Before I die..

On the cinder path along the harbour in my small town, someone placed on a fence three chalkboard panels headed with the phrase, Before I Die...

Before I die I want to ... lines end with blanks that people fill in spontaneously.

One recent sunny spring day I saw... I want to love myself. I want to meet my Dad. I want to publish a New York Times best seller. 
I didn't write that. In fact I wrote on the board only once, to say that I wanted to finish my work. But I like to imagine the people who stop there, perhaps when it is dark, so no one can see them expressing their most secret hopes. The girl, I imagine a girl, who printed carefully, I want to love myself. Maybe someone who has never liked her looks, who took the harbour path on her way home from a party where she drank too much beer and regretted having worn the too tight top that showed the bulge around her waist, that her Mom calls baby fat; who said something stupid to a boy she liked, so he laughed drunkenly and made a big deal of it to his buddy. Did you hear what she just said? Lights from the government wharf illumine the blackboard. Sticks of chalk protrude from the tin bucket next to it. Before I die... She sort of wants to die, it would be so quiet. There's enough of a wind that the rigging of certain sailboats clangs against metal masts. No sea gulls screaming, though, not this time of night.
She can't remember exactly what she said,  but she doesn't want to go to school tomorrow, because she'll have to see him and his buddy and the girls who were there, who always wear the right thing. She doesn't want to face them in the hallways, even though they probably won't notice her anyway unless she says something else stupid, like, Here I am! It's me! She doesn't want to go even though she has a chemistry exam, and she needs to keep her grades up if she wants to be considered for a scholarship; it's her last year; this is chemistry 12. Her mom has said all along that she better get a scholarship or plan on a career at Starbucks, so it's been like, there, that goal, and she always does her homework, and she mostly pays attention in class, except when she stares at the periodic table chart on the wall and wonders to herself why the random chemical elements she is made of have not and may never come together into a compound she likes. Even loves.

As for the, "I want to meet my Dad," when I turned around at the end of the cinder walk and started back, a young mother was strolling with her little girl, holding her hand as the, perhaps, five year old child balanced along the low cement wall between the water and the land. "It's because," she said to the child, "he had not had a good relationship with his own father, and so..." The little one was listening, but I hurried past.