You’re on the side of the road
You don’t know which way is down
Your head is spinning out of control
Since you left that little town
You told them all you’d be fine
You said just wait and see
You packed your bags as a little girl
And couldn’t wait to leave
But then you said with a foot full of lead
Here I come
Back to where I’m from
— “Back to Where I’m From”
by Joshua Radin
Kickie was nervous as she fastened her clip earrings. “They match my top and my shoes,” she said. “You look beautiful,” I said, straightening her scarf. “You’re going to be fine.” It was time for her mammogram — her first in a decade, and the first test since she had a malignant tumor removed from her right breast.
I held onto her arm as we walked toward the entrance of Kaiser Hospital. I could feel her shaking as I handed her off to the nurse. Half an hour later, she returned, smiling. “She thinks everything looks good.”
On the way home, I brought up the topic of moving. “Now that you’re in remission and Skylar’s elbows have healed, I need to start looking for a place in San Francisco.”
“I thought you liked living down here,” Kickie said. “And Skylar loves it here.”
“I know she does … and I do, too, but my business and my friends are in the city, and I can’t keep staying at Steve’s every time I’m up there.”
“Steve told me that he loves having you and Skylar there,” Kickie said. “And I love having you and Skylar here with me.”
When I sold my condo, the plan had always been to stay in San Jose until I bought again in the city. As much as I loved my condo, it had too many bad memories: I was burglarized there, my father passed away there, Jazzy got cancer there. Plus, the neighbors were nuts. Then Skylar needed elbow dysplasia surgery, and soon after Kickie had breast cancer, so I put my plans on hold. But with my prolonged stay, Kickie had become more and more dependent on me. And Skylar. I think she was even more dependent on Skylar, with whom she had developed a deep emotional bond. It was Skylar’s odd behavior that led to the discovery of Kickie’s tumor, and it was Kickie who cuddled with her on the couch while I was working or running errands.
“I wish you would stay here,” Kickie said. “I know after your dad passed we talked about me moving to San Francisco with you, but I really don’t want to leave my house.”
Kickie and her husband, Byron, had bought the house 42 years ago, but Byron died suddenly of an inherited heart condition at just 55. Kickie was left to care for his three teenaged children from a previous marriage, all of whom eventually moved out of California. Only one, Sara, even bothered to call anymore. When Kickie met my recently widowed father, she had been alone for a long time. Their relationship spanned over two decades, until my father passed away in 2008.
Kickie and I had grown incredibly close, and I considered her a second mother, especially after losing mine so young. Kickie had been there through boyfriend breakups, career confusion, and the deaths of my dad and Jazzy. There were laughs too, like when I came down for a weekend and we drank the only wine she had — a bottle of white zinfandel — while she made the finest fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. (Kickie rarely drinks, so when she does, it’s a hoot.)
Home has always been important to me, so I understood why Kickie didn’t want to leave hers.
“It’s hard, Suzie, to get old,” Kickie said, her voice cracking slightly. “It’s hard to feel like you’re losing control and losing your independence. It’s hard to think about giving up something you love because you can’t take care of it, or yourself, like you used to.”
“I’ll stay,” I blurted.
Kickie’s hazel eyes lit up and she grabbed my hand. “I want to leave you the house,” she said.
I shook my head. “You don’t have to do that …”
“I want to,” Kickie said. “You’re the only person who is always there for me … you were there before I had the cancer removed, and you were waiting when I got out. I want you to have the house.”
“I don’t know what to say … thank you. I love the house. It’s home to me, too, and it’s home to Skylar.”
When we walked through the door, Skylar was waiting, her beloved stuffed toy Benji the Tiger in her mouth, her big butt wiggling and her tail whipping from side to side. “Grammy loves you, Skylar,” Kickie said. “Come here and let me kiss your little blockhead.”
I took Kickie’s arm. “Let’s go call Steve … you get to break the news that he’s stuck with me and Skylar whenever we’re in the city.”