Another Legacy, 1.30

During the years when Kiki is growing up, Ira is working on her college degree. It seems to take forever. Rather than rush to get through it, Ira gets into it. This is my life now, she decides, and she directs all of her perfectionist tendencies into her work. It pays off in terms of grades and that dopamine satisfaction of goals met and jobs well done, but it has costs in terms of stress, overall well-being, and life balance.

Ira doesn’t care. She figures that she can achieve balance later, once her good grades are established.

At one point, one of her mentors at college gently suggests that she might want to get an evaluation from a neurological psychologist.

“You seem to have a different neurological profile,” her mentor says. Ira, having lived with Case for 15 years, knows she’s not autistic, but she also suspects she’s not neurotypical. “Maybe ADHD?” the mentor suggests. “OCD? It might be useful to find out more about that. Or maybe not.”

Ira decides not. She knows she’s neurodivergent and that her urges to steal things, her “twisted up mind,” as she calls it, her hyper focus, her drive to always be doing something, and her perfectionism stem from this. She also decides that it’s OK. It’s part of who she is, she’s managing fine, and she’s not going to bother unpacking a diagnosis–or misdiagnosis. Everything is OK.

And whether it actually is or not, she’s got so much support from Case and Kiki, a harmonious home life, and even from their family friend Aadhya that she feels she doesn’t need official “support.”

During Kiki’s second year in junior high, a school counselor makes a similar recommendation to Case regarding Kiki’s neurological and sensory profile, and he, having witnessed Kiki’s approach to making friends her own age, which, in its continuously missing the target, reminds him so much of his own social style, agrees. He and Kiki are too similar in too many ways for him not to already suspect that she’s on the spectrum herself.

And she is. He’s glad she got diagnosed before reaching adulthood, since so many girls and women fly by faking it. Perhaps since she grew up in a home with Case and Ira, Kiki never really formed a convincing mask, and the flimsy masks she did bother to create, she seldom bothers to wear.

Case and Ira are both thrilled to have an autistic kid in their neurodivergent home.

And to Kiki, who continues to look up to Case and Ira as being the best examples of the best of humanity, being autistic like Case makes her think that she, too, might be an awesome person who can do amazing things.

By the time she enters high school, she’s embraced her social identity as a geek and she’s chopped off all her hair.

She didn’t like the way other people, boys, girls, adults, kids–everyone–were always grabbing her long red locks. Having her hair short, most people don’t even look at her twice, anymore, and she can disappear into the background when she wants to. She can also wrap her head in a bandana or other head-covering, like Case does, when the air pressure is doing that changy thing and stave off the barometric headaches.

Aadhya remains a close friend, dropping by often after school, even when Kiki’s too old to actually need a babysitter.

Every time, Aadhya asks, “So what did you learn in school today?”

Most times, Kiki doesn’t answer. She knows that once she starts talking about French pronouns or Shakespeare sonnets or the pigments that make up cerulean blue, she’ll forget to stop and Aadhya will get bored from too many details.

It’s easier to smile to herself and answer on the inside, rather than talking out loud.

Aadhya will fill in the spaces, anyway.

“You look good in a bandana,” she says. “I wish I’d been brave enough, as a teenager, to wear whatever I wanted.”

Kiki imagines Aadhya in high school, with her curly hair, smiling and joking. She was probably popular.

“As it was,” Aadhya continues, “I just wore what all the other girls wore, as if we had a uniform. We might as well have! Tight jeans and French-cut T-shirts. We all looked the same!”

Kiki suddenly imagined a line of French kittens, wearing tiny black berets, mewing in chorus.

“Are the other kids ever, you know, rude to you? When you stand out?” Aadhya asks.

“Sometimes?” Kiki answers. “I’m sort of used to it. It doesn’t really matter. People will be people.”

Kiki has learned that generalities work really well in a) keeping her from answering in too many details and b) satisfying the other person that a conversation is actually happening. She’s got a whole stock of them she pulls out when needed: “Time will tell”; “All things pass”; “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

They’re all true and also not-true, as most generalities are, and they serve as little envelopes that she can insert real meaning into, in case she ever meets anyone besides Case and Ira who want to have a real conversation.

One evening, when Case is running late, Ira gets a call from his secretary. “I just wanted to let you know that he just now left the office, but it’s so late he’s missed his usual bus, so don’t worry that he doesn’t come home at the regular time. You know Case! Always the workaholic!”

Case running late and missing his bus isn’t a big deal–it doesn’t happen often, but it happens often enough not to cause anyone to worry. But what is a big deal is that someone would call, and that that someone would be Case’s secretary.

“You have a secretary?” Ira asks him when he makes it home shortly after dark.

“Oh, yeah,” he replies. “That just happened. Part of the promotion.”

“Promotion?” This is the first Ira has heard of it.

“Yeah,” he says. “I guess I’m like the boss now, one of them. At least I can’t really be promoted anymore. Top of the field.”

“That’s fantastic!” Ira says.

It is fantastic. With his promotion to Master Inventor, Case achieved his lifetime aspiration of Eco Innovator. Completing the aspiration doesn’t seem to mean that much to Case (he immediately switches all his passion to his new special interest of achieving the Botanist aspiration), but it means a lot to me. I’m kind of thrilled that our founder reached this success, and that he did it his way, without really having to change or give up any of his own characteristics and inclinations.

And I’m even happier when I see this pop up:

He is a positive influence, and I’m happy the game can see it. I especially love the second point: “Friends will be more forgiving if he commits any social miscues, and they won’t be quick to judge him.” What autistic person wouldn’t love this? Having experienced lifetimes of slice judgments, the freedom of not being judged for missing social cues feels… well, it feels like an environment in which we can thrive. I’ve experienced this at work a time or two. Once, I had a manager who always gave everything I did the best interpretation! A few times, I had to admit, “No, I really did mess up on that one!” But even then, she’d find a way to discover the best in what I’d done. “Oh, I’m sure the instructions could have been more clear,” she’d say, or, “Well, if this is the first mistake you’ve made on this weekly project in over five years, I think we can live with it!”

Isn’t that what we all need to thrive, others who are willing to overlook our miscues, and who consider all we do with the best interpretation?

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Another Legacy 1.25

Case rings the breakfast bell

Late one evening, a few days before Winterfest, after Kiki has gone to sleep, the social worker calls. It’s a go–the adoption is approved. There are still a few formalities left–the appearance before the judge and the receipt of the final paperwork, but those are mere procedures. It’s been approved, and Kiki’s no longer a foster child; she’s adopted.

Case and Ira are so excited they can barely sleep, and they arise early before dawn.

“I can’t wait to tell her,” Case says, looking to see if she’s stirring yet. She is such a sound sleeper.

“Let’s make a celebration out of it,” Ira says. “Let’s cook a fancy breakfast and all eat together and tell her then!”

They make pancakes and scrambled eggs and fruit salad with cranberries, oranges, dates, raisins, and Ceylon cinnamon. They make coffee and tea and hot chocolate, and when the sun comes up, but Kiki lingers in bed, Case can stand it no longer, and he pulls out the cowbell they use to announce suppertime, and he rings it so hard the windows shimmy.

“Breakfast!” he calls. “Sunshine! Celebration! Hurry! Fun-time! Breakfast!”

Ira busies herself at the counter, swallowing giggles.

Case rings the breakfast bell

But when they all sit down to eat, no one says anything right away. Ira has decided to leave it to Case to announce, and Case isn’t sure how to start. In his excitement, he forgot to script this one.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

He closes his eyes and just dives in.

“So she called last night and it’s going through!”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“These are good pancakes,” Kiki says.

“Do you know what Case is talking about?” Ira asks.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“I was eating,” Kiki says, “not listening. It sounded like grown-up talk.”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

Case tries again. “What I mean by ‘she called last night,’ is that the social worker called, and what I mean by ‘it’s going through’ is that the adoption. The adoption has been approved.”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“For real?” Kiki asks.

“For real. We still gotta see the judge and get the papers, but it’s a real thing! You’re adopted! You’re out of foster care, and now, we’re a for-real family!”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

Kiki doesn’t say anything. With the quietest of smiles, she spreads the fruit salad on the pancake and eats it.

“We were so excited we could hardly sleep,” Ira says.

“It’s what we’ve been wanting forever. It’s what I wanted even before I met you, when I just knew about you. When I brought you home on the bus that day, I hoped then, more than anything, that I could adopt you. I couldn’t think of a greater honor,” Case says, while he thought, or responsibility.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“Are you and Ira my mom and dad now?” Kiki asks.

“We could be, if you wanted. Technically, I’m your legal guardian, and Ira will be your godmother, which means if anything happens to me, she’s your guardian.”

“Like fairy godmother?” Kiki asks.

“Exactly,” says Ira, “only without the fairy part and the wish-granting part. No mice pulling pumpkins and spider webs turning into ball gowns or any of that nonsense.”

“I was thinking you’d like to have your birth mom and dad as your always mom and dad,” Case explains. “That’s why we’d be guardian and godmother. But what do you want?”

“I like that,” Kiki says. “That way, I can still talk to them.”

“Exactly,” says Ira.

“But what about my name? Will I be Kiki Flores?”

“If you want,” Case replies. “Another option would be to take all the names. So you could be Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores, or any other order you wanted.”

“I like it! It’s so long!”

“We can practice,” Case says, so together, they chant the whole thing: Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores! Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores!

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“I bet nobody else at school has a ten-syllable name,” Case says.

“You’d be surprised,” Kiki answers.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

She recites them all: Rainflower Sunshine Jessamine Snowchild; Billy Bob Jasper Water Buffalo; Rebecca Sally Smith-Johnson-Snow-Tea.

“Are you making these names up?” Ira asks.

“Might be,” answers Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores, as she takes another bite of pancake.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

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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 1.20

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 1.17

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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Another Legacy 1.14

Ira, Ulrike, and Tina in the tiny kitchen

On the night of Case’s birthday, while Case lies in his tent imagining what it would be like to lose your job on the docks because the warehouse shut down and to have to move because the land where your apartment house sat was determined to be below the impending flood line and all the properties in the hills above the flood line rented for thousands a month or sold for half a million and now you’re left with nothing, with not even a semblance of what your life was before–while he imagines all that, Ira cleans up after the party. She’s surprised they even own that many dishes, as she carries the toppling pile of dirties to the sink.

“You missed a cup!” says Tina, who’s stayed behind to help. “Never mind! I’ll grab it.”

Something Tina says gets Ira thinking

At last they dry the final one.

“I left your wine cup on the table,” Tina says. “There’s still some wine in it.”

“You’ve been such a help!”

“It’s my pleasure,” Tina says.

Ira and Tina engaged in conversation

They sit together at the tiny kitchen table. Tina pours herself a cup of wine.

“You know, I’m always working,” Tina says. “It feels good to take some time to just sit and relax. I like that feeling of having worked so hard, and my feet and hands are tired, and then I just sit, and let it all go. Look! My fingers are dishwater prunes!”

“I’ve never been much of a hard worker,” Ira says. “I’ve sort of just let life come to me.”

“But you’re a big photographer! At least, you were.”

“No, I just fell into that. I took photos of celebrities and sold them to tabloids. Nothing to be proud of, just a way to make some money without really working hard. I have no interest in that any more.”

“What would you like to do?”

“I’m not sure,” Ira says. “Something with art? Something visual. How did you get into the recycling innovation field?”

Tina explains how, ever since she was a little girl, this has been her passion–to find new uses for things and combine them in ways both practical and inspiring. “I just can’t stop doing it,” Tina says.

They talk long into the night, and when Tina finally leaves and Ira heads upstairs to her narrow bed under the west window, her mind swirls with dreams–nothing specific yet, just a feeling. A feeling of being useful. Or maybe, inspiring.

The next morning, Case is up early, eating leftover cake for breakfast.

Case sitting at the table

“Case,” Ira asks, “how did you figure out what you wanted to do with your life?”

“It never felt like a choice,” Case replies. “Individuals are born into a certain time. In that time, there are certain things that need to be fixed, to be changed, to be made OK so that life can be better, or at least continue. I’m just doing what the time I was born into asks.”

Ira is blown away. Her entire paparazzi career, if she could be generous enough to call it a career, fizzles. It was never anything she was called to do–it wasn’t what the time had asked. It was what society had asked, and that’s something entirely different, when the portion of society that’s doing the asking is sick, twisted, and delusional.

She wants to do something different.

She’s sitting outside, letting her mind empty so it can be filled with new visions, when Aadhya walks up.

“How are you?” Aadhya asks.

“I’m inspired!” Ira says.

Ira talks with Aadhya

“Inspired?”

“Yes! I think I’m on the verge of taking a big step, personally.”

“Well, good for you,” says Aadhya.

In the tiny kitchen, Ira dishes up leftover cake.

“So I guess congratulations are in order, you two?” Aadhya asks.

“What?” says Ira. “We’re not a couple.”

Ira and Aadhya talk in the kitchen

“My mistake,” Aadhya says.

“It’s a common one.” Ira explains the arrangement: best friends, room mates, her needing a place to stay, Case being a generous friend.

Aadhya becomes quiet, but before silence settles in, Tina steps through the front door.

Tina joins Ira and Aadhya's conversation

“Tina!” Ira exclaims. “I’ve been thinking about our conversation last night! I’m making up my mind to do something with my life!”

“Really? I mean, you’re already doing something with your life by living, but I mean…”

“You inspired me.”

“I did? For what?”

“I’m not sure yet?” Ira answers. “I mean I’ve got an idea, but I’m not quite ready to put it into words. Or action. I don’t know, maybe the action will come before the words.”

And all day, Ira seems like she’s two-inches-off-the-ground, just floating with a buzz. Her mind is turned on.

“I can be anything!” Case sings. “I can do anything! I am me! I am me!”

And Ira closes her eyes and joins him.

“We can be anything! We can do anything! We can be me! We can be you!”

Ira and Case doing singing a funny chant together

Quick on the heels of Case’s 33rd birthday comes Ira’s, like a game of tag and now she’s it.

At first, they plan a party for the evening, but that morning, something goes horribly wrong with the composting toilet and it actually combusts.

Ira on fire in the bathroom

Ira shrieks, Case rushes in, and before it even truly registered what is happening, he has the flames out.

Case puts out the fire

Or maybe not?

“Don’t stand there!” he yells.

“I-I-I-” yells Ira, “aye-aye-aye!”

Case talking with Ira while the fire dwindles

“There, OK. It’s out. Or nearly. Put water on it, OK?” Case says.

“Yeah, it’s out now. Nearly. Geez, Case. I think this design needs work. It’s supposed to be a composting toilet, right? Not a combusting one!”

Ira laughs from relief

They’re both a bit shook up. Plus, since they don’t have a working toilet at present, they decide it’s probably best not to invite guests over.

“I’m still a bit partied out, anyway,” says Ira. “If it’s just us, my mind won’t get crowded out, and I’m still buzzing inside!”

Case bakes a vanilla cake. “Candles?” he asks. “Or is it too much after this morning?”

“No!” says Ira. “Candles! I’m not scarred! I’m excited! I’ve got to make a wish! Thirty-three, man! This is going to be my year!”

Ira blows out the candles

The candles are lit and blown out without incident.

“I think I’m going to skip the grill for a while,” Case says.

They sit out front together as the sky darkens. Clouds have rolled in, and soon, they fall silent to listen to the drip-drips of rain on the awning.

“I’m gonna dance!” Ira calls. “Want to join me?”

She grabs her umbrella and runs out into the rain.

In an evening rainstorm, Ira dances in the rain

“I can do anything! I can be anything! I’m me! I’m me! I’m Ira! Free to be!”

Case spins in the rain, tilting his head up to the clouds and watching each drop gather and fall, growing larger and larger, falling slower and slower, the silver against the night, spinning, spinning.

Ira stops her dance and looks up with him. “It’s a mystery,” she whispers, as they watch the droplets spin and fall.

“I never had someone watch the rain with me before,” Case says.

“I’m glad I could,” says Ira.

“Not everybody stops to see what might be so amazing,” says Case. “I’m not used to sharing that with someone.”

Case encourages Ira

“Is it OK?” asks Ira.

“Oh, yeah,” says Case. “I’ve always wanted to share that.”

Ira’s quiet the next morning. It’s clear and hot, and she smiles while she sits at the little desk upstairs. Case doesn’t ask what she’s writing. He trusts she’ll share when she’s ready.

She folds it up carefully, slides it into the envelope, and addresses it to University of Britechester. Her admissions application. She applies for two scholarships, too. She’s going to go to college. She’s going to be a real artist. She can do anything. She can be anything. She’s Ira!

Ira puts her college application into the mailbox

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Another Legacy 1.13

More blooming cherry trees

Years pass and bring changes, the way years do. The environmental NGO decides to unload its risky properties, those that climate forecasting predicts to be in flood zones in the next ten years. One of these is the lot where Case has been living. He’s risen in the organization, as a result of being so successful in the projects he’s managed, and during one promotion, he’s able to do a swap–land over salary increase–and so he ends up with the deed to the property. It’s a double-edged deal, for he can’t get flood insurance, and he needs to fill out a bunch of paperwork to complete the title, since the lot is off-the-grid, but eventually, after squeezing out every last drop of his executive functioning juices, the property is his. He makes a few improvements, including building a second story, so he can sleep inside when he wants to, rather than in the tent he’s been camping in this past decade, and putting in an actual kitchen, so he has something to cook on rather than the old rusting grill.

It’s at about this time when Ira tells him one day that she’s been evicted. Gentrification in the neighborhood where she lives across the bay. They’re tearing down her old apartment building to put in condos.

“Move in here,” Case says. He’s got the second story now, with room enough for two single beds.

So move in she does. There’s so much to love–the garden, the bees, the steady drip-drip of the blue dew collectors.

At night, while she sits out front to watch the northern lights, strange visitors wander by, Vlad and others. Ira imagines they’re vampires–they do all have pointy canines. It’s her secret joy, pretending that there are vampires, and that they stop by. Maybe she’ll become one, she fantasizes. The night belongs to me!

Other guests drop by uninvited, too–Alexander Goth and Brytani Cho. Was Case’s home always so popular? Of course it’s only been a home this past year. Before then, it was two-rooms-on-a-lot.

“What are you doing here?” Ira asks Brytani and Alex one morning. They’d been helping themselves to breakfast.

Brytani doesn’t answer. She’s a celebrity. She can go where she likes.

“Case said I could drop by,” Alex replies.

“Um, no,” says Ira, “I don’t think he’d say that.”

“OK, um, uninvited guest?” Alex tries.

“OK,” says Ira.

On Case’s 33rd birthday, Ira and Case decide to throw a party.

“You sure you want to?” Ira asks.

“If you do,” Case says. She does, but only if it’s OK with him. After about 20 minutes, they decide it’s OK with each of them. The invitation list is sort of random. Case knows a lot of people, but few actual friends. He wants to invite the butterfly girl–that exchange they had when he first moved here was important to him, a touchstone for the path of his entire career, actually. He’d met her mom at the garden center, so it’s easy enough for track her down.

“Uh, my mom said I was supposed to come?” Elsa says when she arrives.

“Welcome then,” says Ira. “Make yourself at home.”

Of course Case invites Aadhya, one of his oldest friends in town, and Ulrike, one of his more recent friends from the garden center.

“So you live here now?” Ulrike asks, or rather exclaims (Let’s change the question mark to an exclamation point–“So you LIVE here now!”), while Aadhya walks by.

“Yeah, I moved in,” Ira says.

“I knew it!” yells Ulrike.

“Uh, no, it’s not like that,” says Ira. “It doesn’t always have to be like that.”

“Oh, well, whatever. Friendship is cool, too, right?” Ulrike’s not going to insist.

“Yeah, I needed a place to stay, and we’re best friends, and I had a key, I was over here all the time anyway, so it just made sense.”

“That’s cool,” Ulrike says. “Roommates! With or without benefits!”

“I cannot frigging believe this,” Aadhya mutters. “I am such an idiot. Such a loser. Why do I always do this to myself?”

As usual, with parties, everyone gathers in the kitchen, regardless how small, regardless if they already know the others there or if they’re all strangers. They won’t be strangers long–tiny kitchens have a way of cooking up instant intimacy.

But Aadhya stays out front. Somehow, she’s just not in the mood for crowds right now. Especially in Case’s kitchen. Especially if Ira is also there.

“This was supposed to be me,” she says to herself as Gideon, Faye’s son, walks by.

“Aren’t you coming in for cake?” Gideon asks.

“Oh, no. I’m not feeling so well,” she answers.

“Want me to bring you a cup of tea?” he offers.

“No, no. I’ll be fine. I think I’ll just sit here. Think a bit. The quiet will do me good.”

It’s far from quiet inside. Case ponders his life–what’s there left to wish for? For himself, nothing really. But can you make a birthday wish for the planet?

Case gives it a try–and the confetti and noisemakers and cheers gives him hope that maybe the great all-and-everything heard this wish. At any rate, let me be your tool for change, Case thinks.

It’s hard to let dreams go. And when the dream life that’s been running parallel to your own actual life has been composed, since junior high, really, of series after series of attachments to boys or men who, in their actual lives, are completely unavailable, it makes you wonder. Why did you have those dreams, anyway? When they’re gone–finally and for good–what do you replace them with?

For now, Aadhya doesn’t replace them with anything. She just feels that big hole inside, where her fantasy used to sprout and flourish and bloom. Now she’s empty, faced, only, with her own life, which, to her at least, seems irreparably sad.

She leaves without saying goodbye. Case hasn’t even realized she’d come. He never expected all his friends to show up–they’re busy. They have their own lives, too. And that’s fine with him.

He has plenty to think about. Right now, he’s pondering this project that the community labor specialist and community resettlement director are coordinating, involving tracking down those who’ve been put out of work and forced to relocate by the shift from industrial to sustainable jobs. The hope is to offer them employment with some of the green energy and local garden projects, provide them with help and incentive to move back here. It’s a pipedream, Case realizes, but it’s a pipedream he finds inspiring.

He sleeps in the tent that night, so he can be alone with the ideas the flow through his mind.

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