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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


The new Kmart appeared on a huge lot about a mile up Circle Drive from our house, biking distance. We didn’t know what to make of it, or how to say it. K’mart. K’mart. Like a car that won’t start. It was odd, like some foreign language. But we soon figured out that the accent was on the K, and the place had acres of stuff that we could buy new. We were doing all right that year it opened, apparently, because I remember carrying a huge pile of clothes into that chaotic dressing room where you had to wait for them to buzz you in, and coming out with outfits. Things that matched. It must’ve been ninth grade, and I narrowed things down to a brown paisley-print cotton jumpsuit with a gold chain belt and legs just long enough for the dress code—fingertip length. Plus an ensemble: bulky pink sweater, matching hip-hugger bell bottoms, and a pink plaid skirt. We got it all for cash, not lay-away. It was like what the magazines said: I could mix and match. It was the first year I could remember when back to school didn’t mean a trip to the Goodwill. Kids I met later loved thrift shops. I hated the smell, the “can’t afford new.”

It was the solid pink outfit that I wore to the LRY retreat. Liberal Religious Youth, the Unitarians my mom had bumped onto when someone invited us. She never went back. I found religion. My parents had no idea what the Unitarians were up to, good thing. Daddy said he trusted we were fully formed by the time we were 5, knew right from wrong, knew the rules. He didn’t have to keep an eye on us like other parents. Once I saw what other kids had to do, I believed we were feral, or being raised by wolves. So no one seemed concerned when I took a bus to the big old church in Denver where we’d be “retreating” from Friday night through Sunday. The hippie girls there seemed much older, stirring wine into pots of cheese for some kind of fondue, passing around jugs of Thunderbird and Mad Dog. I’d never heard of that. We had Mogen David at home for some recipe. We weren’t drinkers.

There were workshops on rolling joints, a screening of “The Battle of Algiers” which I think had to do with keeping the huge space where we slept dim for a few hours of getting to know you. I had a puff of something, passed it on, watched some of the movie, never getting its drift, rolled over closer to one of the beautiful, long-haired peacock boys. I knew I was taking all this home in my mind, and leaving a trail so I could find my way back.

Me in my pink matching ensemble, the only one not in jeans, because I didn’t own any. I don’t believe I wore that pink again.


Grandmothers' Houses