De­liv­er­ing the mes­sage

Who hasn’t felt that empty space when you have been left be­hind?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc .

It is, ar­guably, just out­side Tata­m­agouche, N.S. —? lit­er­ally near the town lim­its, but barely out­side, on the old rail line that’s now the Tran­sCanada Trail.

Right there, there’s an old rail­way trestle bridge that strad­dles the French River, where the French meets the Waugh River in what is, at low tide, vast ex­panses of red­dish-brown tidal mud. There’s enough tidal fall that, in the Waugh, chan­nel marker buoys top­ple over on their sides at low tide near the wharf at the foot of King Street.

But back to the trestle. The top of the bridge is flat boards, some nailed well, oth­ers less so, a few more start­ing to rot, so that cross­ing the bridge gives you that un­set­tling older-thrill-park feel­ing that ev­ery­thing just might go wrong and you could find your­self in the river. When I was there, mosquitoes were whin­ing in the soft, ear­lyevening air, while ATVs were whin­ing their bug-sim­i­lar whine at a dis­tance away down the trail. The bridge rail­ing is three tiers of boards on ei­ther side, run­ning be­tween the posts, ex­cept at the very start of the bridge on the Tata­m­agouche side.

There, one board, the cen­tre board of the three, has been care­fully re­moved. If you set your eyes right, you can see that it’s been re­moved on pur­pose, and that, on ei­ther side of the bridge, a nar­row path threads down across the old rail bal­last, into the light-green rasp­berry bushes and fi­nally onto the jum­bled rocks that an­chor the bridge abut­ments. You can, if you bend right, pass right through the rail­ing and make your way down.

Un­der­neath the bridge, you can see that the tar in the trestle-work above has got­ten hot enough at some time to melt and drip from the cross ties, so the big rocks be­low are flecked with tar drops and the air is redo­lent with the rich smell. There’s a spot where, on a hot day, you could get past the tar, put your back up against the cool squared con­crete face of the abut­ment, and look out at the slowly-mov­ing river. It’s a bolt­hole, a cor­ner where peo­ple have clearly spent some time.

And then there’s the mes­sage. It’s a sim­ple one — you could class it as graf­fiti, but it is more like some­one send­ing a let­ter when they have no idea what ad­dress will work any­more.

Who it’s from, and who it’s di­rected to­wards, is im­pos­si­ble to know.

Painted in white spray paint, all in cap­i­tal letters.

A plain­tive: “I miss you.” Not “I love you,” not as achingly per­sonal a pro­nounce­ment as that, but the some­how more jar­ring “I miss you.” “I love you” could hold hope: “I miss you” does not.

A sim­ple sen­tence, but who among us hasn’t heard it? Who hasn’t felt it? That gap, that empty space: you can think of a hun­dred cir­cum­stances. Did some­one leave town for univer­sity, pulling stakes up quickly? Worse: did they die? Did they find new love and sim­ply stop com­ing to what had been a shared place? Who left? Who was left be­hind?? There’s other graf­fiti, some older, some newer, but noth­ing that ex­plains.

There are robins singing in the trees, and the light is start­ing to fade. Three ATVs come up the trail, cross the bridge, and the loose boards dance un­der their weight, fine dust sift­ing down through the air long af­ter they’ve passed.

The bridge’s mes­sage bold, stark, but out of sight for most: I miss you.

RUS­SELL?WANGER­SKY/TC MEDIA

This jar­ring in­scrip­tion is painted un­der a for­mer rail­way bridge out­side Tata­m­agouche, N.S.

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