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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

I Misunderstood

One time my crazy ass friend Mike told a story around the table. It went something like this.

“Me and my buddy Tim, this black dude lives out there in Tuskegee, hunting buddy, got a five point buck last weekend. We wanted to celebrate, so we went out to the Shag Shack and drank beer and they thought we were obnoxious or something and they kicked us out. Well we got into a big fight with some regulars so I guess they were right. We went on out to another bar, got kicked out again. We were just trying to celebrate! Hell, we went back to my apartment and drank till we were good and drunk, sitting on the edge of the bed. Finally we both fell straight back on the bed and passed out.

“So my girlfriend shows up, she’s crazy as hell, and she saw there was someone in my bed with me. ‘Mike,’ she says, all silky, ‘Mike, who’s that you’ve got in bed with you?’ And then Tim sits up and she sees him and screams, ‘Mike you fucking faggot!’ and she runs out to her car and drives around making doughnuts in the parking lot like a crazy woman. Crazy woman! Finally the police show up and she calls me but I ignored her. I think she’s broke up with me for good this time.”

My friends around the table laughed and laughed, and he laughed, and finally during a slight pause, my dad looked up from his newspaper and cleared his throat. “Mike, I must have misunderstood.” He cleared his throat again. “Did you say you were in bed with a BLACK man?”

This was my dad. He told me that he’d have forgiven my anything: being addicted to drugs, being a lesbian, being fat (what sins!), but if I’d ever taken up with a black man, he’d have disowned me. Now in real life I doubt he would have done that, but that’s what he said. “If I’d have known I’d have married a black man Daddy. I thought marrying a Yankee would be enough to send you over the edge.”

I tell this little racist tale on my dad because I always said that racism would just die out with his old generation. Well now Daddy is dead, and obviously, I misunderstood.

Because a year or so ago there was that horrible event in Charlotte. And that’s not all I misunderstood. When the president was elected, that fateful night, I realized I misunderstood everything about the heart and soul of this country. The morning after the election results rolled in, as I drove out and around in rural Alabama, I wondered about the guys in the pickup trucks who passed me, stopped to gas up beside me, shared the roads. If I’d been on the side of the road needing help, any one of them would’ve helped me in a minute, nodded and said, “Yes ma’am” every time I spoke to them, and felt sort of proud of their southern gentlemanly ways. But did they go vote for Donald Trump, that crude, cruel, name-calling, thin-skinned mockery of a man? Didn’t they watch the debates? If he’d shown up at one of their doorsteps for dinner, they wouldn’t have let him in. Not that New York crude, crass, boorish, rude, hat-wearing braggart.

Oh Lordy have I ever misunderstood.

Urchin mouth

Litany of Unpreparedness