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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

City of Strangers

I lived in several cities in my youth. Baton Rouge is the first I remember, then New Bern, NC. Those two cities have never left me. The weeping willows and Southern Magnolias of Louisiana’s capital, the smell of honeysuckle, beignets, and of red beans and rice, memories of the ridiculous heat, and the bullet hole in the wall of the Capitol building where Huey Long was shot—they all left their indelible impressions. In New Bern, the charm of the historical buildings and homes of the former state capital, dogwoods, pines, and seashells on the sandy beaches nearby are all lodged in memory. But it is Green River, Wyoming where my adult psyche began to take shape, where the being that is authentically “me” began to form.

This is the place I refer to as my hometown. Damn cold in winter, hot in summer, dusty always, and ruggedly, oddly beautiful—I think the weird, striated foothills might be an acquired taste. Castle Rock juts up above the city and Interstate 80, and both the rock and the highway are visible from everywhere in town. It was all under water once, and the Green River Formation holds geological records spanning six million years—a fact I cared nothing about when I lived there.

I did care about school, music classes, theater, speech & debate club, inter-tubing trips down the river, Taco John’s (I’d trade anything for a Taco Bravo right now), and drunken parties on the dirt roads just outside the city.

It was a complex place, as gritty as the people who first settled there, yet as grand in places as the paintings captured by Thomas Moran when he visited in the late 1800’s.

I resisted becoming a part of it when we first moved to town. I was 12, and living in Green River felt like traveling back in time; was I in the Iron Age? The surrounding barren hills and miles of nothing but dirt between cities made it seem that way. People were still dressed in clothes from the previous decade; there were bell-bottoms and T-shirts with writing way past the point in time that I thought clothes should say things.

They weren’t exactly welcoming to a newcomer, especially one with a southern twang who wore the straightest of 501 Levi’s and Annie-Hall styled clothes. But I wore them down with southern charm, and before long, they wore my southern charm into mining-town street smarts. Cable TV soon invaded the state, and fashion trends caught up with the rest of the nation. I chased boys relentlessly throughout my adolescent and teen years, beginning an obsessive focus on hair, make-up, and clothes that might ensnare whoever caught my eye that month. Like a fisherman in the Green River, I was into catch and release, avoiding deep commitments that might make me feel tethered to that odd little place.

The city wasn’t for me, it seemed, yet once I was there, nowhere else seemed right. I was in that dusty world, but never quite of it, but really few others truly belonged. It was a convergence of misfits, a city of strangers, and the surroundings made it seem like a movie set. We were like actors, living believably in imaginary circumstances.

I never really settled there, but thirty-some years after I moved away for good, nowhere seems as much like home.

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Three Hometowns