Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home
— “Home,” by Phillip Phillips
Not long after selling my condo on Buena Vista Avenue, I found out that Skylar Grey needed surgery for elbow dysplasia. The timing couldn’t have been worse. I was staying at Steve’s apartment, which was a fourth-floor walk-up. Dr. Andrew Sams, Skylar’s surgeon, made it clear: “No stairs for a while would be best.” Of course, I was familiar with canine postsurgical recuperation because Jazzy had two TPLOs done at the Sams Clinic. While elbow dysplasia wasn’t as invasive, it still made sense not to push the stair issue. I called my stepmother, Kickie, and asked if Skylar and I could come home. “Of course,” Kickie said. “Stay as long as you want.” And so, Steve and I loaded up a small U-Haul truck with necessities and headed down to South San Jose.
I grew up in Silicon Valley in Sunnyvale, but my mother passed away when I was quite young. When mutual friends introduced my father to Kickie, I liked her right away. In her 60s then, she had a vivacious personality, a Jessica Rabbit figure, waves of auburn hair, and a pair of gams that put most of my twenty-something friends to shame. She complemented every outfit she wore with matching accessories, from her earrings to her belts to her shoes. Between her southern charm and movie-star looks, her given name — Mildred — definitely didn’t fit. Lucky for baby Mildred, her two-year-old brother, Milford, couldn’t say it. Little Mildred kicked her feet a lot, and her mother would hold them and say, “Kickie!” One day, Milford echoed his mother, saying “Kickie!” repeatedly, and the nickname stuck. My father was always a handsome man, tall and athletic with black hair and twinkling baby blue Irish eyes. Like Kickie, he was outgoing and extremely charismatic, so they made a good pair, although getting a word in edgewise with the two of them was frustrating, as one might imagine.
Kickie and my dad were together more than 20 years, and during that time, he lived with her. Filled with antiques and landscaped with fragrant roses and white birch trees, every inch of the elegant ranch house in the Santa Teresa neighborhood said “Kickie.” I now had known her almost as long as I knew my mom, and I had spent more time in her home than I had in my childhood home. As Steve, Skylar, Blue, and I passed my former workplace, the Apple campus off Highway 85 in Cupertino, I started thinking about how different Kickie and my mom were — and yet, my dad loved them both. My mom was beautiful, too, with cocoa-hued Sicilian skin, a petite but curvaceous figure, and long, flowing locks of jet-black hair. A natural beauty, she rarely wore makeup, preferred simple shift dresses and sandals, and allowed my dad to work the room while she sat quietly, often reading a book. She was passionate about medieval history, her vegetable garden, and teaching me how to make old family recipes, and she possessed both a quick, dry, wit and a fiery Italian temper (the latter of which rarely came out, thank goodness).
“Kickie is like Jazzy, and my mom was like Skylar,” I suddenly blurted out. Steve smiled, because he knew what I meant. Jazzy was vivacious, bold, and beautiful, working a room and charming the bully sticks off everyone she met. Skylar was beautiful, too, but she was shy and quiet around strangers, and just a little afraid of the world. “Even though they were very different, I loved Jazzy and I love Skylar — just like my dad loved both Kickie and my mom,” I said. “Yes,” Steve nodded. “And just like you love Kickie and also loved your mom.”
It was true. Over the years, I had come to think of Kickie as my second mother. She was always there for me as I grew from a girl to a woman, and she played a pivotal role in every aspect of my life. Now she was letting me move into her beautiful home to nurse my postsurgery pit bull puppy back to health — tempting tassels, coveted antiques, beautifully manicured yards and all. And white carpets. “Oh dear,” I said. “White carpets and Skylar Grey …” As we turned the corner onto Kickie’s tree-lined street, Steve chuckled. “You’re just thinking about that now? Well, she loves Skylar, so I’m sure it will be fine. At least until it rains …”