Graffiti messages bring inspiration

We’d reached the last stop on the T. Our weekend adventure in Boston was officially over. It had been a whirlwind two days, packed with walking all over the city and seeing as much as we could while spending as little as possible. All I could think of was all of the photos I had on my camera and the amount of time it would take to put them all on Facebook.

With weary feet, we made our way to the parking garage where we’d left the car that morning, dreading the long car ride back to Troy. After a quick search, I finally found a bathroom, which was as dirty as I expected. The stall was cramped and the walls were covered in graffiti. I bet this is the kind of place people contract swine flu. Gross.

Then something caught my eye: “DON’T GIVE UP,” written in bold black marker lines. It was a response to a short message that simply said “Today, I’m going to get clean.” That statement was surrounded by affirmations from anonymous supporters; some short, like “Stay strong” or “Good luck, you’ll be fine”; others longer, like “You can do it. I’ve been sober since 2/9/06.”

It was the ladies’ room version of PostSecret. Instead of sending in homemade postcards, dozens of people had written their hopes and fears on a dirty bathroom stall. A few of the usual crude comments were scattered in between, but most of the writing was incredibly positive. “You are beautiful,” someone had written. “Believe in yourself!”

Some messages were heartbreaking: “I miss it so much,” or, in tiny, perfect cursive, “help.” Some were regretful: “You know that person, the one you hate for no reason? Give them a chance. You never know what could happen.”

But each message had a response. “Hope it works!” was written above an optimistic message that said “I want it to work between me and James. Wish us luck.”

I read every single one, ignoring my inner hygiene freak. Each one made me wonder about the person who’d written it. Were they like me, a stranger passing through, just by chance? Or were they there every day? Did it work between the mystery girl and James, did the girl with perfect cursive ever get past her problem?

How many people did I pass every day who struggled with the same issues these women had? How many people did I know who didn’t confess their secrets, whether on paper or a postcard or graffiti? How often did I do the same because I was afraid people wouldn’t understand?

I left the bathroom with damp hands that smelled like cheap soap. I was still tired, but I felt oddly encouraged. An anonymous person had written me a message: “Someone is always here to help you, whether you realize it or not. Just take a look around.”