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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

White Ribbon

There is a long piece of white ribbon hanging from the pull chain of the ceiling-fan-and-light fixture in my dining room. It's frayed on the ends and has a slight grayish hue. It also has some stains on it—sauces and oils must have splattered on to it from the oven nearby. The ribbon used to be longer but the bottom end was so grubby that I decided to cut some of it off. I’d actually meant to untie it and take the whole thing off but the knot was so tight that it wasn’t as easy I thought. And maybe I mean that in more ways than one.

About five years ago, I got a pretty serious herniation from a six-car pile-up on the 110N. I’ve always had some back trouble because of a curvature of the spine but, now, the herniated disc was pushing the nerves on the right side clear against the wall of the nerve canal. At first I thought I had a muscle spasm from working out too hard. After awhile, it started feeling like a giant fist was using my right leg as a punching bag. Eventually, I could barely walk and had to either crawl on my hands and knees if I was alone or be carried (or dragged—which is what happened more often) by someone. Once I got to the dining room, I could use the chair nearest to the light fixture to pull myself up to a half-standing position. I couldn’t elevate myself high enough to yank on the pull chain, though, so my mom grabbed a piece of ribbon from my random-stuff-goes-here closet and tied it to the end of the pull chain.

When I eventually started getting better, that piece of ribbon was still pretty handy. I usually work from home at the dining room table. As daylight starts to ebb away towards the end of the day, I just pull the ribbon to turn the light on and I keep working without getting up.

That ribbon was just one in a whole array of things that my mom did for me while I was suffering from the herniated disc. She came over practically every day. She bathed me, brushed my hair, made me food, massaged my atrophying muscles. She prayed over me while her tears dotted my back, sang to me as if I was a baby again. She even wiped my ass because I couldn’t twist around far enough to do it myself.

I don’t think about all of that any more, and I barely even notice the ribbon, except as a natural extension of the pull chain. But a few months ago, I was about to have some people over for work and I suddenly felt a bit self-conscious about it. So I stepped on the chair that I could barely stand against four years ago. I tried to loosen the knot on the now gray-ish ribbon and realized how tight the knot had become after years of being yanked. As I tried a little harder to untie it, my mind swept over all those moments with my mom and I didn’t feel ready to get rid of the last remaining symbol of her love and care. I received and understood maternal love the deepest during that year of incapacitation.

The Pink Chair

Berkeley Squirrels