"DEAR Stranger," began the letter.
My heart skipped a beat.
I found the lined page half buried in the damp sand under the monkey bars at the playground across from my North Vancouver home. I asked each of the caregivers milling about if they had dropped it, but no one claimed it. I felt guilty holding on to a letter that wasn't intended for my eyes, so I placed the letter on the wrought iron table beside me while my daughter played with a tractor in the sand.
From where I sat, I snuck occasional glances at the page. From the handwriting and limited few words I glimpsed, I concluded that the letter was probably between battling teens, a feud with a parent, or a young romance gone sideways. I felt intrusive and did not allow myself to glance at it further.
The playground emptied as the clouds rolled in, and still no one had claimed the page. I convinced my three-year-old that we needed to head home and slowly packed up our shovels and pails. It began to rain. The message would be ruined if I left it lying on the table so I carefully slipped it into my jacket pocket.
On the short walk home from the park I decided I would allow myself to read it in order to search for clues as to where I could return it.
I poured myself a cup of tea and gave myself permission to unfold the page on my kitchen table.
That's when I saw the first line, which I reread four times before continuing.
The letter was not at all what I had thought it might be. Instead of reading words intended for someone else, I was reading a plea from a 15-year-old girl indirectly written to me. There was no name or contact information.
Tears welled as I read the letter again, this time more slowly. My temperature elevated and my hands began to shake. I have a 14-year-old daughter; it could have been her or one of her peers.
"I have written and left this letter in hopes someone caring will find it," it said.
She wrote that she was from the city, but I had found the letter in the suburbs. She admitted the two ways she most often thought about taking her life involved a fast-moving vehicle or with a knife. She wondered if anyone would notice.
Her dreams of having a career working with children in the future prevented her from carrying out the act, but she didn't know how much longer she could hold on. The words carried such detail and honesty that I refused my first momentary instinct to believe this letter could be a hoax.
The physical abuse at home began when she was a toddler, and now she masked the injuries with a new foundation she'd recently discovered that worked very well. She skipped gym class and loose-fitting clothes. At the same time, she made it very clear that her parents weren't bad people. Her father was extremely strict and her mother emotionally unavailable: normal parents, in her eyes.
In between grammatical and syntactical mistakes that pointed to English as being her second language, there were specific details about her skin problems and a weight issue.
She wrote of being competitive with and envious of her younger sister's athletic and scholarly achievements.
She explained that she would write more letters and drop them off in the same spot. If the person who found this letter "had the inclination, would they please leave a note back?"
I honestly don't think she dropped the letter in the sandbox on purpose, I think she left it elsewhere to be found and it made its way to the sandbox accidentally - but who knows? A playground could be the perfect outlet for her emotions. It's a place of constant movement, playfulness, children's laughter, hope and wonder. It's also a place where words can easily been buried in the sand.
The letter was signed with a cursive "God Bless" and a black square box underneath. It looked like she had begun to sign her name, then changed her mind and scratched it out in black ink.
The following morning on my way to go teach, I tucked the letter hastily into the pages of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran - the text I read to my students - put the book in my bag and made my way to the school district office.
Like me, the woman at the reception desk was moved to tears when she read the words. She thanked me for turning it in and assured me that the Ministry of Children and Family Development would be contacted and that they would do their utmost to locate this girl.
As I left the building, I had the book in my hand and I looked to where I had kept the letter. I had inadvertently tucked it into page 20, the poem about children. It's one of my favourite passages in the book, a part of which states:
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
I pray that her arrow flies straight and far, and that she finds the strength she needs to realize her dreams.
Dhana Musil is a yoga instructor, nutritionist and part time writer. She is the mother of two girls and makes her home in North Vancouver.