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.