My cousin Alicia.
Calling to let me know that Monday Night Family Zoom was cancelled.
Which was just fine with me. I almost always end up enjoying Monday Night Family Zoom, but I never look forward to it.
“In fact, I think I’m going to stop doing that Monday night Zoom thing altogether!”
I sighed. “What’s up, Alicia?”
What was up is that Alicia and my aunt Annie, her mother, had just gotten into a furious phone battle over money. Unpleasant things were said. In loud voices.
A few years back, Annie’s little house, on top of a rather steep canyon, slid right down the hill on account of the fact that Santa Cruz County had built a culvert that dumped excess flood waters onto her property.
Annie was prepared to roll her eyes. Sigh, Inshallah.
But Alicia is a fighter.
She marshaled together a legal team and took Santa Cruz County to court.
This is no easy feat, by the way.
It is notoriously difficult to get governmental entities to pay up in instances of routine negligence.
But Alicia did it and after five years of unsympathetic judges, dilatory lawyers, and other stonewalling, snagged Annie an award in the amount of one million dollars.
Santa Cruz County gave it to Annie in cash—because initially the plan was for Annie to rebuild her little house and move back there.
But Annie is kind of midway into her dementia adventure. There is no possible way she could live on her own. She lives with Stew, her faithful boyfriend of 30-some odd years, in Stew’s house—a property Stew bought 50 years ago back when he was a hippie.
“She’s just spending and spending and spending—” Alicia told me furiously.
“Yes, but how much is she spending?” I asked. Thinking the problem must be that Annie is giving away indiscriminate amounts, hundreds of thousands of dollars, to the Redwing Sanctuary, A Safe Place for Flying Pigs or to Mousedananda, patron swami to pet rodents.
“She’s spending forty thousand a year!”
Forty thousand a year?
I was flabbergasted.
But that’s nothing, Alicia! I wanted to say.
Particularly not in a place like Santa Cruz.
In fact, in a place like Santa Cruz, that’s subsistence living.
“And I’m pretty sure she’s supporting Stew—” Alicia continued.
Alicia and Stew have always not-so-congenially loathed one another.
“In the first place, Alicia”, I said, “Annie is not supporting Stew—”
“But he doesn’t work! He’s never worked!”
“He doesn’t have to work. He’s sitting on a property worth several million dollars. All he has to do is tap the equity.”
“He doesn’t own that house—”
I snorted. “He most certainly does own that house. And even if he didn’t. How much do you think it would cost you to care for Annie if you had to put her in a skilled nursing care facility? Or were you thinking of installing her in your spare bedroom? Face it, Alicia: Without Stew, you’d be up shit creek. And he loves your mother. He dotes on her.
“More importantly, though, $40,000 is not an exorbitant amount of money, for life in the San Jose metropolitan area. And even if it was, it’s your mother’s money—”
“Yes, but she wouldn’t have it if it weren’t for me,” Alicia spat out bitterly.
And therein lies the crux of the matter.
Alicia feels underappreciated.
Alicia has always had an enormous inferiority complex when it comes to The Family.
And that carries over into other parts of her life, too.
She’s not stupid.
But her intelligence is of a very different order than that of her mother’s, her father’s, her sister Katherine’s. She’s not an intellectual; she’s a jock, she’s a plugger. She perseveres at things; those things don't necessarily come easily.
I’m a bit of a jock myself, so I admire the trait.
Nurture or nature? I’ve always wondered.
Because it would have been difficult to find a female parent more Bohemian, more hands-free, more neglectful than Annie while Alicia was growing up.
(My own mother, Annie’s sister, was neglectful, too, but in a more controlled, border line personality type of way. Which would make that neglect abuse, I suppose.)
When Alicia was a young child, Annie’s neglect took the form of living on a commune called Rancho Retardo where people wandered around naked, strumming on guitars, all day long.
Later on, Annie bought the little house that eventually slid down the hill, and Alicia barricaded herself in her room, reading and rereading Nancy Drews, while Annie fell in and out of love with the multitude of men who shared her bed and billing in the innumerable bands Annie played in back then, Jango, String Fever, Hearts on Fire, Pele Juju, Catalyst headliners all but completely unknown outside Santa Cruz. Annie was a very local music celebrity goddess.
There were occasional weekends in Berkeley, too, at the Spruce Street manse under the saturnine eye and sharp tongue of my Uncle Rik, Alicia’s father. Who spared Alicia neither.
Eventually, Alicia became a professional triathlete.
When that fell through because she couldn’t find a sponsor, she married Nevin, a financial advisor, and began teaching biology at local community colleges.
Teaching biology is actually an act of rebellion for her: Nevin is rich and didn’t want a wife who worked.
“Where were you?” Alicia asked me once. “When all this was happening to me, why weren’t you there?”
I smiled and shook my head.
I'm 12 years older than Alicia. Truth is I cut off practically every member of my immediate family except for Rik shortly after I turned 17.
I might see them on major holidays.
Then again, I might not.
I didn’t really start talking to my family again until after I gave birth to Ichabod.
You may hate them, thought I to myself. But you really can’t make choices for Ichabod about who his family members are.
And as it turned out—who would have guessed it?—my mother was a really fabulous grandmother.
Go figure. Crossposted from Dreamwidth.