birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

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Capping Potential

The adage is true: we learn a lot about someone from sharing a tube of toothpaste. Are they tedious rollers, random squeezers, cap-replacers or loose canons? We also learn a lot about people by sharing a kitchen, a wall, or more intimately, a bed. I’ve shared my living space with a fair share of folks over my lifetime, an informal lab of anthropology, sociology, and sometimes—given their priority of cleanliness—microbiology. My observations could be summarized to state that I can live with just about anyone, as long as I learn how to move around.

My first roommate shared a 10x10 dorm room but that’s about it. She didn’t share anything about her life, her day, her dreams. But that was fine by me, as her outlook each day was looking inward, sad about anything and everything, shutting off the lights, covering her head and shutting out the world. I learned to make friends with all the girls across and down the hall, which is how I found my next roommate, a girl who’d never shake the title. We’d introduce each other that way for decades after we no longer shared the same address, sharing it as a point of pride that we felt sealed and explained our kinship. She was a nomadic spirit, wanting to travel the world by book, by boat, by foot. And she did. We first roomed together as sophomores in college, finding two other girls in need of a place and rolling the dice after a fifteen-minute introduction. Those fifteen minutes did a lot to size each other up superficially, which is sometimes on-point. It took longer to learn that one roommate was a modern day, real-life princess with the proverbial pea. She claimed the master suite, promising more of daddy’s money and to rent all new furniture for the den. (Rent furniture? Gasp. That broke every rule rapped into my young brain.) She exploded potatoes in the oven, not knowing to poke them. She didn’t know her way around the knobs and dials on appliances, nor the simple mechanics of a broom. It was pretty easy to sweep her out of the friend list, moving on.

I shared a bathroom and a wall with the other girl, learning just how much a head could shed and how much I hate it when someone uses my towel. But she was clean, neat, and calm overall. We both learned playing music in our rooms kept the peace in spite of those paper-thin walls.

I suppose boyfriends of roommates also count, as we all shared couch space and divided refrigerator shelves in those tiny-place days. And divided bagels, the last of the peanut butter, and the last of the hot water. Well, they didn’t share that. I learned to give up hope if I didn’t get ahead of the longest-showering-couple-that-ever-lived.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about roommates, housemates, and bedmates, it’s that how they treat the toothpaste tubes and hot water tap are clues you can use. Clues for their everyday approach to life and the core values within. Is there disregard for others’ simple needs? Is there regard that extra second of thoughtfulness can make a full day of happiness? Keep a lid on the toilet and the toothpaste. Reserve a warm welcome for an early riser with a hot shower and a pristine, dry towel. This is not only a good way to start the day but a great beginning for sharing a life.

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The Root and The Seed