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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Baby I'll be There to Shake Your Hand

When we were in high school, a group of us clung together like our lives depended on it. One of the guys named us The Squad, and it stuck. Susan, Dana, Lizzie, Terri, and me. I was the apple pie of the bunch, the sweet one, no threat. Dana and Lizzie were creative forces, Dana living on the raw edge of convention, Lizzie was beautiful in the classic sense. Susan was athletic and wise. And Terri? She was crazy as a loon. Also, she was creative and wise and athletic and beautiful and sweet. Well, not exactly sweet, but she was vulnerable. And oh how she used that vulnerability like a trap. The boys fell into her spell, flies to a spider.

After school we’d all go to Terri’s house for multiple reasons. She had all the channels on her television (hers was the only family not in academia--her dad was in some kind of Business; they had money). Terri’s kitchen stocked all the good snacks including Pop Tarts and potato chips. We could smoke at Terri’s house because her parents were good and scared of her. After gorging on Twinkies and cigarettes while watching GH (General Hospital) and All My Bros (which is what we called All My Children, sounds like we were little racist shits but it didn’t feel like it, and I’m pretty sure our black friends called it All My Bros too), we’d go up to Terri’s room.

Terri had a beautiful walnut canopy bed. We’d pile on the bed, put on The Guess Who, and blast “Share the Land.” That was all we’d ever need, just ourselves, whatever men would have us, and that land we were going to have someday. “Shake your hand, share the land.” Life without each other was inconceivable. We’d be together always! We’d lie on that big bed and console Terri, who was always on the brink of suicide. We’d tell her how much we loved her, and she would tell us that if it weren’t for us, she’d surely have killed herself by now.

“It happened again last night,” she’d say, and we’d all sit up, alert, horrified. Even the smoke in the insanely smoky room stood still, waiting to hear the gory details.

“It” was her brother, coming into her room and raping her. Sometimes the thought would go through my head, “If someone was coming into my room raping me at night, I’d keep a frying pan under my bed and I’d kill him.” But this was beautiful, delicate Terri, and she needed us. We listened with our non-judgmental ears.

In later years we would watch Terri ensnare an unsuspecting fly at a bar and time how long it took her to tell the story of her rape. It was irresistible, and she was sure to land a man every time, sometimes for long term stints. But for now, nothing was ever going to separate us. Not rape, not parents, not conventions. Damnit, we were going to be unconventional and be friends forever. We were essential.

We had another nickname: Terri and her Merry Band of Virgins. That too was given us by the boys. Turns out we could be the merry band of virgins because Terri was sleeping with all our boyfriends. She told them all, “If it weren’t for you, I would kill myself.” And she’d take long, sorrowful drags on her Virginia Slim Menthol Light. “I feel so bad; Mary’s my best friend. I’m such a horrible person.” This led of course to passionate persuasions that no, you are not bad, you are beautiful, and what we have is beautiful, and blah blah blah.

Once we had an outrageous party at her parent’s lake house. We were busted. Her parents showed up in the morning, her dad roaring out an intimidating order: “Boys in one car, girls in the other!” I don’t know to this day what he did with the boys. We girls piled into Terri’s mom’s station wagon. Lizzie wept quietly because her mom was going to kill her. I wasn’t too worried; my brother and I had squared our stories and our parents knew where we were. Susan and Dana were quiet; I don’t know what they thought. We motored quietly toward home, 40 minutes of silence. Finally Terri cracked the window, lit a cigarette and said to her mother, “If you say one word about this I’m going to commit suicide.” When we got back to her house, her mom made us all waffles.

This was all there was. Us. The Squad. Share the Land. Life was inconceivable without them. Without us.

Now I am 54 years old and they are still my best friends, geography no barrier. Well, not Terri. We don’t know exactly what happened to her. Once we saw a police notice in the paper that a woman’s house had been struck by lightning, a woman with her name. Lightning was one of her great fears. We wondered who had been suckered in to help her. Now we hear she lives in a trailer and has the world’s highest IQ.

It all rolls away eventually. Husbands, children, grandchildren, houses, life, they all rumble in and steal the show. When I hear “Share the Land” I smile and remember those endless days sprawled on Terri’s bed, and I ponder our imagined future lives, the lives that never happened. The lives that did.

The Party's Over

So So Broken