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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


I was a massage therapist for 16 years. My hands have therapeutically touched thousands, maybe even ten thousand, people. The day I began massage school in 1990, I dropped Mike, my then boyfriend, at the airport to go to Taiwan for what was to be a year-long trip. Still crying when I arrived for class, I wondered if it was the right time to start school. My sadness about his departure was exacerbated by frequent anxiety and panic attacks that had plagued me since my father had died two years before. The attacks were so debilitating that I was having trouble leaving home. My heart rate would often rise to 130 beats a minute, sometimes for hours on end. My boyfriend flew away because he didn’t know what else to do.

The first day of class was okay. I missed Mike, but I was still too dazed to even recognize the depth of my grief. The second day, I became worried that something terrible would happen at any second. I left as my Shiatsu teacher demonstrated hara diagnosis, crawling on my hands and knees because I thought it would make me less conspicuous, not realizing for even a second that crawling on my hands and knees actually made me far more conspicuous. I stood up and glanced behind me to see the entire class watching. I ran home.

That afternoon I went to an urgent care facility to have my heart checked out. The doctor ruled out physical pathologies, told me it was stress, and prescribed tranquilizers that I was too scared to take. When I returned to school the next day I headed for the administrative offices to find out what I had to do to get a refund. “You’re only going to get half of it back,” the financial assistant said. “You should go home and sleep on it before you make a decision.” I headed toward history of massage class, my heart pounding. I felt lost, scared, and alone.

Because I had been in the office I missed the chance to pair up with someone, so the instructor said she would be my partner. Even though it as a history class, she wanted to begin by talking us through a neck and shoulder massage as an ice breaker. I stood behind her, put my hands on her shoulders, and began kneading. She spun around, seemingly alarmed, I thought.

She looked at my hands. “You are made to do this,” she said. It was that fast and that simple. Suddenly, I had something meaningful to do, a purpose—and I belonged somewhere. My own hands were going to lift me away from sorrow and fear.

Grandmother Kimmel

My Slim Flippers