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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

In My Absence

I seriously underestimated the time it would take to pack up all my belongings from the house and studio I’d been renting, store them, and get ready to go to eastern Europe for a year, probably because I’d never done anything like that. The days just before I left were a blur of exhaustion and make-shift arrangements for aspects of my life I’d never noticed until they had to be put on ice for an extended period. My last visit with a friend consisted of our sitting on my bedroom floor at 10:30 pm, tearing Jockey underwear out of their plastic packages and stuffing them into my suitcase while we talked about how she’d handle the jobs I was clearly going to have to leave to others: removing the cleaning products from the kitchen and bathroom cupboards; a last trip to the dump; getting the keys back to my landlord.

I have no memory of the trip to the airport. All I remember is the agonizing night at my boyfriend’s apartment, where I sobbed with anxiety at the prospect of leaving my two dogs behind and finally knocked myself out with drugs. I’d been divorced two years before from a long marriage entered into much too young. I’d been stalked. I’d moved out of a house I’d poured my own money and a life-long yearning for stability into for 5 years and left with almost none of either. I’d fallen cripplingly in love for the first time with a completely unavailable man. These things had been happening at such speed that there wasn’t time to take each one in and either mourn it or fix it - I had to stamp out the next fire. Going to a not quite first-world country where I knew no one and few people spoke English made sense in the same way that clearing the table after a big dinner by yanking off the tablecloth does.

Some time after I’d returned from a year the likes of which I couldn’t have imagined and was once again in search of some kind of stability, I found out that the house I’d rented was for sale. Optimistically overlooking my lack of a down payment, I returned with my sister to look at it. It was reassuringly the same. As we went from room to room, my sister wondering out loud whether my fondness was based more on the house's having been a relatively safe place to land after the stress of the divorce than it was on any of its intrinsic advantages, the tenant who was leaving was gathering up the last bits and pieces at a leisurely pace, exchanging small talk with us here and there. I needed to pee and went into the spacious bathroom with the claw foot tub I'd enjoyed so much, and was dumbfounded at what I’d left there. For Christmas one year, my much older brother, the one I’d adored as a child and a young adult, made each of his siblings and my mother a large round mirror. The frame was four curved pieces of maple - simple and elegant. I loved it. And I’d left it hanging on the wall in a fucking rental house. I quickly took it down while exclaiming to my sister and the tenant how bizarre it was that I’d left this, of all things. Inside, though, the sight of that bright circle affected me like the deep tone of a gong signaling my entrance into a time of reckoning.

Blissful Ignorance