I lived on the same street as my elementary school for third and fourth grade so I would often pass the school in the afternoon as I went about my various activities. There was a white iron fence in front of the school separating the sidewalk from the grass. The paint was chipped and worn and a few of the white metal balls on top of the square posts were missing. It was on one such post that a friend of mine told me existed a secret message. He brought me over to the post and silently gestured toward it. I moved closer to see what was there, and read the following handwritten poem in black ink.
I was here but now I’m gone
I left my name to carry on
Those who knew me, knew me well
Those who didn’t can go to heck (use your imagination here)
To our young minds it was mysterious and intriguing. We wondered who had written it. Visions of a suicidal teenager, drifting from place to place and angry at the world, came to mind. Where had he gone? Why had he written it there? Did he hope someone like us would find it? Was it a cry for help? Should we respond to the message?
We talked about it for a long time, finally agreeing that it was an unsolved mystery, but it was ours to ponder. We felt grown up and important to have discovered it and I even considered the possibility of being called into court as key witnesses in the case of a missing person.
Years later, I still have a vivid memory of that breezy summer evening when my friend showed me the poem. The late afternoon day had begun to darken by the time I walked slowly home, mesmerized by the poem and the mystery behind it.
Now that I’m older and looking back, I realize it was probably written by some local kid, alive and well, who was bored while he waited for his mother to pick him up from school. He had probably heard the poem somewhere else and thought it would be fun to pull out his magic marker and write it down.
It takes an active imagination to make such a seemingly inane occurrence seem almost magical, and I miss those days where simple things could produce such a heightened sense of adventure and mystique. Even now, I sometimes wonder if there was anything more to the story. Maybe our imaginations weren’t so far off the mark and it really was as we had envisioned.
To this day I remember that afternoon with fondness, and though I’ll probably never know the real story, I still enjoy thinking about what might have been.