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.