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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

I Don't Know the Rules

I really don’t know the rules anymore.

When I was a kid, I watched everyone closely to learn the unspoken rules of getting along. When I was 11, I joined the Girl Scouts. That was amazing—there were rules for everything. I learned etiquette, table setting, fire making, fabric painting, and so, so many other things.

Did I say—it was AMAZING! I suddenly felt so secure. I began to feel confident. I just needed to do a badge for everything, and I would truly “be prepared”!

I’m pretty sure there was even a badge for friendship. I don’t remember, really, but I do have an image in my head of that little green circle with its center filled with two hands shaking. Friendship!

And, there were so many of us in our troop—24 girls, all of us different from each other to be sure. And, still the same—gawky, self-conscious, and eager to learn and experience. It WAS amazing. Did I say that? Amazing!

Our leader was, of course, one of the moms. And she knew so much, and shared it so easily, and completely. We even learned to spin cotton candy for one jamboree—one of the most popular booths there. We all took turns doing everything.

Some of my fellow scouts already knew about things like camping. I knew nothing.

When we went on our first trip to “Owls’ Roost”, I wondered if I’d be able to stay outside all night, if I’d be able to feed the fire, if I’d be able to find the right kind of wood for the fire. It was fun, and I was fine. I learned about “swish bags” for washing dishes. And, I discovered S’mores.

Long after than first trip, my mother told me that my father spent the day and night across the river from us watching—to make sure that I was—we were—really okay. He didn’t want me to know. He didn’t want me to feel distrusted—and it wasn’t me, really, that he didn’t trust. It was nature, and maybe the troop leader that he didn’t really know. After all, how could anyone take care of his little girl better than he?

I stayed in Girl Scouts through high school. We branched out into play and song writing. I became a nurses’ aid at the nearby old folks’ home—I fell in love with the old lady who fed her food to her shoes that she thought were her babies.

And, we kept camping, camping and camping. On my first trip to Yosemite Valley, we spent our entire weekend in our tents because the sky threw an unexpected tantrum of thundershowers. I hated it, but I loved being with my friends.

I loved having friends, and being a friend. I loved the long phone calls, at the end of days spent together. I loved knowing each other’s secrets. I loved knowing everyone’s quirks. I loved the arm-in-arm “one for all and all for one” musketeer mentality, that kept us safe and secure in each other’s hearts.

When boys were added to the mix, they came “special”, but always second. One guy started dating me, and then asked out my friend. As soon as she hung up the phone on him, she was talking to me. When he came to pick her up for their “date” I was there too—because he couldn’t do that to me, to her, to US.

But know, at 67, I don’t know the friendship rules anymore. There is little of that “specialness”, no secret sharing, no long calls, no “one for all and all for one”. Have I changed? Have the rules changed? Have women changed? Do I attract a different kind of friend now? Do other women still pair-bond they way my friends and I did as teens?

Or, is it the case, that growing up and growing old means hearts harden like arteries—and there is no more room for entwined arms and entangled lives?

I don’t know the rules anymore. It is easier now—in its way, not having to be aware of others’ so intimately. And, it is a loss. I walk along life’s road less encumbered, and I walk along less encumbered. I miss it.

Every once in a while—like one afternoon last summer—I find myself with one of those long-ago friends. This time it was my co-dater from high school. We went to lunch, and shopping for the reunion happening later, at her house. The conversation was halting at the start—we live cultural worlds apart now. And, somewhere along the way, time and space bent, and folded back on themselves. We were, once more, arm-entwined, heart-entangled—for a couple of hours.

I don’t know the rules anymore.

Boss Yourself Around

Rule Follower