When I was fourteen, I painted my name onto a sidewalk out back behind the middle school. We were painting foam stones for the set of Les Misérables, and my best friend dared me to do it. A few quick strokes of the brush, a G that looked more like a 6, and voila, vandalism complete. For a moment, I was immortalized.
It wasn’t even a week before somebody painted over it. I wasn’t exactly surprised, considering it was public property that I’d defaced. No one came after me or anything, I just kind of disappeared. Before the show even went up.
During the summers I lived and worked at summer camp, I was careful to write my name everyplace I could. The cabins I called home for one or two weeks at a time got a little Sharpie tag on the inside of the cabinet door. The picnic tables by the beach, too. The swim box, the snack bar window, the boys’ bathroom where I used the urinal once (summer camp is a weird place). I was meticulous about it without being too obnoxious. I was just staunchly determined to leave my mark wherever I’d been.
Memories aren’t enough. That’s why we pull out our iPhones every time we come across something beautiful. We’re afraid that without tangible evidence, we won’t have really seen it at all.
So what does that mean for us? How will people remember us, after we’re gone and everyone who knows us is gone and our Facebook pictures are lost in the depths of the cloud forever?
Truth be told, I’m pretty terrified of being forgotten. I want my life to have meant something when I’ve gone; I want there to be proof that I spent a good long time on this earth. Even if it’s something as small as a tiny tag on the inside of a cabinet. But preferably something bigger.
That’s why we do it, I think. That’s why we do anything at all. We want, somehow, to believe that we matter beyond what we ourselves can see. We want what we think and say and wonder to be able to change the world, because we’ve heard stories of how, sometimes, it can. We pull out our paintbrushes and write it on the sky. “I was here.”