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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

That Ring

I lose things. I have always lost things. Possession is overwhelming for me. When I was young, my sisters and nieces had Barbies and accessories of kinds. One of them had a camper—a freaking camper!—for her Malibu Barbie. But I didn’t have a Barbie, or her tiny shoes, or her swanky camper. It was as if my parents knew I couldn’t handle it. Everything slipped through my fingers—toys, clothes, shoes—everything a child could own, I lost.

When I got older, my dad would sometimes bring me necklaces when he was on trips for work. I would have them for about a month. My sisters became more and more annoyed with me and they would alternate between trying to help me keep track of things and trying to shame me. Neither approach worked. One sister gave me a fancy jewelry box; I lost that, too.

I swear it wasn’t my fault, or at least it wasn’t always my fault. Just over a decade ago, my apartment burned down because some of my sheets & towels spontaneously combusted while sitting in a laundry basket I had just bought in to the laundry room. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the firemen dragged all of my salvaged stuff out onto a tarp on the lawn in front of the building after I had left the scene, and during the night someone came and stole the few pieces of jewelry I had.

It was right around that time that my mother began asking me & my siblings to identify what items of hers we wanted when she died. Every one else had a long list. I wanted one thing: a ceramic squirrel cookie jar.

“Really? That’s all?” she asked. “Yep,” I replied. “You don’t want any of my necklaces or rings?” “No,” I told her. “I’ll just lose them.”

Two years before she died, I convinced her to move out of her house where she had lived for 35 years and into an assisted living residence in my city. She was well taken care of by the staff, and I visited her every day. She was grateful for my visits and never failed to tell me so. I was grateful for the time I got to spend with her. We hadn’t always gotten along, and it was good to have more time to get to talk, do puzzles, and watch TV together. Parents often worry that they will be a burden to their children, but those two years were some of the best times of my life.

She often asked if I wanted the sapphire ring on her finger. My sisters and nieces had all asked for rings my father had given her—there were many—but this ring she had bought for herself. “No,” I said, “I’m just not good with jewelry.”

The morning after she died, my brother handed the ring to me. It’s never left my hand. When I look at it, it brings me back to one of the most precious times of my life.

A House and More

Box of Letters