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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

That Figures

Pinkie was on the left and Blue Boy was on the right, overlooking my new room in the new house. My mother loved these gold-framed prints, though I’m not sure if she cherished the sentiment because they were inherited, or if she loved the idea of what they represented: one girl, one boy.

Pinkie posed upon a rock, her milk-white skin glowing and her gown flowing in the breeze. A sash of blush silk tied around her waist, matching the little pursed lips that always seemed to be smirking to me. Blue Boy posed beside her, bound in a separate gilded frame. As a kid, I wasn’t sure if he was her brother or her lover. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I even knew the intimate difference that distinguished the two. Blue Boy wore pants, blue silk ones cropped at the knees, though nothing else about him seemed remotely masculine. He, too, had milk-white porcelain skin, unmarred. And white stockings slipped in silk slippers, just like hers. But, he was blue and he was a boy. And I was to have a room of lace and eyelet, ivory and white, ruffles and dolls. This was decided by my mother, not me. And I’m sure it was perfectly fine, at least until I discovered dirt and butterflies and big trees and clay ditches.

My small, tall bed was covered in ivory eyelet, a store-bought piece that I remember going with my mother from store to store to store to find. And yards and yards of a dust ruffle, which only made me curious to venture behind it, hiding in a secret place, peeking out through eyelets. What are eyelets anyway, if not a perfect symbol of wasted thread, highlighting holes in fabric that was perfectly good before? Perhaps an eyelet is the perfect representation of what Pinkie and her friends would do to pass the time, probably embroidering and stitching, or reading tiny books while lounging, avoiding anything that would exhaust their feminine figures.

I suppose you could say that my room at six years old shaped my first ideas of gender. That, in comparison to my brother’s blue and blood-red room next door, full of Matchbox cars and Star Wars figures that I wasn’t boy enough to touch. The distinction was everywhere, the tradition known, and the die cast. But my mother broke the mold when it came to how to sculpt one’s future. Anyone could be anything, especially girls. A astronaut. An architect, an archeologist. Perhaps a veterinarian, what she had longed to be but told she’d be a teacher instead. If there is one lesson I got about gender growing up, it was that it didn’t matter when it came to growing up. Be anything you want to be—and be able to do it by yourself. Blue Boy might not be the man you needed him to be, anyhow.

All in the Same Boat

Waiting Time