Building Family (S1, E8)

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

In spite of the initial awkwardness, the rest of the evening went well. Following Andie’s lead, they took turns asking questions and giving questions. Nothing was off-limits, but without discussing it, they steered clear of things that might stir up painful memories. Emeka wondered about Orli’s ex but didn’t ask, and no one asked him about his family or how he came to have this big house all on his own.

By the time dinner was over, they were talking about the practicalities of living together. Emeka had been a little worried about the kosher thing, but once Orli explained the details of ‘kosher style’ he figured he could work with it. Shellfish was too expensive to be worth it anyway, and Orli wasn’t going to complain if he or Andie had a cheeseburger; she just didn’t eat them herself.

Andie had gotten quieter as the meal went on, and when they cleared the dishes away, they pulled out a tablet. “I’m going nonverbal,” a computer voice said for them. “Is this okay?”

Emeka had been surprised but didn’t see why it wouldn’t be okay. Orli had laughed. “If you two can put up with my kosher stuff, I don’t know why you’d think that would be a problem.”

“She’s right,” Emeka agreed. “We all got our baggage. As long as that’s comfortable for you, we’ll go with it.”

“How does it work?” Orli asked, gesturing to the tablet.

Andie typed a bit, and the tablet said, “Mostly it’s a standard text to speech program, I type in what I want to say, and the tablet turns it into audio. But I also programmed in some shortcuts for stuff I need to say a lot. Like ‘how are you’ or ‘have a good day.’ ”

“You programmed that yourself?” Emeka asked.

“Not all of it,” Andie replied after a moment. Typing was slower than speech, changing the pace of the conversation. “But some of it, yeah. There are commercial programs available for autistic and other nonverbal folks, but they are mostly expensive and only run on i-stuff.”

“You don’t like Apple?”

“I will give up Linux when you pry it from my cold dead hands.”

Orli laughed and offered Andi a fist bump. “Tux for the win.”

Emeka looked back and forth. “Linux? But you can’t run anything on Linux just about!”

Orli cough-muttered, “Gamer,” and Andie rolled his eyes.

“There’s lots of good games on Linux,” Andie said after a moment. “Just because not everyone likes triple-A bullshit–”

“Bullshit! Name one top game you can play on Linux–” Seeing Andie was typing, Emeka cut himself off.

“I can name dozens, but I only do need to name one. Minecraft.”

Emeka shook his head. “Okay yeah, but–”

Orli’s phone buzzed. She pulled it out and saw a text from her daughter. I can’t believe you are serious about doing this poly stuff.

You never had a problem with your aunt’s relationships, Orli replied.

She’s never been a stick in the mud.

And I have been?

Orli watched the three little dots pop in and out of existence as her not-quiet teenaged daughter debated between seeking mom’s approval and the teenage ‘cool’ factor. Chana was a good kid, school problems aside. But Orli could see more and more hints of the teenage monster-to-be peeking through. She was okay with that. Like many parents, she wanted her kid to have as normal a childhood as possible, and that included one where she felt safe to indulge in teenage rebellions.

Finally, those dots were replaced with words. Are you sure this isn’t some kind of mid-life crisis?

If it is, you can spend from now until you get your first car saying ‘I told you so.’ 

Deal! came the instant reply.

Orli chuckled and turned back into the continuing debate about games and gaming platforms. Chana was another gamer, but most of the game stuff went right over Orli’s head.

She had, however, learned a few things from her daughter. And, she thought soberly, if she was going to be living with these folks, she needed to know more about them than the surface they put on. So she waited until a break in the conversation and said, “I can’t say I really see the point in any of this. There’s lots of fun games I can play on my phone, and they don’t have double-digit price tags.”

Immediately, both Emeka and Andie and turned on her. A moment later, Andie’s tablet blared out, “Danger! Danger Will Robinson!”

Emeka was making a horrified face. “Oh no! There’s a casual in our midst!” He held up his fingers so they formed a cross. “Back! Back demon! We will not be tempted by your foul Candy Crush!”

Then Andie started playing that really ominous music from Star Wars and said, “Throw yourself on the phone, Emeka. It may not be too late to save her.” In the same voice as the ‘danger Will Robinson’ bit.”

Testing the waters a bit more, Orli opened up Candy Crush on her phone and turned up the volume as high as it could go. Then waved it toward Emeka as if to ward him off.”

“No!” He threw himself back in his chair as if he’s been shoved. “Nooooooo…”

Orli started laughing and settled back in her own chair. The laughter was more relief than humor — she generally wasn’t a fan of mocking comedy. But she could recognize the humor in it. They weren’t being mean or derisive or disdainful.

A moment later, her phone beeped. She had a new friend request on Candy Crush from Andie945.

She accepted it saying, “Oh well. At least Chana will stop pestering me to play Civilizations if she has you two around.”

Emeka and Andie looked at each other, Andie flat-faced as always but Emeka with comically wide eyes.

“Strategy gamer,” he whispered.

In his normal voice, Andie replied, “We’re doomed.”

Orli messaged Chana saying, They’re gamers. Emeka plays triple-A games, and Andie plays ‘indy’ games.

Sweet! When can we move in?

Orli shook her head. Teenagers.

Building Family (S1, E7)

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

Emeka debated for the fifth time rearranging the furniture in the living room. Which was a foolish thing to do, with guests arriving in the next few minutes. But it distracted him from his nerves. He’d never been this stressed about a first date before. Was this how people in an arranged marriage felt when they met their spouse-to-be for the first time?

It wasn’t something that would usually occur to him, but Orli had said something about her great-grandparents being in arranged marriages. She said it worked out fairly well for them.

The doorbell rang, interrupting his thoughts. Emeka hurried to open it.

Andie loomed in the doorway, making Emeka step back in surprise. Once he caught himself, he invited Andie in. “Sorry about that. I didn’t expect you to be so… big.”

Andie shrugged. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”

Physically Andie looked exactly like their profile picture — which picture wouldn’t look bad next to ‘nerd’ in the dictionary. But most nerds didn’t have the physique to play linebacker.

“Can’t say I’m surprised. You want a drink? Orli should be here any–” and there went the doorbell again.

Like Andie, Orli matched her profile pic — curly black hair held back in a ponytail, a face marked by strain and lack of sleep. The difference this time was in the nervous energy. She was bouncing on her toes and fiddling with her ponytail.

After letting Orli in and introducing the two to each other, Emeka said, “So… Orli mentioned Hanukkah, that’s Jewish, right? There’s this one kosher restaurant a couple streets over that does delivery. I ordered some stuff from there for tonight.”

Orli grinned. “That’s really thoughtful. I don’t actually keep kosher. I can’t afford to. I try to keep… we call it ‘kosher-style.’ Mainly, that means no pork and shellfish, and don’t mix meat with dairy. But for tonight, that’s awesome.”

Emeka laughed, “See, that’s exactly the kind of thing we need to talk about. Beyond, you know, ‘are we comfortable enough with each other to live together at all.’ Let me get both of you something to drink, and we can talk while we wait for the food.”

After a few minutes, they were all seated in the living room, and awkwardness had set in.

“Um…” Andie said after a moment, “I don’t… I’m not good at… Am I the only one feeling awkward right now?”

“Oh God, no,” Orli said. “This is… I”m usually pretty good with people, and this is just… like a first date turned up to 11?”

“I was thinking that right before you both arrived, I’ve never had a first date that had me this nervous.” Emeka chuckled.

“Oh, Good.” Andie sighed. “I’m… Look, I’d love to do the whole ‘meet someones, fall in love, get a solid triad or quad going, find a place together. You know, the usual poly dream relationship. But I can’t afford to do it that way?

“I’m, well, I’m autistic, and I have trouble with… schedules, and remembering to take my medication, and… it’s called executive dysfunction?

“My parents want me to ‘be independent’ and ‘get my own place,’ but I need help. I can do interdependent, like, I help you, you help me? But I can’t do independent, and they don’t get that. So I need something, like, soon. I’ve looked for roommates, but most aren’t willing to be more than, well, you know, roommates.”

Emeka stared at them for a moment, then turned to Orli. She was looking back at him, looking kind of bemused.

“Sorry,” Andie said in a small voice. “I’m always just… blurting stuff and talking too much. And you can’t want…”

“Hey,” Orli interrupted them. “It’s okay, it’s… my turn to blurt stuff. I… I knew I’d have to say something tonight because It’s not fair to… and I didn’t want you to think…

“I’m monogamous. And homeless. I’m. I can’t do it anymore. I’m trying to raise my kid alone, and I’m in constant pain from fibro, and I can barely keep a roof over our heads. And I just…

“But that’s not why I’m here. I mean, I’ll be honest, I’m desperate enough I might have reached out anyway. But I had to try this because… because I’m tired of being alone. I’m aromantic and nonbinary, so dating is just… impossible. I want family, that’s all. And I said I’m monogamous, but I really don’t… I mean, can an aromantic person really be monogamous or poly or anything like that? I’ve just never tried to have more than one relationship before.

“And I guess I need help too, help to not be alone anymore.”

She took a deep breath. “I read your post, and it felt like something I could have written. About needing family. I promise I’m not trying to take advantage, but if you don’t want me here–”

“Wow,” Andie said. “And I thought I blurted out everything.”

Orli laughed. “I usually don’t… just spew stuff like that. I’m just…”

“hey,” Emeka finally found his voice. “I had my chance to dump everything in that post, only fair you two get a turn.

“That’s a lot to take in, but I’m not asking anyone to leave.

“I don’t care why you’re here, and you both know I got my own shit going on. You’re both here, right? We all want to make this work?”

Orli nodded firmly, though Emeka noticed she didn’t stop fidgeting with her hair. Andie said, “Yeah, absolutely.”

“So, that’s all good. Where do we go from here?”

Andie raised his hand. When Emeka waved for them to speak, they turned to Orli and asked, “If you’re nonbinary, why do you use she/her pronouns?”

Orli laughed, “Do you want the long version or the short version?”

“There’s a long version?”

“It involves Jewish stuff,” she replied. “There is always a long version.”

Emeka blinked, “Really? I don’t know much about Judaism, but I suppose I’m going to learn.

“We got all evening, so what’s the long version.?

Andie nodded. “Long version, please. Then it’s your turn to ask a question.”

“Okay, that works.” Orli nodded, then paused for a moment. “So, 2,000 years ago, when the 2nd Temple was destroyed, Jews had 6 genders…

Already fascinated, Emeka settled back to listen. It sounded like both Andie and Orli came more from desperation than anything else. But Emeka figured he wasn’t one to criticize — it was desperation that had him making that post, right?

Worst case, he’d met two very interesting people.

Building Family (S1, E6)

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

Orli stared at Emeka’s post for a few minutes, arguing with herself. She wasn’t polyamorous. Hell, she wasn’t even interested in a relationship, as most people understood the term. Not long after Chana was born, Orli had given up on dating entirely because even many Orthodox men had been infected by the modern world and expected something she couldn’t give them.

But she is tired of being lonely. She wants to know more about this idea, to build a family. It can’t hurt to ask, after all. Holding her breath, she sends this Emeka a message request.

Her grandmother used to talk about how it was done in the ‘old country.’ How a matchmaker would arrange a marriage. The old woman had no patience with falling in love. “first comes love,” she would say. “Oy, what nonsense. Marry a good man, child. Marry a man you can trust. You will build a life together, yes? And with that life together will come love.”

To her surprise, Emeka accepted her message request almost immediately. “I saw your post,” she said, “about building a family?” which was no different, really, than building a life together. Sometimes old wisdom still applied in the modern world. “I’d like to hear more.”

After three days, Emeka had been almost regretting his post. He still thought it could work, but he hadn’t expected the dumpster load of shit that would result from sharing it. He should have — it wasn’t like he didn’t have tons of experience with how people would react to a new idea.

Amid the attacks, well-meaning criticism, and sleaze had been two people reaching out who seemed really interested in what he was offering. Andie, who he know casually from some of the polyam meetups in town, and this person Orli who he’d never heard of before. But she’d been a member of the group for a couple of years, apparently one of those folks who preferred to lurk.

Orli couldn’t help laughing at Emeka’s explanation of how he’d come to this idea. “Oy, the fans! I’ve managed to avoid the Whovians, but I’ve been friends with some Trekkies and the way they got over those new movies.”

“Yes!” Emeka replied, “Don’t get me wrong, the show is good, I see why they like it, but…”

“But it’s almost as bad as football fans? No! European soccer fans.”

“Canadian hockey fans.”

“I don’t know, that’s going a bit far.”

“A bit.”

Emeka was surprised to realize he was grinning.

Orli’s phone rang and she went to answer it, grumbling about the endless spam calls. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a spam call, it was Chana’s school. Again. Orli answered, already knowing what she would hear.

Yup, Chana was being sent home from school early.

She grabbed her keys and purse, the pulled up the Messenger app on her phone as she walked down the stairs of the boarding house and out to the car. “I’m going to need to go,” she said, letting the voice recognition type the message for her. “My kid is in trouble at school.”

“You have a kid? How old?” Emeka’s reply popped up as she started the engine.

Orli sighed. She should have expected this, kids were always a deal-breaker. “14,” she types quickly. She closes the app and pulls out of her parking spot.

The car pulled out smoothly and she patted the dash. One of her last conversations with her parents, they’d had a lot to say about the amount of money she spent maintaining the car. She should have put the money into keeping up with rent or saving up for an actual apartment, they said.

So did lots of other people. But if she didn’t have a car to get to work with, then soon she wouldn’t have a place to pay rent on. She was so sick of people judging her life and decisions without understanding it.

When she pulled into the school parking lot, she checked for a reply from Emeka.

“Fourteen is the worst. I got in all kinds of trouble at that age,” it read, “Go ahead and rescue your kid from whatever the school’s dumping on them. I’m off today, so just tag me whenever you get back.”

She blinked and re-read it.

The next half hour was a frustrating routine of talking with the vice-principal, waiting while Chana collected her things, a drive ‘home’ with a fuming silent teen.

The boarding house was skirting the edge of legality on a good day, and Orli wasn’t surprised to see the neighbors sitting on the front porch waiting for their next ‘customers’ as she hurried Chana inside.

But the roof was free of leaks, the heat worked, and the tenants mostly minded their own business. It wasn’t where she wanted to raise her daughter, but it was safe and cheap enough she could get each of them their own room — privacy being critical for both parent and child once the teen years arrived.

Once Chana was settled in to do her homework, Orli sat back down at her computer — one of the few things she’d managed to hold onto from before — and stared at the conversation with Emeka that was still on the screen.

She enjoyed that conversation. And he hadn’t been scared off by a teenage kid. They were both looking for family.

“What school district are you in?”

Building Family, S1 E5

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

Emeka knew what he wanted to do. Or he thought he did. He’d learned the hard way not to put his thoughts public until he’d double-checked them in private. So he opened up a blank word doc and titled it ‘Intentional Family.’ It takes him a couple of minutes to get all his thoughts down, just a big burst of words. Then he started organizing him, making sure he had everything. The importance of personal commitment to any family, that if people were willing to commit to each other and an intentional community, why couldn’t they commit to being family together. His interest in meeting folks willing to make such a commitment. A bit of info about himself and his life, why he wanted to do this. Two read-throughs, a quick run through Grammarly, and he had something he could put up in public.

He hopped back on Black & Poly. Given the interest in intentional communities, he figured folks there would be receptive.

Copy, paste, and… the new post at the top of the feed caught his eye. “The Surprising Predictor of Who We Love.” The article looked like typical clickbait, but the poster — someone he didn’t know well — had given a short summary. Supposedly, the number one predictor of who you would love was geography — who were you close enough to meet and get to know.

Emeka wasn’t looking to fall in love, per se. There were lots of ways to love, and right now, he was looking more for comfort-love of family than stars and fireworks. But the point was the same, wasn’t it? Distance mattered, and if he wanted this to work, he needed to look for people who lived nearby. After thinking about it, he pulled up another polyamory group, one for his metro area. It was a much smaller group, but the people might be able to connect with him. He took a deep breath and posted it. Fingers crossed.

Against his own better judgment, he camped on the post, waiting for responses. To his surprise, they came quickly. Within five minutes, he had five replies to his post, and a couple of those replies had conversations developing. That, at least, was good.

The bad part was the kind of responses he was getting. One response was an obvious joke response. The other four were warnings: that he was inviting abusers to take advantage of him, or how could he consider getting involved with people he didn’t know? A few of the conversations were talking like he was a five-year-old who had never heard of ‘stranger danger.’

Disgusted, he closed up Facebook. He didn’t need negativity and condescension. He wasn’t going to subject himself to any more of that BS. Maybe he should check out the reviews on the new EA game. It was probably another reboot, but there might be something interesting enough to make it worth the money.

He was settling in to watch a long YouTube review when the phone rang. After checking the number, he answered with a smile. “Jenna! What’s up? I didn’t expect to hear from you till Friday.”

“Yeah, well, I saw your post and was worried. What the hell are you thinking, Emeka?”

In a small one-bedroom apartment on the other side of town, Orli wanted to hang up on her sister. She really wanted to hang up on her sister. But you don’t abandon family. Especially when the family in question was the only family you had left.

Even when said family was rubbing salt in old wounds and not even noticing. “Sis, I love you. And I want you to be happy.”

“But you also want me to shut the hell up?”

“Well… kind of?”

“I’m sorry, Ori. I shouldn’t let our parents being asses get to me, even if they are insulting my metamour. And I know you have better things to do than listen to me kvetch about my weird relationships.”

“It’s not weird! Just because you are doing something different doesn’t make it weird or wrong.”

It took a bit longer, but eventually, Orli managed to say goodbye and go back to bills.

Their parent’s anniversary was coming up. It wasn’t marked on the calendar, but the date might as well have glowed eye-searing red for all Orli could miss it. Should she even bother sending a card this year? It wasn’t like they even admitted she existed any longer.

Sighing, feeling her belly burn, warning her of a panic attack, Orli picked the phone up and called her sister back. “You don’t know what you have. You don’t know what you could lose. Yes, they are short-sighted and judgemental. And I wish you could tell them to go jump in a lake. But they are the only parents we will ever have. It sucks that they won’t invite your… what, your metamour? But don’t burn that bridge. Just. Don’t.”

She hung up without waiting for a response. Any response at all would only make her hurt more.

She needed sleep. It was a school day tomorrow and then a full shift at work. But if she tried to sleep now, she’d fall right into nightmares. Instead, she decided to do some research. What in the world was a ‘metamour’? Orli had started lurking in a Facebook group about polyamory shortly after her sister came out to her. Time to re-check the group’s glossary.

The group kept a good glossary, and she seemed to be checking it once a week lately. ‘Metamour’ was someone dating the same person you were. Your partner’s other partner. Orli didn’t see why they needed a word for that, but okay.

She was about to click out of the group when she noticed the title of the top post. ‘Intentional family.’ Intrigued despite herself, she opened it up and started reading.

By the time she was done, she had tears in her eyes. Whoever this person was — and from the comments, they were getting a lot of flack — she heard them. Behind all their straight talk about the importance of commitment and the success of some intentional communities (whatever those were) was someone who shared her pain. Abandonment. Aloneness. The lack of the one thing you thought you could always depend on.


Building Family, S1 E4

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

Long before the pizza arrived, Emeka was sick of himself and his thoughts. He needed to get up and do something. So once he finished eating and cleaned up, he closed down the computer and grabbed a handful of cardboard boxes. His parents had left a lot of stuff behind, even after the lawyers had gone through and taken whatever. Most stuff that wasn’t furniture needed to be boxed up.

He gritting his teeth, he started with a job he’d been avoiding. The hallways and stairs were lined with family pictures. Not just his mom and dad, but grandparents, aunts, uncles cousins. He boxed them all up and hoped he was boxing up the memories with them.

It was the first time he’d seen any of his family in over ten years. And most of them were strangers. Even his parents looked like strangers to him now. Which made sense. He hadn’t had a family since the day he’d walked out of this house. Once, he’d hoped some of his cousins or Aunt Alice would look for him, be there for him. But they never did.

When the last picture was packed away, a tiny scrap of hope died within him. He’d pretended not to notice, told himself that he hadn’t been paying attention, that there were more pictures around the corner he hadn’t looked at. He couldn’t lie to himself any longer. Dozens of pictures, filling two boxes. He wasn’t in any of them.

He ignored the tears as he hauled the boxes to the garage. Out of sight until he could go through and see if there were one or two he’d want to keep. Gramma and Pops maybe. Or, hell, all of them. His family. He set the boxes down and rubbed the tears off his cheeks. It wasn’t roommates he needed, not a community. It was family. And wasn’t that a kick in the nuts.

Rather than go back into the house, he sat down and let the cool of the concrete soak into him. He didn’t know if he hadn’t been missing family until his parents died, or he’d been in denial about it. If he even took Shayna’s advice to find a shrink, they could help him sort it out.

Shayna, as much as they cared for each other, wasn’t family. None of his polyam partners were. They had fun together, they cared for each other, but they never crossed that line from friends and romantic partners to family.

He let the tears fall another minute or two, then got back up. One painful job done, he might as well tackle the rest. For the first time since he’d moved back, he opened the door to his childhood room.

And winced. He’d half expected to have been erased from his room, the same way he’d been erased from every other part of the house, but this was worse. It was… what, some kind of shrine to the girl they’d tried to force him to be? It was the same, still the pink and frills they’d forced on him, even as a teenager. His rebellious posters that his mom hated were still up on the walls. The only change was propped in the middle of his desk: a single picture frame. A single picture. One of the rare times his parents had managed to get him to dress ‘properly’, which meant ‘girly’. He took a minute to take it all in, then slammed the door.

His stomach heaved as he hurried down the hallway, unable to wipe the image of that… that… fuck. They’d never accepted he was a boy, he’d known that. They spent his entire life looking for a cheat code — up up down down left right left right — to ‘cure’ him of his refusal to be the girl he was ‘supposed’ to be.

He rinsed his mouth out and threw himself back on his computer. Something else, he needed to think of something else. Family. He’d been thinking about family, about needing a family. He laughed at himself. Sure, right. Where was he going to get one? Did he think, like his parents, that there was some set of cheat codes to life that magically gave you what you wanted? He didn’t have a family, hadn’t for years. And no way to get one now.

He pulled up B&P again and found yet another Unicorn Hunter post. UHs were couples looking for a person (usually a ‘hot bi babe’) to ‘join their couple.’ They tended to lay out their expectations for the hbb in question like a job listing and give no sense of who they were or why anyone should be interested in them. This post was an example of the worst of them. It expected their required hbb to be equally in love with both of them (always) and understand their secondary position. They weren’t to interfere with the ‘main couple.’

Even the best of Unicorn Hunters didn’t seem to understand that they were sellers in a buyer’s market. They also didn’t get how even the best-intentioned and least toxic setup (which these two didn’t have) they were proposing was harmful. You can’t have a democracy of three, with a pre-existing voting block of two. Instead, they paraded into polyam groups expecting legions of women (or more rarely men) to fall at their feet. Then they got pissy when folks explained to them why it wasn’t going to happen. Ron, with the patience of a saint, was in a long comment thread with this latest example. Explaining, again why unicorn hunting didn’t work.

Curious Emeka pulled up a calculator and started working through a percentile calculation. He was never the best at math, but this one seemed fairly straightforward. Even if the base numbers were assumptions and estimations.

Yeah, it looked like Ron’s answer was solid. Assuming his numbers were good — and Emeka thought he was being generous — the chances of a pre-existing couple finding a local person who was polyamorous, shared both their interests, and developed an immediate interest in both of them were worse than one in a million. He shook his head and decided not to get involved in this one. Most UHs never understood the difference between a triad and what they were looking for. He wasn’t interested in charging at this windmill.

The biggest problem the UHs had, the thing that set them apart from other folks who wanted to be in a triad, was they were looking for the ‘right’ person. Lots of people wanted a triad or menage, but they understood you couldn’t order one up from the pizza shop with all the right toppings. You had to do the work, to made space in your existing relationships for new ones. Then you dated like normal people (not both of you together, not looking for insta-marriage) and you might get lucky. You might find someone everything clicked with.

UH’s wanted to know that things would ‘fit’. They didn’t want to ‘disrupt’ their existing relationship, cared more about protecting that relationship than the hypothetical person they were looking for. They wouldn’t treat that person as a partner in their own right, someone you built a new relationship with. Not an appendage to your existing relationship. Emeka was done with the whole lot of them.

Scrolling down, the intentional community discussion was still going strong. Looked like they had a good dozen folks saying they would be on board with a community somewhere if they could make it work. Emeka didn’t know how they could do it. They committed to walking away from everything so they could make a life with all-but strangers. But hey, if it worked for them.

Something about that pulled him up. The UHs didn’t expect to make any changes, they expected whoever they met to fit with them. But these intentional community folks were doing the exact opposite. They were making a commitment to each other, making all the room in the world. All they knew about the others was they wanted the same thing, to make this community happen. Could you do the same with a family? On a smaller scale, of course. Could a handful of folks come together, commit to each other, make room in their lives. Could they build a family?

I know it’s been a slow build up, but we finished the ki part of this season. Things are about to start moving.

Building Family (S1 E3)

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

Needing a distraction and maybe a few new ideas, Emeka decided to pull up the Black & Poly Facebook group. He’d never been active in B&P, but he liked lurking and learning. Even though a lot of the stuff on B&P was 101 stuff (which was how the founder liked it), he often picked up a useful nugget or two.

Today, someone had posted about land being available cheap in Minnesota, and maybe they could get an intentional community going. Intentional communities were another topic that came up from time to time. Last time had been about someone’s family plot in Texas, of all places. He hadn’t paid much attention, but this time he sat down to read the whole discussion.

The phone rings, startling Emeka. He scowled at it but answered. “Hello.”

“Hey, ‘Mek!” his friend Raul said. “Look, I know we were going to do a movie night Thursday, but I picked up an extra shift. I can’t afford to turn that down.”

“I hear you. Movie night can be done anytime, right? How about we try for next Thursday?”

“You know how it goes. I don’t have my schedule for next week yet. But we can try. What’ve you been up to? How’s the new place?”

Emeka shrugged even though Raul couldn’t see him. “It’s okay. Nice to not have to worry about rent.”

“Lucky asshole.”

Emeka didn’t know that getting kicked out as a teen and learning his parents died from lawyers counted as ‘lucky.’ But no rent was definitely a silver lining of the whole mess. “So, I was on B&P. They’re talking about intentional communities. Sounds pretty interesting, like a bunch of folks deciding to build a community together.”

“What! No, man. That’s white people shit. I had a coworker who was obsessed with that stuff. Like, building a bunch of log cabins in the wilderness and all living together off the grid. Who needs that shit?”

“Really? That’s not what I was seeing.”

Raul snorted. “Sure, they make it sound good, but it’s like Woodstock — crazy white people idea that they make sound amazing, but is actually rain, mud, and not enough toilets.”

“Alright, alright. I’m not going anywhere without enough toilets,” Emeka laughed.

They talked a bit longer, until Raul had to leave for work.

Emeka went back to B&P and the discussion about intentional communities. It sounded like Raul knew a bit about them; more than Emeka did after reading part of one conversation. God knew coworkers with obsessions could talk your ear off. So if he thought it was a bad idea, it might be. And this talk of buying land in Minnesota or where ever wasn’t reassuring on the toilet situation.

Still, Raul had a tendency to dismiss a lot of things as ‘white people shit’. As if white people coming up with a thing or doing it a lot was a reason to dismiss it. Besides, if folks in B&P were talking about it, it obviously wasn’t ‘white people shit.’

Hell, some people’d told him polyamory was ‘white people shit.’ Which was ridiculous. If anything forcing monogamy on everyone was white people shit. Lots of places around the world didn’t do monogamy before Europe came conquering. If prejudice about what a black person could do was going to stop him, he’d never have transitioned.

Fuck it. He pulled up DuckDuckGo and ran a search on intentional communities. There was a lot of info, and he settled in to read. It was on the third website that he found a reference to Freedom, Georgia. 97 black families had bought a chunk of land to start a new community. White people shit my ass.

Emeka started reading up on intentional communities.

A while later, movement out of the corner of his eye distracted Emeka. He looked up to see two birds — sparrows maybe? — flying around right outside. He took a closer look. They had a nest tucked into the bush right below the window. He’d never been much of a bird watcher, but curiosity had him turning away from the computer to see what they were up to.

There were a trio of chicks in the nest, and it was feeding time. Each of the grown-up birds dropped something — bugs? worms? — into one of the babies’ mouths, then flew off.

Emeka waited a minute or two and was about to return to his reading when they came back with two more morsels. For the next several minutes, they flew in and out, feeding the babies until the little mouths stopped gaping.

A shadow skimmed across the grass.

Suddenly, the grown-up sparrows turned into, like the Red Baron, dive-bombing a crow that must have come too close to their nest. They were tiny next to the blackbird, but they didn’t stop. They were defending their babies, and nothing was going to drive them away.

It wasn’t long before the crow was driven off, and the show was over.

Emeka went back to his reading, but it didn’t seem as interesting. He couldn’t really do an intentional community, could he? He was just as tied to this place as the birds were to their nest.

He has a job, polyam partners, friends. Oh, if he needed to, he could pack up and move. Maybe to Connecticut to be near Bertina. But not on a whim or because he didn’t like the goddamn free home he got.

He pulled Facebook back up and was relieved to see that the Whovians were finally settling down. It would probably flare up on and off for a couple of days, but it wouldn’t take over his feed again. Until the next feeding frenzy. He was glad his friends were Whovians. When GoT fans got going, they had gone on for days. Those folks really loved their shows.

He thought about that love and excitement and realized that was what he’d been missing thinking about intentional communities. He wasn’t excited about them, wasn’t in love with the idea. Whatever he ended up doing about the house or roommates or whatever, he came to one decision right then. He wouldn’t move away unless he’s as excited about moving as the fans were about their fandoms.

Building Family (S1, E2)

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

Emeka knew he was on the right track. He needed to find someone (or several someones) who’d want to make a home with him. Finding that person was the challenge.

He had three polyam partners. Jenna was a casual partner he saw every few weeks when their schedules meshed. Shayna was a fairly serious partner — they had a weekly date night and tried to spend a weekend each month. And Bertina and he were comets. They ‘flew’ in and out of each other’s lives a few times a year. Bertina would visit again next month for a couple of weeks.

He hadn’t ever talked about living together with any of them. Becoming nesting partners hadn’t seemed in the cards. Hell, Bertina lived in Connecticut, so it wasn’t even a reasonable question. Right? Things changed, though. Just because it hadn’t been in the cards when he was living in a crappy apartment didn’t mean it wasn’t worth asking now.

The fire alarm started blaring, interrupting his thoughts. Emeka opened his eyes to see smoke pouring off the pot on the stove. “Fuck!” He pulled the pot off the stove, then rushed to silence the fire alarm. One advantage of living in a house — no neighbors complaining about the alarm going off. Of course, that didn’t help with dinner.

Disgusted, he dumped the charred remains of the pasta into the garbage and grabbed the menu for the local pizza place. Looked like it was going to be delivery again.

Some things never changed — his ability to burn anything among them. Wanting it wouldn’t make him a better cook — or, he realized, change the course of his relationships.

He’d have let it go at that, but he needed to try something or he was going to fall into another funk. So he kept turning the idea over. No, he’d never talked about living together with either Jenna or Shayna. But that meant they’d never said anything about not wanting to live together. He could at least have the conversation.

The last time he’d seen Jenna was shortly before his parents’ lawyer got a hold of him. She’d been having troubles with her landlord. Jenna’s apartment building was a mess. Not quite as bad as Emeka’s old place, but it was going to get there if the landlord didn’t start making repairs. The asshole had been dodging her calls about a leak in the ceiling — not something you wanted to ignore. She said she was sticking it out because she liked how close it was to downtown, but no one needed a ceiling coming down on their head.

The smell of burnt past permeated the kitchen. Emeka opened a window the clear the air and retreated back to his computer. He could still smell the smoke there, but it wasn’t as bad. He flipped through the menu for the pizza parlor, even though he knew what he’d order. Hell, he’d been living on take-out the past two weeks while he got his stuff moved in and settled.

The last time Jenna’d cooked for him, she made a stir fry. Beef and onions with chopped peppers. He had no idea what she seasoned it with. The onions and peppers had been dotted with black bits from the spices she’d tossed in the pan. It had tasted amazing. God knew when he’d have food like that again.

With a sigh of regret, he dialed the pizza place. 30 minutes and he’d have something to eat for dinner.

Pizza ordered, Emeka decided he needed a distraction. Something to get him out of his head. He pulled up a new browser tab and hopped on the Big Blue. Facebook was a steaming pile of shit most days, but you could always count on it to distract you from your own troubles. Or at least that was Emeka’s opinion. Shayna had closed up her account last year and swore she’d never get on again. As soon as the page loaded, he glanced at the top corner and froze. 68 notifications. What the fuck?

Top of his feed was a picture of a long-haired white guy wearing fancy sunglasses, suspenders over a dress shirt (only half-buttoned), black slacks, and bright blue socks covered with jumping sheep. Emeka had never seen the guy before. No caption, no description. It wasn’t until he looked at the comments that it started to make sense. Someone had leaked a picture of Dr. Who’s next Companion — whoever he would be.

Whovians — a fan group that included a good chunk of his friends — were going wild. Speculating like crazy about what the character would be like, where he came from, so on and so forth. Usual fandom feeding frenzy. Having a suspicion, he clicked over to his notifications. Yup, he was being tagged in dozens of Dr. Who posts. That’s what most of those 68 notifications were. Watch a show for a single season and never hear the end of it.

He read the first two or three posts just to keep up with what his friends were into. Then started scrolling. It was a couple of pages until he saw the first non-Whovian post. Jenna had shared a long-ish writing. Looking forward to seeing her thoughts, he clicked on ‘Read more’ to see what she’d been up to.

Looked like someone a polyamory group had been talking shit about solo polyamory. It happened from time to time, assholes who thought anyone who didn’t do it ‘their way’ was doing it wrong. Jenna, also as usual, didn’t take shit like that lying down. But this post was different. Instead of defending sole polyamory in general, Jenna was claiming it. She was solo polyam, and no matter how committed she was to a partner, she would always need her own home and her own space… Had she ever told him she was solo polyam? He didn’t think so.

By the time he’d finished reading, he had another half dozen notifications filled with Whovian chatter. He had tried to get into the show a few years ago; it would have been nice to share that fandom with his friends. But he just couldn’t care.

However much he might like the idea, asking Jenna about moving in would be a mistake. It would be like one of his friends trying to get him into Dr. Who again. Landlord problems or no landlord problems, he needed to respect her needs. But where did it leave him?

Building Family (S1 E1)

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

The house was silent, an echoing silence that belongs in the depths of night. One that comes when everyone sleeps: no footsteps or music, no dishwasher running, no occasional sound of someone bumping their toes or closing the door a bit too hard. Silence is supposed to exist in the space between sounds. This silence seemed to echo, the absence of noise growing louder with each moment that passed.

Emeka had lived with the silence for two weeks. He had tried to break it — blasting music, stomping up and down the stairs, talking to himself. But the silence always waited. It ambushed him when the music stopped and echoed in the moments between his footsteps. When he first moved back into the house, he had hoped the silence would grow comfortable. That it would become the relaxed silence of being in one’s own company. It never did. It was always the loud, sharp silence that said one was alone.

He had been 18 when his parents kicked him out. They had ‘done their duty’ until he was officially an adult but wouldn’t put up with his ‘perversion’ one moment more. He hadn’t spoken with his parents again. Hadn’t even known they died until their lawyer got a hold of him and told him they left him the house. He’d thought it was some kind of sick joke at first, but no. All the paperwork had been under his dead name, of course. That he would have expected — if he’d expected to be included in their will at all.

Memories haunted every corner of the house that had once been his home. It was those memories that made the silence so loud and so painful. His father’s voice telling Emeka to get out and don’t come back. His mother’s tears the day he came out to them. The urgent late-night whispers as they planned how they would ‘fix’ him. There had been happy memories too, once. But the silence drowned them out.

Needing to do something, Emeka pulled up YouTube and turned the speakers up to 11. He knows it won’t work for long, but he’ll take anything he can get.

His ‘My Mix’ on YouTube started with K’naan. The auto-generated playlist was feeling old school. He closed his eyes and let himself rock on the rhythm of “In the Beginning.” He tried not to listen to the lyrics, just let the music hold back the silence enough that he could relax.

Maybe he should sell the house. Take what he could get for it and go. It wasn’t like he had any sentimental reason to hold onto it. He’d only moved in because his lease was ending in a month anyway — he wanted out of that shit hole as fast as he could manage it. He had no idea what it would sell for or how to go about selling a house. But that’s what the internet was for.

As he pulled up a new browser tab, a new song cued up. Shakira, singing about “try everything.” He found himself singing along because how could you not? He’d been in a funk since he moved in, barely leaving the house except for work. There had to be other options, right? It wasn’t just… live with this shit or sell out.

He’d been handed a free house. Almost literally free — the mortgage was paid off, and the estate covered the death taxes. After a decade of struggling to keep a roof over his head, he’d be a fool to walk away. He hadn’t seen the utility bills yet, but they had to be less than the rent he’d been paying at his last place.

There would be property taxes, though. They’d be a pain if they were high enough. And according to his landlord’s bitching, they’d gone up last year. He’d need to save up for that, and he’d never been good at saving.

He opened his eyes and found himself staring at the bright blue drapes that wrapped around the windows of what had been the guest bedroom. He’d set it up as a computer-and-game space. Less because he needed a dedicated space and more because… why not? The drapes weren’t new, but like almost everything else in the house, they were new to him. His parents had redecorated hardcore, and he first thought that would help him get used to living here again. Instead, it added a level of weirdness to the whole thing.

Even with his income, he could easily afford to live here. But making it a home, a place he was comfortable? His money wouldn’t run to redecorating, making it his home; instead of his parents’ place he’d never been welcome in.

Emeka shook his head and closed the browser down. What he needed wasn’t to get rid of the house. It was to get out of his own head. Living in an apartment or boardinghouse there were always people around. Always someone carrying groceries up the stairs or blasting their music too loud. You never had a chance to feel alone because someone was right on the other side of the wall.

Really, it was kind of ridiculous to have this whole house for one person. It had been a big house for him and his parents; they hadn’t exactly needed a guest bedroom after all. Maybe that was the answer — invite someone (or someones) to move in and share the place. It wouldn’t be so silent, with other people around. And those people would add their own stamp to the house, whether or not they could afford to redecorate.

His stomach rumbled. He grimaced and stood up, heading for the kitchen. The cabinets were almost empty, but there was plenty of mac and cheese. He couldn’t manage much in the kitchen, but even he could usually make pasta without too much trouble. He needed to go to the store and stock up on frozen dinners or something tomorrow.

Maybe he could get someone to move in who knew how to cook. Really cook. He would happily trade laundry duties — dirty underwear and all — for a decent meal a few times a week. More than one of his partners had teased him about being a cheap date — double whatever they usually made for dinner, and he was a happy man.

Yeah, finding someone to share the house with might be the answer to his biggest problems.