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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Not Constantinople

I first noticed Reagan in 7th grade English class, where she was the only one that ever said anything interesting.

The first time she came over to my house, we were both wearing black, baggy dresses that were our choir uniforms. They were not fashionable. I think maybe they were made of polyester, and constructed in a formless way that accommodated a wide range of bodies.

From the minute she walked in, she was loud and overbearing. I remember my mom being a bit taken aback. But I was totally infatuated with the way that she took over a space. Now I realize that the way I felt with her was the way I felt with my dad. With both of them, you never knew what was coming next, and there was always a chance that it would be a thrilling ride.

Not long after she got to our house, she found the stereo system and we put in a They Might Be Giants CD. The song "Istanbul" came on. Reagan. Lit. Up. She turned the music way up and started dancing, in big swooping movements, sort of an over-exaggerated march. For the grand finale, she twirled around in that baggy choir dress until it lifted up past her knees. When she was done she collapsed, guffawing loudly.

When she left, my mom looked at me like I had grown another head. "Well. That was interesting," she said. I just shrugged. I knew it had been kind of weird, but I was also a little exhilarated by the whole display.

I soon came to understand that Reagan had a tough home life. Her parents had gone through a bitter divorce when Reagan was a baby, and her mother could not look at her without seeing her biological father's face. She lived with her mom and a step-dad when I met her, and they did a lot of drinking. Reagan was constantly put down, and I think some of her boundless energy was just an extension of the constant battle she was fighting to try to pry some love out of her mother.

Reagan loved music and reading, and she introduced me to some new bands and authors. I didn't really think I was so interesting myself, so even when she drove me crazy, I got a lot out of being hitched onto her coattails. She never mastered boundaries though. There were times when she'd call my house at 2am, just to say hello. My father would be furious and hang up on her, but she'd still do it.

Our friendship was characterized by clinging and rupture. I had a lot of empathy, and she needed empathy. But her clinging was too much. Sometimes it would start to feel suffocating, and I'd pull away almost completely. It must have been disorienting for her.

Reagan was diagnosed as bipolar a few years ago. She does okay for long stretches of time, but once in a blue moon I get a call from a psych ward in Maryland, where she lives now. I think she will always associate our friendship with comfort, and the closest thing to unconditional love she ever knew as a kid.

I don't always have it in me to answer. But I'm glad she still has me to call.

Walking Dogs + Collecting Lint = Success

First Impressions