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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Jem and Mark in Manchester

When I moved to England as an exchange student at Manchester University, I was excited to meet the other students living at Owens Park Dormitory in Fallowfield, a neighborhood near the university.

Would they be from Yorkshire or London or Scotland or even Ireland? Would we become dear friends?

The day I arrived and moved in, I discovered that my next door neighbor was from Maryville, Tennessee. The girl next to her was from Union, Missouri, and then St. Louis, Missouri, and on the other side, Wheeling West Virginia, and Knoxville, Tennessee (where I was from too.)

It dawned on me quickly that they had lumped the Yanks together. This was so depressing. I didn't move to England to live with Americans.

I liked the girl from Wheeling, West Virginia because she said, "I've got five pounds and screw jetlag, I'm going out to the pubs." The other Yanks whined and crawled off to bed.

She and I got along fine. Her name was Marian, but in Missouri, her name had been "Beth," so the Missouri exchange students were confused by "Beth" becoming "Marian," but to me she would remain "Marian." Her goal was to have mad passionate love affairs the entire year in England.

That fall - or Michaelmas - as the term was called, progressed. The Americans began cooking together with each picking a night to cook.

I bowed out of that one.

I wasn't rude or mean (I don't think) but I knew I had one year in England, and I didn't want to waste it by cooking on Tuesdays for Yanks, who were wingeing on about the lack of decent pizza.

Miraculously, I became friends with a group of British Drama students who took me into their fold. I was taking Drama Criticism, and I adored Fiona and Michele and Janet and Ali, who introduced me to Tony and Mike and Jem and Mark and Feroza.

Somehow we all clicked.

I must have complained about living with Yanks, because Janet told me that Jem and Mark needed a flatmate. This happened around early December. Jem and Mark were blokes, so I didn't mention this to my parents, who were Catholic and that was that. I only told them I wasn't going to live with Americans and waste my year in England.

I was supposed to move into the flat in December, but Jem forgot to leave the key, so I had to leave my things in an Owens Park lobby that would be closed for Christmas.

So I went to Ireland for December to hitchhike around, and when I came back to England, I hired a taxi for five quid to take me to 1 Wincombe Street. A few of my things had been picked over sitting in the lobby, but I didn't have much, so it didn't matter. I seem to remember a checkered skirt being nicked, but I was grateful because it was such an "American" skirt.

I had the downstairs bedroom in the flat and Jem and Mark lived upstairs, each in his own room. It was a cold British flat, and I was in heaven. All the flats on the block (and for many blocks) had a kind of chimney shaped like a rook chess piece. I lit the gas grate for heat. We had a beat-up couch and old chairs and terrible carpeting, but I loved it. The kitchen had chunks of plaster peeling off it yet it was home.

I eventually did tell my parents, which caused an uproar for a few days.

My mother called weeping, "MOVE BACK IN WITH THE AMERICANS."

My father got on the line, "YOU GET YOUR ASS BACK TO THE USA FLOOR, SLICK!"

My grandmother called, "YOUR FATHER LEFT THE HOUSE WITH TEARS IN HIS EYES SAYING HE HAS FAILED YOU AS A FATHER. GET BACK TO THE AMERICANS."

Mom called back, "WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO TELL PEOPLE?"

I yelled "WHY TELL THEM ANYTHING? IT'S NOT LIKE I'M GOING TO RUN INTO ANY OF YOUR POSH FRIENDS IN MANCHESTER."

"POSH? POSH? WHO THE HELL AM I EVEN TALKING TO? YOU DON'T EVEN SOUND LIKE YOURSELF, MISSY!"

They all called Janet's phone because we didn't have one.

Each time it rang, Janet said, "I don't believe it's for me."

I tried not to cry in front of my amused British friends, who were astonished at the drama of it all.

But things died down, and I stayed in the flat.

Finally they left me alone.

And I was thrilled to be residing in a true British flat.

Mrs. Bates lived next door and had a dog she called, "Our Ben." He was a Bassett Hound.

What were Jem and Mark like as roommates?

Mark was a player, although we didn't call him that then - he was just kind of sleazy but a brilliant actor.

He had a girlfriend he called "Little Baby Rachel."

Jem and Janet were a couple.

So Mark mostly slept over with "Little Baby Rachel," and Jem slept over with Janet.

So I was alone a lot.

When Mark was home, he would try to rid me of my vile Americanisms by launching into diatribes about appalling canned laughter on American television.

Jem was kinder and often fixed me a cup of tea without my asking. He taught me to make sardine spaghetti and beans on toast. Mark never ate that I can recall.

One time Mark left his radio, and it was wonderful because I didn't have a radio or television. I had a tape recorder and a few cassette tapes and a typewriter lent to me by a girl named, Susan.

There was a card table where I set up the typewriter in the living room. I used to write letters and essays on it. I published about six or seven essays for the Daily Beacon, the college newspaper at Tennessee about my life as an exchange student. I had to type them and mail them snail mail and somebody would type them up in Knoxville and they would get published in the paper.

But once Mark left his radio in the flat, and I remember hearing the DJ say, "The weather is going to be wet and horrible for the next three years."

It did rain all the time but we were in together, and the DJ was hilarious.

Then Mark took away his radio.

I wrote my first play in that apartment called "Tea Time."

Jem, Janet, Mark, and Ali came over and had a huge fight over HAMLET. I could only pour tea because I hadn't read HAMLET.

I was a loser.

After they left I wrote down the conversation. I wrote and wrote all weekend without stopping.

I was hoping I had a play.

I cast Fiona, Michele, Mike and Tony into the roles of Jem, Janet, Mark, and Ali.

I played myself.

Marion thought it was hilarious.

Written by Kerry Madden.

Directed by Kerry Madden.

Starrring Kerry Madden.

We put it on at the Stephen Joseph Studios, a place for student experimental plays.

After it was performed, Janet didn't speak to me again. Jem had fretted and asked me if I had to play myself, which of course I did. (I was so clueless) I thought I was showing my admiration for their brilliance, but they thought I was taking the Mickey.

Anyway, Ali forgave me and I guess Janet did too but not really. Mark didn't care. His character only smoked cigarettes and said, "I can't bear it. Not a one of them knows how to masturbate properly."

I just took all the things they said and put it a play.

The play was mostly terrible but there a few good parts, and I became known as a playwright.

This was shocking and wonderful and it changed the course of my life.

Other things happened in that flat but I'll leave it for now. I loved that year in Manchester and when it came time to leave, I sat in the living room alone and cried, begging the flat to forgive me for going away.

I think I even thanked the flat for being such a good home. For I had found home in those walls, and the thought of returning to Knoxville was horrifying.

So I did what I had to do. I returned to Knoxville, speaking with a British accent and carrying George Eliot and Boy George with me. I changed my major from journalism to theatre and vowed to become a playwright.

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