The writing was in the washroom, outside her fourth-year English class at the University of Western. In the last stall in the bathroom, someone had posed the question: “What was the worst day of your life?” There were a couple of jokes: “The day I didn’t get my Hogwart’s letter,” one writer quipped. But then the responses turned darker: “Every day, struggling with an eating disorder.” “The day I found out my father was an alcoholic.” And this one: “The day I was raped.”
So Kierston Drier decided to add her own voice. Between classes, she tore a sheet of paper from her notebook and wrote a hopeful letter to the women who had scribbled their anonymous sorrows.
“To the girl with the eating disorder,” she wrote, “I promise you, although I don’t know you, you are beautiful.” When she had written nearly a page, she tracked down a piece of tape and left the note stuck up in the stall.
“I kept thinking, everybody who walks in and out of this bathroom looks just like me,” says Drier, who is 21. “We have no idea what’s going on behind their eyes, in their world, when they go home.”
Her handwritten note travelled far beyond a gloomy bathroom stall in London, Ont.; photographed and posted by someone to the Internet, it was rapidly shared among strangers, wound up on the popular website Reddit and even made news in the British media. (Drier only found out that it had gone viral when a Facebook friend posted a picture of her note, with the line, “Definitely the most interesting thing I read in the bathroom.”)
On one university Facebook page, it also prompted an outpouring of compassion: People came forward with stories of their own struggles after reading it, Drier says, and others responded, in turn, with words of encouragement: We don’t know you, they wrote, but we are rooting for you.
In her note, Drier addressed some of the comments specifically. “To the girls who was raped: You are so strong. I cannot fathom the pain you must have gone through. The fact that you have the bravery to write it (even on a bathroom wall) gives me hope.”
Part of her need to respond, she says, was because she could relate to some of the emotions behind the messages, and the sense that nobody else truly understands: She’s been in difficult relationships, and she struggled, for a time, with an eating disorder. Drier was also born with a severe learning disability called dysgraphia – until Grade 4, she couldn’t read and she struggled to tie her shoes even in high school.
“I was bullied terribly,” says Drier, who now aspires to be a playwright. (Some online commentators mocked the misspelled words in her note, she says, without considering that the letter writer herself might be overcoming a disability.) That formed part of her motivation to come forward now: “I am just one story myself,” she says, and anyone can take the time to reach out to someone in need.
“I felt so much empathy for these nameless people who had things happen to them and maybe didn’t have the support that I was blessed with,” she says. “I wanted them to know somebody heard them because that’s what I would have wanted to know when I was at my saddest, lowest points.”
Both the note – and the statements that inspired it – are now gone. The graffiti, Drier says, has been painted over by university staff.
But it travelled much farther than she ever imagined it might when she sat in a hallway outside class and ended the note with a stranger’s promise that “somebody cares.”
“The message is out there,” she says. “People heard it.”