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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.



My son is an addict.

My brother-in-law was an addict.

My aunt was an addict.

There are more.

It's in the family.

We come by it honestly.

First impressions. I'm getting to that.

So lately it's not been good.

I admit it.

I have been catastrophizing.

Who knew catastrophizing was a verb?

Whether it is or isn't, the people I know use it as a verb.

"Stop catastrophizing!"

Anyway, today, first impressions.

After a difficult week and a reluctance to reach out for help as we are advised to do, I made a few attempts.

I sent a poem (a lament would be more accurate) describing the grief, and I received a generous response.

*Not alone.
*Let's talk.
*It's a disease.
*Let go.
*Did you mean this to come to me?

But then I had to teach and be on my way.

My head is not in the game of teaching these days.

I look at these fresh-faced college children wanting to write, and I long to tell them - you could do so much better than me right now!

Go! Run! Flee!

For I'm too sad to teach you how to write a picture book.

For I'm too grieved to teach you how to pen a travel essay.

But I go to them.

I go anyway. It's my job.

And on the way, I listen to a podcast of Nikki Grimes where she talks of happy accidents in writing, and I think, I remember those.

I park my car and begin to walk to class, but as I'm walking, I'm still listening even though I don't have my earbuds.

My phone is blasting "ALL THE WONDERS" and Nikki Grimes and the host of "ALL THE WONDERS" are laughing about happy accidents.

So I turn the corner at St. Andrews Church near campus where the homeless have gathered outside for lunch like they do everyday.

There are days when I take a shortcut to avoid them, but I don't today because I forget.

My class is at 12:30, and it's now 12:00, and I am trying to turn off "ALL THE WONDERS," but I can't seem to find the mute button because I'm walking fast toward the group of hungry folks.

And I think I'll walk around them.

I'll dodge them.

They don't want to hear "ALL THE WONDERS."

Then one emerges from the crowd.

I have never seen him before.

It's an intense first impression.

Do I stop? Do I keep going? Do I avert my eyes?

But he's coming fast, arms wide.


Where is the mute button?

I can't turn this damn thing off.

But I slow down to greet him.

Because it's like he knows me or I've surprised him, and he's delighted. There is a look of delight on his somewhat young and ravaged face.

He approaches me fast holding out his arms to hug me and he is smiling, and I can't turn off the podcast, so I reach out to greet him because he is my son or he is my brother-in-law or he is both of them, and he says, "Hi, I'm Jimmy. I'm Jimmy. I'm Jimmy."

And I say, "Hi Jimmy. Hi. Hi Jimmy. Have a good lunch. Have a good lunch, okay."

And I hug him and the others gathered are more sober or more something than Jimmy, and they are concerned for me - I see it on their faces - but then their faces relax as we exchange that "it's only Jimmy. It's okay" kind of look and they wrap Jimmy back into their fold, and I head onto class with "ALL THE WONDERS" still blasting.

I keep seeing Jimmy in my head.

HEY. HEY. HEY. It's me. Jimmy.

At the red light, I breathe.

I find the mute button.

"ALL THE WONDERS" goes quiet.

"I'm Jimmy. I'm Jimmy."

My brother-in-law was Jimmy.

Was it him?

But he was never delighted to see me.

He's been gone since 2013 right after we had the intervention for our son.

In 2014, we had a memorial for Jimmy where 100+ folks gathered in a sweaty backyard and the sisters sang "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?"

We joined in the song.

Not my son. He was in rehab.

Everyone at the memorial wrote him letters.

We sent him a care package of love.

Fed Ex.

I watched people of all ages - old and young - bent over the dining room table writing our boy love letters.

My son even sent a letter for Jimmy that his sisters read at the memorial.

I knew it wasn't a cure, the box of love letters, but I hoped it was something.

Again and again, we sang "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" at that backyard funeral for Jimmy.

There was an open bar.

It was so hot.

Somebody baked a pig cake for Jimmy out six boxes of Betty Crocker cake mix and shaped it into a pig and ladled caramel and nuts all over the body.

Jimmy loved barbecue. He loved luaus.

Somebody else stuck an apple in the mouth of the pig cake.

Will the circle be unbroken?

Hey. Hey. Hey.

I'm Jimmy.

By and by, Lord, by and by.


Fred Astaire

That's Him