You’re downtown, and see graffiti in an unlikely place—graffiti like you’ve never seen
before, concerning someone you know.
I left the small independent theater, hands in pockets, zipped up hoodie casually looking at the old brick buildings wondering just how old they were, knowing for certain they are much older than I. Some of them had old advertisements, cigars, beer, and industrial signage of a bygone age. And then I saw it. At my eye level an obviously modern invading piece of graffiti. But it wasn’t some gang signage or random cussing. It was a work of art. It was covering the door of an old shut down book store, windows boarded up I could see dust and cobwebs on the edges and broken glass shards whether through violence or neglect it would be hard to say.
The graffiti itself was colorful, a caricature of a girl with big eyes, sad eyes and long hair. Done in reds blues and greens, it looked almost alive, reminding me of the waif in the logo of Les Miserables but older. This girl wasn’t a child. She looked very familiar, too familiar. But it couldn’t be her; she had left town years before to start a new life in LA, or New York, or someplace giant and epic. Anyplace but Tacoma. I could see her smile; I could see the sparkle in her eyes as she talked about her dreams and how she would be rich and famous and never come back. This town was too blue collar for her, too dirty, too real.
She needed castles in the air the way some needed air to breathe. Reality was the dream killer, and reality was everywhere here, it was absorbed in the bricks in the old advertisements, in even the air, in the streets themselves. What startles me more than the picture making me think of her, was that there were dates painted below in red, 1983- 2015. Of course I knew it must have just been a coincidence, a picture reminding me of her, reviving an old memory. It wasn’t actually about her. It couldn’t be. But I felt a chill go down my spine. The dates seemed like birth and death dates. What else would make sense? I searched my phone thinking perhaps I still had her number. She had probably changed it over the years, but on the odd chance that I could reach her, and put my mind at ease about these dates. Boy, was I being ridiculous. How could it be her? That made no sense.
I recall seeing her before she left; I gave her a ride to the greyhound, her bags packed with a one way ticket, short blonde hair dancing in the breeze, a silly hat on her head, askew, scarf around her neck and vintage blazer with jeans. Of course the jeans had holes in the knees. That was in at the time, although the hat was her own quirk. Her family was distant, she was a free spirit, and coming and going as she pleased and no one batted an eye or thought it crazy that she would quit her waitressing job one day, invest in a ticket and go to a town where she knew no one. It was just a Sherri thing to do. I remember the look in her striking green eyes, a look of just try and stop me, defiance, determination, and a youthful but hard look. I gave her a tight hug; I could feel her heart beating fast, adventure filling her lungs. I whispered in her ear, “Good luck. Break a leg, or whatever they say.”
She smiled sheepishly. “I’m not an actress. I want to model, remember?”
She was only 5 feet 2; I didn’t have the heart to tell her most models were tall. I didn’t want to be the one to bring her castle crashing down to earth. I figured life had a way of doing that on its own. I thought I was being a good friend, and maybe more, but she was never in reality enough to catch. She was more like a ghost, if you caught her in a moment, she would fade out the next. She couldn’t be nailed down. Maybe that was part of the appeal. You couldn’t own her; you could only hope she shared a moment with you.
I tried to write her over the years, but the letters always came back return to sender, no such address. I guess she moved a lot, which sounds like her. I must have tried calling. I believe I usually got her chipper voice mail, “Hi this is Sherri! I will get back to you when I can, Love ya!” She shined a little on everyone. Maybe she was just a little too bright for this world. Maybe she made it into her castle after all. I found her old number, I never deleted it. Maybe I had let hope live on in the recesses of my mind. Maybe this was all much ado about nothing. I hit the button, waiting for a ring.
“I’m sorry but the number you called has been disconnected…” My heart sank. I looked back into the strangely hypnotic sad eyes. Was she ever sad? Why would I think of her being sad? I tried and I could only recall one time. I walked up to her at school and she was sitting on a bench looking pensive. I sat down casually next to her, and said “Hey.”
She looked up, tears in her eyes. She showed me a paper about something. It started to rain, and I remember the big splotches on the news print. I guess it was an article about something, someone? Why couldn’t I remember? I recall the rain mixing with her mascara, making it dribble down her face making her face even sadder. I offered her my coat; she didn’t have one on for some reason. Her bag was slouching next to her. Books just peeking out the top. “What’s this about? I said, taking her chin and lifting it slightly so I could see into those eyes. Greenish blue, you could get lost in them and not come back.
“It’s over. My life’s over.”
“Isn’t that a bit dramatic?”
She paused, crumpled the paper, and threw it in a nearby garbage bin. She sniffled, and breathed out dramatically. “It’s okay. I’m sure I am being silly. We should go in now before I’m late to class.” She got up, picked up her bag, and walked away from me. I was left there in the rain wondering what that was about. Now, I will never know. I do not know why I didn’t follow her. Why didn’t I follow?