! She can set her own routine and run all morning, if she wants.

That afternoon she submits her college and scholarship applications. She’s applied for next fall, but she put a check in the box asking if she would consider early admissions, if there were openings.

She has a good feeling about this. She wrote her application essay from her heart, her teachers provided shining recommendations, and her transcript practically blazes with her high marks.

There’s a door opening before her, and she’s going to fly right through it!

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Another Legacy, 1.36

The sadness that wrapped itself around Kiki in junior year stays through the time the cold autumn days of her senior year. Kiki begins to think that this is her permanent new self, now: a sad person crushed by grief.

Case feels differently. He knows that grief can stick around, especially for a kid like Kiki, who still has an orphan’s abandonment issues. But he knows, too, that Kiki is surrounded by support, and even if her personality will always have grief’s depth, she will not always be a sad person. She has all the ingredients in place to discover her resilience.

For one thing, she’s kept her fitness habit, and daily runs, yoga sessions, and meditation have their ways of recalibrating even the saddest emotions. Good health goes a long ways.

For another thing, she has so many people who care about her.

When she was still a child, one of the men working as Father Winter that year befriended the family–and he still comes by every so often to check in on the little girl who warmed his heart. OK, so maybe he comes to grab a slice of leftover cake, too, but he always stays to visit.

And there’s Lea, the Art Center Friend.

“I’m worried about Kiki,” Lea says. “I mean, she never returns my calls, but she usually texts back. But this time, she hasn’t been in touch for months.”

“She’s been having a rough time,” Case says, not pausing to even consider that he has, too. After all, Knox, Moira, Tina, and Aadhya were his oldest friends, as well. But he’s been so focused on being there for Kiki, he has barely noticed his own sadness.

“Tell you what,” he continues. “Stick around. She’ll be back from her run soon. Let’s fill the afternoon playing games. We don’t even have to talk.”

The friends stay, and when Kiki gets home, they play her favorite game from childhood. It’s a rather boring game that Case and Ira rarely have the time or patience to play, but this afternoon, the slow, concentrated task of pulling out a stick from the tower engages all of them.

Maybe it’s the fresh stormy air. Maybe it’s having friends. But this afternoon, Kiki’s mood shifts.

“You know,” Kiki says in the evening, after their friends have left, “I feel like I haven’t even lifted my head to look around for months. Is it just me, or do we live in beautiful home?”

“It’s just you,” Ira mumbles. She pulled out her journal after supper, and thought led to thought, and now she’s reliving the past year’s losses. They were her friends, too.

But after Kiki and Case have gone to bed, Ira carries her violin out to the porch and plays a song of her own invention. She feels she’s playing her own life, with loneliness and happiness and solitude and company and grief and joy all intermingling in the notes. Even if she’s playing it herself, it’s beautiful. And beauty is healing, in its own sweet way.

Yesterday’s storm never materialized, and the family wakes to sparkling autumn sun.

“Your breakfast smells so good,” Case says.

“It tastes even better,” Kiki jokes back.

Lea stops by often to work on college applications with Kiki. Lea wants to attend University of Britechester for a distinguished degree in Fine Arts. That’s the same program that Ira is in.

Kiki’s not sure–she loves too many things. She loves art the most, but she also loves fitness–maybe even more. And a degree in Physics would be something she could do to make the world a better place.

“I don’t know,” Lea says. “I can’t see you majoring in anything but art.”

“Really?”

“Fitness is like food–it’s something you do for health. And physics? Bleh. The only thing you light up for when you talk is art. I mean, you’re always lit up, but when you talk about art? You shine.”

The next morning, Kiki runs the idea by Ira.

“What would you think if I majored in Fine Art, too? At Britechester.”

“It’s not the worst idea,” Ira says, then she laughs. “Are you kidding, Kiki? It’s what I’ve always expected! I mean, you’ve been following every step I’ve taken in uni as if you wish it were you! Of course you can choose anything, and whatever you choose, you’ll succeed at. But I really think that you’ll be happiest if you pursue art.”

During her morning run, Kiki processes it all. Her future has come so much sooner than she ever thought! She’s a senior already! She imagines herself studying art, integrating that love of pigments and brush strokes that she has with her academic life. She can see it!

When she gets back from her run, she gets a text from her high school counselor.

“We’ve been recalculating course credits, as part of our annual audit, and we’ve discovered that you’ll have enough credits to graduate early, at the end of fall semester, if you wish. Of course, you’re welcome to stay through spring and be part of the regular graduation, but if you’re feeling eager to move on with your plans, you can be part of winter graduation.”

It’s a lot to think about. But Kiki thinks she just might be ready.

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Another Legacy, 1.35

What started two years ago as a summer project to get fit has become, for Kiki, a lifestyle of fitness. Rain or shine, she loves the hour she spends outdoors, walking or running. Add yoga on top of that, and daily movement becomes her best tool for regulating her mind, senses, and emotions.

Also a habit, she discovers, has become the pre-schoolyear anxiety, and it’s no different as she gets ready for junior year to start.

“OK,” she tells herself, trying to psych up for the first day, “After today, you only have to do this one more time.” Somehow, she doesn’t expect to feel these same jitters before the start of a new year at college.

But she soon realizes there was nothing to worry over, after all. Socially, she seems to be invisible, which is how she likes it, and academically, she’s in the spotlight, which is also to her liking.

Ira is deep in drafting an art history dissertation, and she and Kiki keep each other company studying at the breakfast table.

Mostly, they don’t talk. Kiki likes the sound of Ira’s pencil scratching on the pages of the notebook.

Now and then, they both stop simultaneously to catch their breath.

“Do you think Elizabeth Murray would be better known if she had called the group she founded ‘The Society of Artists,’ rather than ‘The Society of Female Artists’?” Ira asks.

“When was it founded?”

“Mid-nineteenth Century.”

“And where?”

“London.”

“Oh,” says Kiki, “then definitely.”

Kiki enlists Ira to be her editor for the essays she writes for her Advanced Placement course.

“This is really good!” Ira proclaims. “The way you describe the process of turning pigments into paint. I mean, I didn’t know half of this stuff! And I should! This is my degree program!”

But junior year isn’t only about study success.

This is the year that Kiki’s life, once again, is touched by grief. Or, maybe it’s more than a touch.

It’s a series of body slams, one after the other, that entire winter.

Moira Fyres, Case’s old friend, is the first to pass, and her loss hits Kiki hard, for they’d just begun to become friends themselves, the last time Moira was over. Moira had offered to teach Kiki how to save heirloom seeds this coming summer, and now, this would never happen.

But it isn’t just Moira. Tina Tinker, Aadhya, and even Knox all pass on that winter.

“Most of my friends were old,” Kiki realizes, “and now I don’t have any friends. Except that one art person I met last year at the Romance Festival. I wonder if she even remembers me.”

Having most of her friends die is hard. But what hits her even harder is not that she’s lost them, but that they had to die. That they’re gone.

They’re missing out on everything now. On eating cake. On seeing the gray night slowly gain color again. On the sound of the fridge and the stillness between the hums.

She remembers how, when she was a little girl, she saw her mom and dad in the light of the candles. She believed that they carried on in light–their spark became the spark that shines wherever there is light.

How did she know that? How was she so sure? Was it just wishful thinking, or a way to survive the trauma of grief? Or was she on to something?

She keeps her senses open.

She pricks her intuition, opens that third eye. Maybe they’re still around, though not in physical form. Maybe, just as when she was a little girl, she still had her mom and dad around as angel parents, maybe she still has her friends around on the spiritual level. She doesn’t have to believe that, but it couldn’t hurt to be open to the possibility.

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Another Legacy, 1.34

Kiki has to admit she’s not exactly looking forward to sophomore year. Much as she loves how it feels to be fit, she misses the extra weight she carried around with her last year. What if people actually see her this year? What if she can’t be invisible? But then again, what if no one recognizes her? That would be OK. It would be like starting over.

She soon discovers she needn’t have worried. Everyone is really too busy thinking about themselves to stop and wonder about anyone else. Plus, everybody has changed in some way or other, and for an observant girl like her, it’s easy to disappear anytime she wants to, which is most of the time.

First semester, she’s taking Primitive Painting 101 for an elective, along with the core courses.

But her favorite course is physics, which is offered in a project-based approach, so she has lots of take-home labs to complete.

Case is always eager to dive in and help. Aadhya usually volunteers to read the instructions, but while she labors to figure out the steps, Case and Kiki debate refinements and innovations.

“I don’t think it should burn propane,” Kiki says, of the model rocket they work on one day.

“No, of course not,” agrees Case. “But is solar practical? Or even feasible, given the time constraints?”

They both become immersed in invention and the fantasy that it’s a real rocket, and they’re a design and development team.

Fall semester rolls by, the winter holidays fly, and soon it’s the middle of spring.

One fine spring evening, as the sun paints roses on the distant hills, Aadhya and Tina Tinker gather in the tiny kitchen where Ira’s studying.

“So I guess Kiki will be choosing a college soon, eh, Ira?” Tina asks.

“Maybe she’ll join you at Britechester,” Aadhya suggests. “You can commute together!”

“Oh, I’ll be graduated well before she goes to college,” Ira says.

“That’s what you said last year! And the year before!”

“You know how it goes, Aadhya,” says Tina. “A bachelor’s becomes a double major which leads to grad school which leads to post grad work. Ira may never be done!”

Ira has taken to college amazingly well. From her first few years, where she struggled to adapt to the schedule and demands, and her own perfectionism and anxiety, she’s settled into the routine of a nearly perpetual student.

“Wherever Kiki goes is fine with me,” Ira says, but she does harbor a secret wish that Kiki will choose her alma mater. On so many weekends, Kiki has tagged along with Ira when she had to do research projects in the library or needed extra hours in the art studio, and since she was a child, Kiki took to the courtyards, old trees, stone walls, and big halls of prestigious campus. Ira could just see her there, even though it was still a few years off.

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Another Legacy, 1.33

At summer’s end, Aadhya called Case to see if she could take Kiki to the Romance Festival.

“But it’s in the city,” Case had said.

“But it’s only a half hour bus ride,” Aadhya replied.

“But it’s forecast to rain.”

“But we’re waterproof.”

“But–“

“But Case,” Aadhya said, with authority, “over-protective much? It’s an experience every teen should have. She’ll be with me! We’ll be fine!”

At last he agreed, with the provision that they be back by 9:00 p.m.

They stopped for dinner first, at a hip vegan place on the wharf that Aadhya knew about, but Aadhya had loved the jasmine tea and stayed for a second cup, and then she got into a long conversation with the waiter, and another long conversation with the owner, and so by the time they arrive at the festival, it’s growing dark, and it really is raining.

“Oh, this is not at all what I had imagined,” Aadhya says.

She keeps her umbrella to herself.

“It’s turning a bit nippy, don’t you think? How about if we skip the festival and tuck into the karaoke bar for a little nip to fight the nip, eh?”

“I really wanted to go to the festival,” Kiki says. She’s read that painters gather there, and if you’re lucky, you can find an empty easel and maybe pick up some tips from some of the local experts.

“Fine, then,” Aadhya says. “You go. I’ll just be in here if you need me.”

And with that, she and her umbrella head into the warm bar.

Perhaps because of the rain, now a soft drizzle, one of the easels is open. A supply table holds free canvasses, palettes, oil paints, and brushes.

Soon, Kiki is immersed. She has no illusions that her painting is any good, but it kind of doesn’t matter to her. The paint feels smooth on the canvas, and she slides into that tunnel where the sounds and sights around her recede, and all that’s there is this moment.

“You know, you’d have a much better result if you paid attention to perspective,” says a voice behind her.

“Uh, what?”

“See how you made the flower as big as the butterfly? The eye doesn’t know where to settle. Think about what’s in front, what’s behind. Add some space.”

It’s one of the local experts, the resident youth artist at the art center, and she’s stopped to give Kiki advice!

“You’re right!” says Kiki, visualizing how much better the painting would look if the butterfly were more in the foreground.

“Wait, you’re not mad?” says the local expert.

“Huh? No! Why would I be? I was hoping to get advice, and here you are! With free advice, even!”

“You only think that it’s free,” says the expert, with a sly gaze.

“What’ll it cost me?” asks Kiki, feeling happy that she has caught on to the expert’s joke.

It costs a conversation, which twists and turns into the province of friendship, and slowly, the festival-goers leave, and the rain drizzles on, and Kiki and the expert are the only ones in the courtyard.

Until, that is, Case arrives. At 9:00 p.m., he had gotten worried. And when Aadhya didn’t answer her phone at 9:05, or 9:07, or 9:10, or even 9:15, he hopped on the bus.

He’s not happy to see a nearly empty festival plaza at 10 p.m. In the city. In the art district. With who-knows-what lurking who-knows-where.

He spies Kiki standing near the easels.

“It’s after 10,” he says.

“Case!” says Kiki. “Hi. I made a friend!”

She tells him all about getting free advice from the expert, for the price of a conversation, and how they were able to talk without even noticing the time, and how, next to him and Ira, she’s not sure she’s ever been able to talk with anyone like that, and how, wow. The Romance Festival really is a cool place, because not only does it have painting, it has friends! Or a friend. Which is pretty cool.

“But where’s Aadhya?” Case asks.

“Oh, she went into the karaoke bar to get something to drink and get out of the rain. I’m sure she hasn’t forgotten about me, completely.”

“Well, you’re safe!” says Case. “That’s what matters. Let’s go fetch Aadhya and catch the last bus home.”

And Kiki’s new friend waits politely nearby, expecting, perhaps, to be introduced to Case or to have a quick parting conversation, or something. But Kiki just says, “Bye! Thank you for the advice and the great talk!”

And off they go to fetch the chaperone.

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Another Legacy, 1.32

Kiki wakes in the predawn on the first morning of summer break. She has a plan.

While the rest of the household sleeps, she descends to the kitchen, still dark. She’s going for a run while the sun rises.

This summer, she’s going to get fit.

She isn’t sure if she’ll like running so early in the day. During the last half of spring semester, she fell into the pattern of running when she got home from school–if you could call it running. It was more like running five paces, jogging three, walking two, then stopping out of breath and waiting for her heart to stop pounding so hard. But after a bit, five paces became ten, then twenty, then she found her rhythm and could run for two or three minutes before needing to slow to a jog, and by the end of the semester, she didn’t need to stop to catch her breath at all.

But this was all late in the day, after her mind had been stimulated, and she had used the running/jogging sessions to clear and process all the confusing social input that she’d encountered that day.

But early in the morning? Before her mind had activated itself? Would she fall into some sort of trance, or something?

And sure enough, that is exactly what happens. While she runs in the early morning, her mind, not yet stimulated into a state of wakefulness, falls into a deep still quiet, without a thought. Everything becomes the rhythm of her feet on the ground, the pulsing of blood through her veins, the contraction and release of muscles, the steadiness of her breath. It’s an altered state, and she finds it almost mystical. Transcendent.

But she doesn’t have to go to school and interact with peers and teachers, so she realizes it’s OK if she’s in this state. She doesn’t have to appear normal. She’s at home, with no demands that she mask. So if she’s in a nonverbal state, that’s OK.

But perhaps the most amazing discovery is that this nonverbal, transcendent state, while recurring, is not permanent! She can move into it, but she doesn’t become it. She can still talk! And think in words. And states come and go, that is the discovery which pleases and intrigues her most.

It’s Aadhya who teaches her this, when she drops by with a “Happy Summer” gift shortly after Kiki returns from her sunrise run.

“Your first day of summer!” Aadhya says, with her dear smile that crinkles her eyes.

And Kiki finds herself thinking a torrent: How sweet! Is this a tradition? Look how adorable Aadhya is! How thoughtful. Does she share this kindness with everyone?

And when she opens her mouth, she says, “Thank you. I’ve never had a happy-summer gift before!”

It’s a set of oil paints, linseed oil, and turpenoid, which is exactly what Kiki wanted if she’d stopped to think about her other summer goal of painting.

She has this idea of creating a series of post-industrial landscapes. She loves the way that the relics of refineries, shipping containers, and warehouses have gained a patina that makes them recede into the landscape, as if they were landmarks of forgotten times, eclipsed by the trees and vines that now obscure them. She wants to remember them through her paintings. After all, her birth parents had worked there, just as Case had worked to shut them down. And now they stood, like her, really, as the junction of the industrial and the ecological. This is what comes out of that.

She has other goals for the summer, too. She wants to win a chess game against Case. She’s drawn against him once or twice. But a win? Not even close. She doesn’t know if the goal is reasonable, but she feels it’s worthy, for in striving to be the victor, she’ll develop her mind, specifically, her ability to detect patterns, visualize, and plan, and those skills, she feels, will be especially useful as she goes into her sophomore year of high school. At least her mind won’t have stagnated over the summer.

The best part, though, of the chess goal is that it ensures she’ll spend regular time with Case. Right now, as it’s been the past 13 years, Case is her favorite person on the planet. When they’re together, they can talk or not. They mostly don’t talk during chess because, you know… chess. But at other times, in the kitchen, or over meals, or in the garden, they can talk or not. It doesn’t matter. It’s comfortable, regardless.

When Kiki gets up from the chessboard and walks into the house, this is how I find Case looking after her.

Moments like this are times when The Sims 4 really gets it right. His face–that pride and love and tenderness and protectiveness–that face says it all.

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Another Legacy, 1.31

Hey! It’s been a minute! Or… rather, six months! April to November always finds me exceptionally busy, and this year was no exception. It’s mostly the extra garden time that summer asks of me, and I’m happy to provide. I also taught several classes, participated in a teaching fellowship on Open Pedagogy and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, developed a new class with partners from other colleges as part of that fellowship, practiced daily yoga, cooked meals, cleaned house, unpacked groceries, and tried to manage all the daily tasks that are so challenging to my executive functioning…

Hmm. It almost sounds impressive when I write it all out here. But the felt experience of it was much different. I’m still trying to find my footing, during these strange pandemic days and my early retirement from the full-time job. So I suspect that the real reason I didn’t update this story for six months was because so much of my creative energy was going into trying to craft this new life that I’m in.

It’s still a bit surreal for me and feels a bit cut-off from my pre-shutdown life.

But here I am, six months later, with a bit of time opening up for me now, and a longing to write–and to write this story–cropping up in my heart.

So let’s get to it!

Kiki is in her freshman year of high school. In second semester, she takes a physiology class and learns about BMI. This is fascinating to her. Her BMI is 28.1, which is in the 94th percentile and indicates that she’s overweight. She doesn’t mind being overweight, and she enjoys how her body looks and feels, but she’s concerned about the health risks. Diabetes. Heart issues. Joint problems. Sleep apnea. This is a nightmare!

Not only that, but she’s aware that Ira and Case also have high BMIs, and the risks for middle-aged people are even scarier!

She decides to do something about it. Starting now.

“This fruit salad makes a great breakfast, right Ira?”

She’s not going to skip meals, because she doesn’t want to develop an eating disorder, and she knows that with her hyper-fixation on things, it could be easy to do. So she decides she’ll focus on eating healthy.

It’s easy, and delicious, to do, since Case is a lifelong vegetarian and an amazing chef. He adds organic walnuts and flax seed to his fruit salads, so there’s protein.

“It’s good,” Ira says. “I kinda liked that sugar habit we were getting into of pastries before class. Got my mind revved up for studying.”

“I don’t think we’re doing that anymore,” Kiki says. “We’ll have to find other ways to regulate our brain chemistry.”

Like what? She’s not sure, and she’s noticing that the sugar from the fruit feels good, but it’s not the same type of high. But maybe she’ll also be able to avoid that mid-morning crash.

OK. She’s going to have to learn about nutrition and neurochemistry, she realizes.

That evening, she’s deep into Nutrition and Functional Neurochemistry, which her physiology teacher leant her, while Ira and a classmate are reading poetry.

A spark
a leap
like the connecting
force of

you
to me…

It’s not that the poetry reading makes it hard to concentrate, it’s that Kiki can hear Ira’s friend breathe, and he taps his foot in a non rhythmical non pattern which causes her, in her search for auditory patterns, to notice that the fridge is really loud. And also, non rhythmical.

“I needed a little peace and quiet,” she tells Case when she finds him, still in his work clothes, in the garden.

“Too much for you, eh?”

She nods.

“Mind if I’m out here?” He asks.

“Not at all!” And she proceeds to tell him everything she’s learned so far about BMIs, and neurotransmitters, and nutrition, and how norepinephrine is formed from tyrosine, and serotonin is formed from tryptophan.

“How could I have lived for so many decades and not know that?” Case asks.

And indeed, I’m wondering that exact same question right now!

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Bonjour Les Oiseaux – Chapitre 1

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Catherine. Je vis en le comté de Henford-on-Bagley. C’est un comté très joli et très charmant. Il ya beaucoup, beaucoup d’arbres y plus de fleurs. Comme ça, la terre est verte, y les habitants sont contents.

Ce communauté est francophone, mais je ne parles pas français bien. Bien sûr, j’apprends! Et je parles beaucoup avec les animaux, et ils se moquent si je fais une erreur.

C’est Teddy. Teddy est un lama. Il est très gentil y très bel. Il est très drôle, aussi.

Quand je chante, Teddy rit.

J’aime bien Teddy.

Teddy fournit la laine beige. Cette laine est très douce.

En fait, il fait doux tous les jour avec Teddy et les fleurs et les nuages.

À bientôt !

Author’s note: What’s this? I’ve been learning French through reading, and I thought writing in French would make a useful addition for a learning tool! I’ve also been enjoying playing Cottage Living in Sims 4, and I’m a lifelong birder, so I thought, why not combine these special interests? I’d love corrections, so please share them in comments! Cheers!