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 1.24

Kiki sitting at the desk

In late autumn, a new sadness enters the home. Moira Fyres has died. The grief hits Ira hardest, maybe because she hadn’t been friends with Moira as long as Case had, or maybe because she doesn’t have as many projects, interests, and activities as Case and Kiki do to distract her.

She goes back to bed after Case leaves for work and Kiki goes to school, and her mid-morning naps dissolve into crying beneath the covers.

Ira crying under the covers

“I can’t get my mind around it,” she confesses to Aadhya. “She was just here the other day. We were becoming friends. Now, we’ll never be better friends. She seemed so full of energy. So alive.”

Ira and Aadhya talking

“They say it was an aneurism,” Aadhya says.

“I know. So sudden,” Ira replies. “Did you know that she was Case’s first friend?”

Ira and Aadhya talking

“I thought I was,” Aadhya says.

“Oh, maybe you were. Maybe I heard wrong and he meant one of his first friends.”

“Probably,” Aadhya adds. “We all used to hang out together.”

Ira

“I just don’t know why it’s hitting me so hard,” Ira says.

“Don’t bother trying to figure it out. Grief never makes sense. I mean, look at me. I should be all broke up, right? Or what about Case? You’d think he’d be really sad. Maybe he is, and he’s just not showing it.”

“I think he’s too busy,” Ira says. “He has work. He’s all wrapped up in the adoption process. I’m just here all day, with my thoughts. It gets to me.”

Aadhya, carrying the blank canvas, follows Ira out to the easel.

“Painting will help you feel better,” Aadhya explains.

“I suppose so.” It does feel good spread the paint on the canvas, and the scent of linseed oil helps Ira relax.

Aadhya follows Ira out to the easel

Aadhya leaves before the painting is finished, and Ira is alone, first with her thoughts, and then, as she continues painting, with no thoughts, only feelings, a knife in her chest, bruises under her eyes. Grief is painful.

“Can you help me, Ira?” Kiki asks. It’s a school project.

“Oh, a volcano,” Ira says. “I made one of those when I was in first grade. Using baking soda and vinegar?”

Ira helps Kiki with her school project

“Something like that. Are you still sad, Ira?”

“Yeah. I miss my friend. I’m just so sad that I’ll never see her again. I had all these plans for what we’d do together, and, you know, I thought she could help me as I grow older, by telling me what it’s like and stuff.”

Ira helps Kiki with her school project

“You know what I do when I miss my mom and dad?” Kiki asks. Ira doesn’t say that it’s different, because her mom and dad died when she was so little that she probably doesn’t even remember them. She swallows that thought, and she just listens, instead. “I talk to them.”

“I might feel silly talking to her,” Ira says.

“Doesn’t matter,” says Kiki, “but you could also write. You could write her a letter. It will help.”

The next morning, after Kiki has gone to school and Case to work on-site, before she even cleans up the breakfast dishes, Ira sits at the kitchen table with her journal. She imagines everything she would want to say to Moira.

Ira writes in her journal

Dear Moira,

We never became best friends, but I thought, last time you visited, that we might. I thought, maybe, you would be my close woman friend, and that you were an older woman was all the better, for I would have someone to talk with about the changes my body is going through, and about the shifts in my goals and my plans and dreams as I grow older.

I envisioned us gardening together, sitting at the chess table with a pot of tea, talking over Kiki’s latest milestones, planning for ways to make life easier for Case. I thought that, if I ever did get into college, that I could lean on you for a role model and for advice.

I guess I saw you as a role model, and now you’re gone.

This feels so selfish, because this is all about me, and what I’m missing, which is my dreams of having someone to fill this gap in me. But the thing I’m really sad for is that you’re no longer here. That your life on this green world is over.

When you were here the last time, which is the first time that you and I really talked, the time when we really became friends, your eyes sparkled. You were shining from within, I don’t know if you knew that. We talked about your garden club, and you talked about how hopeful you felt, with all the changes that have happened here in Port Promise, all the changes that Case has been either responsible for or directly involved with, and you told me that you felt so proud. You felt proud to know us.

Maybe it was that shine in your eyes that inspired me, that made me decide then that I wanted to be like you. I’m not much, Moira, and even though I speak my mind, probably more often than I should, I really lack confidence. But somehow, you made me feel that that was OK, and that it didn’t matter, and that just being a person was enough.

Can we still be friends, even though you’re not around? Can I still write you?

I’m not sure if I feel better, but at least I don’t feel so lonely.

Wishing you peace, wherever you are,

Your friend, Ira

Ira writes in her journal

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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 1.21

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 1.18

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 1.7

Ira scrubs the grate on the grill

Case hears a scritch-scratchy noise he can’t identify. A carpenter bee digging at the door frame? A piece of wire blown up onto the eaves somehow, scraping against the window? The tent zipper flapping in the wind?

But no, it’s Ira, cleaning his grill.

That was nice of her to come by, he thinks.

It takes him a minute to realize that they’re both wearing turbans.

“I don’t know why I put this on today,” he says. “I don’t wear it all the time.”

Ira and Case both wear turbins

“I do,” Ira says, “when I’m not working or taking a bath. Or sleeping.”

“I guess I wear mine when the it’s cloudy like this,” he says. “I like having my head wrapped when the barometric pressure is changing.”

“That makes sense,” Ira replies.

The structure on this property is so tiny–just a bathroom and a room for sitting and reading.

“You have a great library,” Ira says.

Ira and Case, reading comfortably together in his tiny livingroom

“What do you do here, anyway?” Ira asks. “You don’t own this place, do you?”

Case explains about how the environmental NGO owns the lot, and he works for them, and part of the job entails living here, so he can be part of the community he’s working to change.

“I’m starting to have second thoughts about these changes,” he says. “I mean, not about the actual changes. I know it’s our only recourse, if we even want to have a livable planet, that we make major shifts in economy, population size, and sources of fuel. But I’m starting to think about the costs of those changes.”

He counts off on his fingers. “One: it puts people out of work. Two: people need to change their source of entertainment. That’s not a simple thing! People love their TVs. Three: people really should change how they eat, transitioning to plant-based diets, and nobody wants to be told how to eat,” he says, “I’m starting to discover that.”

Case counts out issues on his fingers

“But are you here to make everybody happy?” Ira asks.

“Well, no,” replies Case. “I guess I’m here to help with the grass-roots efforts to get certain Action Plans adopted and then to help implement them.”

“And are you doing that?” Ira asks.

“Well, yes!” says Case. “That’s what I was hired to do, so yes.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“I guess, nothing?”

Ira agrees that the world is a mess

“I think you can leave people to manage their own discomfort,” Ira says. “It’s not really something we can moderate, anyway. It’s sort of up to them.”

Ira follows Case into the tiny bathroom where he repairs the sink

They spend the day talking. Case has never talked with anyone as much in one day as he and Ira talk that day. But it’s nice when they’re quiet together, too.

By nightfall, the barometric pressure has adjusted, and Case unwinds his turban. He pulls his hair back in the tiny pony-tail so he can still feel some slight pressure on his scalp.

Tinker Tailor drops by just as he’s dishing up grilled fruit for a late supper.

Tina Tinker comes over to find Ira and Case still visiting

He’s not really paying attention to Tina, but I am. She seems a bit surprised at first, to see Ira there, like she’s not quite sure of her. But when she sees the way Case looks at her, she relaxes.

Look at Tina’s closed eyes while Case and Ira smile at each other–is Tina thinking of her sweet family at home and hoping that same warmth would fill this small room? Is she making a wish, saying a prayer, bestowing a blessing?

Tina thinks they make a cute couple

Maybe all of the above.

And when she opens her eyes, they’re eating in silence, like good friends do.

They enjoy a grilled meal

But soon they’re talking again.

Ira’s describing this plan she has for a sort of celebrity exposé. She calls it “Without a Filter.”

No-filter photos of Cho and Ward and all the others that the periodicals pay her to shoot.

“The idea is to show them how they are,” she says, “without the gloss.”

Ira has a lot to say about everything

“I don’t know,” says Case, “without the gloss they’re not really celebrities, are they?”

“Exactly,” says Ira. “Without the gloss, without the special filter, they’re just real people.”

“Like us,” says Tina Tinker, “which is what we knew all along.”

“But the people who swoon over them don’t know that. Maybe I’ll lose my job, but it’ll be worth it. Go out in a blaze of unfiltered glory!”

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