The Love Sick Vandal - 2006/11/29

I've never much cared for graffiti. There are some who have successfully turned vandalism into a work of art through years of practicing the Tao of the spray can, but the majority of what you see is ill-thought babble that ruins the beauty of public structures. However, there is one vandal from my past who I don't think I'll ever forget—even though I've never met him.

In my early 20's I dated a beautiful young woman who lived in Elkhart, Indiana just south of the Michigan border. I lived three hours away to the northeast near a mid-Michigan city called Flint. The drive between the two cities is actually quite pleasant, but once you've driven it for the fiftieth time it starts to become a real drag. Even still, when you're in love you don't let these small things bother you (at least that's what the romantics say). I ended up being the one who had to bridge this gap for the majority of our meetings, which I'm apparently still a little bitter about.

Although this Indiana girl and I had a myriad of differences, one common bond we shared was an affinity toward nature. We both really liked parks and we spent much of our time walking through the woods absorbing the beauty of it all. As such, most of the memories I have from Indiana are from their parks, which are rather tranquil. One park in particular, just east of Bristol, is called the Bonneyville Mill Park.

Bonneyville dates back to the 1830s and was originally intended to become a thriving city. After being ignored by the main railroad system, it never prospered beyond being a tucked away mill and that's just the way I like it. You can still go there and relive its history by examining the old veteran buildings and buying fresh stone ground flour from the waterwheel. The land is also very attractive, with plenty of trees and clearings accented with walking trails, several ponds, and the crisp Little Elkhart River coursing through it. The park attracts the local Amish population as well and you will always see them around the area in their hats and bonnets.

I could praise the park all day, but there is something a bit more personal to me about the place. At the southernmost tip of the park exists a tall wooden observation tower set in the center of a field. The structure is several stories high; a staircase spirals along the edges and leads to the top. It's a study piece of architecture, but in a strong breeze it will sway a bit and make low grinding noises which is especially fun for people who don't care much for heights.

Like any public structure that isn't constantly policed, it was covered in graffiti when I first saw it—mostly with names and dates or guys claiming to have nailed the head cheerleader; your basic worthless fare. However, one piece of graffiti stood out in a strange way. It was written in the form of a journal entry and it contained a heartfelt message.

My girlfriend and I read the passage aloud. It seemed to be penned by a teenage boy longing for a teenage girl. His desperation was obvious. He claimed to be in love with a girl whom he spoke the world of. His lyrics were of praise and worship the kind that are usually reserved for a Sunday morning hymn, but if I were a betting man I would put a fifty down and say that this girl didn't even know he existed. The passage was so raw and real as if we were reading a page out of his personal dairy.

My girlfriend and I continued to examine the other writings and amidst the football jersey numbers and J.M.-hearts-S.Cs. We found another excerpt of this boy's journal. His anonymous pleas were written in black marker at the top of the wooden tower where everyone could see; the lovers, the hikers, the sex-crazed midnight teens. Every time we'd visit the park it became tradition for us to find his latest message and read it aloud to each other, playing witness to his festering obsession.

There was a bit of familiarity about his words. Reading what this young man wrote was to relive your own high school crush. I was very shy in high school, and so of course can I relate to this young man very well. For years I pined for my lovely crush, all the while too terrified to ask her out. The feeling of being there, reading his crippling heartache made me feel grateful that I now had a girlfriend, but almost a little ashamed that I was enjoying her love for me. It was akin to that feeling you get when you're dancing at a party and then you notice the person in a wheelchair watching from the sidelines.

Unfortunately, there is no way that I could do his words justice with what I could write today. I've long since forgotten what he wrote, which brings me to the second part of this story.

Many weeks later we climbed the stairs of the observation tower, curious about what our mystery teen had written, and as we arrived to the top we saw that all the graffiti had been neatly sanded clean. All of those names, dates, initials, and yes, all of this young man's writing, gone. For the first time in my life I felt upset that public vandalism had been removed. All of his many sessions of soul bearing had fallen prey to a portable belt-sander.

The next time we arrived at the structure there were plenty of new names and dates and Jonny-hearts-Jennys, but no new entries in the young man's diary, or the time after that, or again after that.

The two of us wondered what happened to this young man. Did he finally talk to this girl? Did he give up after his entries were destroyed? Did he swan dive off the tower to end his misery?

At the time I wish I had preserved a copy of his work, but I guess looking back, I'm glad that it was all removed. I know what it feels like to think a woman is truly a goddess and that you are merely dirt beneath her feet—all the while desiring her anyway. It's a challenge that we must over come and a permanent reminder of such a weak time in our life can't possibly be healthy.

My relationship with the Indiana girl eventually ended, and I've never been back to the Bonneyville Mill, nor have I seen that wooden lookout tower since. And yet, I still wonder what happened to that young man.

I have no clue who he is, where he is, or even if it was a guy that had written the entries; for all I know it was an eighty-year-old lesbian woman fantasizing about Cher. But because it fits so well with my past, I'd like to finish his story by applying my own.

He finally works up the courage to ask her out. She denies him. Shattered, he cries himself to sleep, wondering what he will do now that the primary driving force in his life has been taken away from him. For a few months he curses life and all living things questioning everything about his world, wondering why he should ever have faith in people again having been cut so deep by them. As time passes his wound heals. He learns to stop worshipping women from afar and instead of seeing them as angels-incarnate, he actually tries to become friends with them. And though he carries with him the terrible scar of rejection for the rest of his life, it serves as a marker for how strong he truly is.

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