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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


Hey, have you met my friend, Cathy?

I’ve known her for years. Since 1988, I think. She has a daughter that is the same age as my older son. I actually picked her up at the park, in the playground area by the baby slides. I felt like a park slut mommy. I didn’t know anyone with little children and I confess that I was lonely for company. J and I went to the park for fresh air and sand play nearly every day and most of the kiddies were accompanied by nannies and babysitters, generally of the non-English speaking variety. They tended to hang together on the benches and I often wondered if they were trading complaints about the parents of their charges. 

I saw Cathy there a few times over a week or two and she looked like someone I might enjoy chatting with. She was easy with her child while still being protective, and friendly to the people around. She looked smart and they both had nice clothes, khaki pants, good t-shirts. She gave her daughter real food snacks – fruit and vegetable sticks and cookies that looked homemade. I watched - stalked?- them from afar and sidled up near them one day at the swings, making some kind of opening remark and we became friends right away. We were kindred spirits, sort of.

Her daughter, H, was rocket scientist bright and got along fine with my son who was reading and scrawling words at three. They liked the same juice boxes and played in a similar style – more make believe career games as professional adults than as playing at cowboys and princesses. Let’s play World Tour! First stop, London. Both dads were in the music business. Both moms worked with the dads.

We were a compatible group of six, two families of three, meeting for backyard barbecues and movies.

It was great for a few years. Cathy was very intelligent and very acerbic. She did a lot of research online about whatever interested her in any given week and was hilarious in her observations. She was a voracious reader. Our kids did well together except when H was in the throws of some wild tantrum. Then we would scurry home to our own safe nest. She was a fury when crossed.

The kids grew apart as they grew. They attended different schools so didn’t see one another during the weekdays. H was scheduled for many enrichment activities – piano lessons, advanced math classes, gymnastics - so was busy after school and much of the weekends. We became like the distant cousins, visiting every few months, not quite fitting in to their social scene.

In middle school, they lost interest in the whole getting together thing entirely, but Cathy and I met for lunch sometimes.

Then she just disappeared. Wasn’t available. Didn’t return calls. I finally received a letter from her saying she split from her husband who had been abusing her. It was a very complicated and acrimonious break up and she was sorry to have been unavailable. She couldn’t talk about it yet. She would get in touch one day. I was shocked. They seemed good together. Funny, smart ass, quick to joke and laugh. He was very slight of build and hardly looked the type to get physical. It was so unbelievable, that I wasn’t sure I believed it.

We reconnected after our kids finished college and met for lunch a number of times. She was sick with some kind of auto-immune disorder and was tired a lot of the time. She cancelled about every other date.

She was planning to move to Chicago to be nearer her daughter one day, and the next, they were estranged. Not speaking. It was always very dramatic.

She and I don’t speak at all now. We had a major falling out. And I don’t know why. The last time we spoke on the phone, she screamed, FUCK YOU! at me and slammed the phone. No one had ever done that to me before. I don’t think of myself as the kind of person who elicits that kind of extreme reaction. I think I’m pretty mild mannered. I went back and reread all the emails we had been exchanging to see how I had offended her so greatly, and I was stumped. It’s still a mystery.

She’s an interesting person. You might like her.

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