A Holy Man Named Marcus
The following short story deals with adult themes of sin and redemption. The story includes scenes of racism, violent crime and corruption. Reader's discretion is advised.
I was fifteen when I learned the origin of my name. It was such a strange story because, I never asked. I mean I never, ever asked why my mother and father decided to call me Marcus. It just never occurred to me to question its origin. I supposed my parents enjoyed the sound or something. But it was that day that I learned not only the reason for my name, but of my namesake.
The whole event happened with something that I wanted everyone to know: I hated to go to Mass. I was fifteen and it was during my Christmas vacation. OK everyone attends mass on Christmas, but only three days later it was Sunday and I had to go to mass again. I figured I attended for the week on Christmas. That should be enough for one week, many who were also there on December 25th felt they attended mass for the year. But three days later, My father woke me up to go to the seven o’clock morning mass on December 28, 1986. Usually, we went as a family, but my mother had the flu and, of course, could not even get out of bed.
I tried to “volunteer” to stay home with Mom, but Dad would have none of it.
“She’ll be fine, Marcus.” My Father handed me my jacket as if to say ‘Nice try.’
I reached out for my winter parka and put it on looking to my father with that pouty face that fifteen year olds make to show that they are not satisfied with your demands. My father ignored me as he always did when I used the pouty face. I had yet to learn it did not work, not in fifteen years and not with Dad. He was a tough guy, but gentle. At fifty years old, I guess he had seen it all. Secretly, I think he was smiling inside along.
That Mass was even worse than most. I just hated to go and this day I just felt even more how much I hated to attend mass. I even said “Amen” as if I was protesting that I was actually receiving the Body of Christ. Despite being surrounded with poinsettias, the creche and so many others happily celebrating the Christmas season. However, for me the season ended on midnight December 25th. What is worse is that the more I hated to attend Mass, the more I hated having it known that I attended mass. Clearly, my behavior at school, although I was never in trouble, would still not indicate to others that I was a church going student of a public school. My language alone would never allow people to think I received communion with that tongue.
Billy Anders was there at that Mass on the other side of the wide Church. He was in the pew under the window of St. Thomas the Doubter, about half way between the altar and the front door of the church. We sat on the opposite side of the church wall under the window of St. Augustine. Billy was with his mother and father and two younger brothers and we both looked at each other as if we were atheists standing in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
He rolled his eyes at me and I smiled. This was just before the creed after the boring homily the priest read. I have no idea what it was about. If you quizzed me on it, I would say "something about Jesus." But that was always correct.
I heard a snicker behind me and then recognized Mary Lonsdale, another classmate two seats behind us under the Angel Gabriel window. I would wave to her at the sign of peace. She was a little more ‘holy’ than we were, after all she was alone. Her parents did not take her to mass, she just went on her own. She believed in God. I believed in God as much as I believe in Evo Morales: the president of Boliva. I know he exists, but I do not see how that affects me.
The priest gave the blessing and the final song began. I waited for my Dad to leave, but he had to wait for the ‘father’ to process from the altar and, led by the faithful servers, walk to the front doors of the Church. It is then that Dad and I walked with the crowd out of the Mass. My father was silent. He could be garrulous at times, but never in Church. It was like he was programmed into silence the minute he removed his hat as he stepped into the building. The priest stood on the inside of the doors and greeted everyone as they left.
“Have a blessed week.” He said as he shook one hand after and another.
Dad shook his hand for both of us. I just gave a semi-smile/smirk. "Yes, have a good week which is six days I am not here," I thought as I started to cross the threshold and down the marble stairs to the street below. My Dad followed.
As we walked down the large stone stairs of the majestic church, leaving the marble altar and the stain glass windows behind us to say nothing of the thirty foot rounded ceiling above us, I finally had the nerve to ask my father if I could stop going to mass.
“I was confirmed two weeks ago, most of my classmates’ parents tell them they no longer need to go to Mass. Can I assume the same thing?”
“Sure,” my father began as we looked both ways and crossed the street. “As long as you meet the same condition that they do.”
“Really??” I smiled, “What is that?” I should have prepared myself for my father’s disappointing answer. Instead, I foolishly was expecting a condition I could meet.
“When, like them.” he started with that wry smile.
I knew even before he finished the answer, I was about to be played.
“You do not live in my house.”
“Dad!!” I started with whiny pronunciation that grows in children and begins to die out around sixteen.
We reached the parking lot. He grabbed the car keys out of his pocket and fumbled for door key. Shoving it into the lock and turning it in one simple move, he opened the door and pushed the unlock button before getting behind the steering wheel. I opened my door and fell into the passenger seat in one similar move as he put the ignition key into the steering column starter.
I grabbed my seatbelt and pulled it across my upper body, he sat back with both hands on the steering wheel. The car still remained unstarted.
“You know Marcus, it is about time you learn where your name comes from.”
I probably looked annoyed as we sat in the three year old Buick. It was a 1983. He shifted his body a bit so that he could look at me a little better. His tall, thin frame made that easy to do. I could do the same. I could tell this was going to be a long story. So much for getting back to Mom so quickly.
“Did you know what I did before I ran your grandfather's hardware store?” He asked gently.
I sat back, ready for us to be here long after the next mass started. “Some kind of cop, I always thought.”
“Kind of,” he began. “I was a corrections officer over in the next town in Enfield.”
“That big prison?” We had been by it many times, the stone walls surrounded by the barbed wire fence. It was the kind of place you could not help but notice.
“Yeah, the same on the outskirts of the town. Massachusetts Correctional Institute—MCI, Enfield, Massachusetts. The oldest prison west of Boston is there and that is where I worked as a corrections officer. This was before you were born.”
“Didn’t you have to leave so that you could take better care of me as I was being born soon? I always heard that.” I tried not to act bored.
“Well, son, that is what we always told you, but there was more to the story and we felt you were not ready to hear it. I guess now you are.” My father grew serious the likes of which I never saw him before.
“You see son, “ He began. “I was a bully growing up. I beat up kids in school and when I graduated I decided to to become a corrections officer without letting go of my bullying spirit. I will tell you that it was a big mistake, but then again, if I did not, you might not be here.”
I must’ve looked puzzled at him. That sentence did not make sense and I really did not appreciate learning that my father was a bully.
Tommy Jackson beat me up all the time and he used to tell me that that each punch was for my what my dad did to his dad, but I never understood what he meant. Of course, we were in the fifth grade, so how was I to know? They moved the following year. Tommy Jackson’s father became the CEO of a huge software company and now they live somewhere in Newport Beach, California. Now I knew, my father beat him up.
I really now did not want to be there, this Sunday was turning into a nightmare. I wanted to be home studying. I was not much of a student, but even that was looking to be more exciting than where I was at this time.
“I remember the first day on the job, here I was entering that big prison facility for the first time, it was like being in the movies. I looked at the barred cells, that prison is so old that the cell doors are not doors but literally bars. The clanging of the metal upon metal. The screaming and the taunting by the most vicious of prisoners.
“You would almost expect James Cagney’s gangsters or Robert De Niro’s tough guys to be sitting in those cells. The whole place was filled with sound that was so disturbing. But for me it was exciting. Stupidly, I believed by being the meanest of the mean, I was doing the best for society. I really should never have been a corrections officer. Today, I would be a walking lawsuit, but then, I thought I was just doing my job in service to the public.”
I started to get somewhat interested in my father’s words, maybe Sunday was not going to be too bad after all. I smiled at the thought of a Robert De Niro tough guy being a prisoner where my father was a guard. I did not at the time have any clue who James Cagney was.
“There were some rough people there and each one had their own story, I had mine as well. So I began my job working in the oldest prison in the system. Back then, if they did not go to Cedar Junction, they went to us. Many of the men were tough and we had to be tougher. I broke probably every rule back then. I beat up prisoners who disagreed with me, broke one man’s nose, but there were no cameras and no one was going to rat anyone else. ”
This was not making me see my father in any good light. I was looking at him as a bully who became a professional. Who wants to see that in their father?
“Everyone knew that no one crossed Jim Brennan and even those who did not cross him were still punished by me because I knew I could be the bully I was in school.
“That was until Quiet Man Jackson came in. A big, black guy who was sent right from the court after being convicted of raping a white woman and then killing her. I did not know why there was a trial at all. He confessed to the crime and then pled not-guilty. I hated most of these criminals and I saw the news about this guy. I was determined he was going to pay for every twinge of pain he caused to that white girl’s family and to that girl himself before he killed her. He got life in prison, but he was going to know who was boss.
“Quiet Man Jackson entered the prison on my shift. He had his prison clothes in his hands as he walked to the cell where I was standing. My job was simply to make sure he got in, I added the role of showing my worst hate in the name of his victim, I think the woman’s name was Maria. I put on the meanest face I had ever made. This man was a monster and he had to know that my specialty was monsters.
"When I first laid eyes on him, I did not see the monster I expected. He was clean shaven, well, that was to be expected, after all he just left the court. Taller than me by about two inches. He was thin and wiry, certainly not someone who could wrestle anyone to the ground, much less rape or kill them and he had a gentle spirit. Of course, I overlooked all that. Looks, especially in prison, can be deceiving. I was not going let him use his gentle demeanor to make me any less tough.
“At the time, I did not go to Church. I was like you, I stopped going to Mass after Confirmation so what scripture I could quote were just words that backed up my attitude, it was certainly not an indication of knowing the Bible. I always kept in my the mind ‘the devil appears as an angel of light.’ So I looked at him not in any other way but the devil dressed in that gentle spirit. He was a monster and he would know to the day I left the prison, which I expected to be at the end of a long career, that I saw him as a monster and the devil himself disguised as an angel of light.
“He went into a cell with one other man in it. I forget who he was, probably someone in for petty theft. I just pointed Quiet Man Jackson to his bed, which was really nothing more than a cot. The cell was, of course, small. It had the two beds with a small space between them to walk to the sink and toilet in the back. The window in the wall was barred and looked out over the yard. That was about it.
"That day, I began to make his life a living hell. I yelled at him all the time, roughed up his personal belongings, wrote him up for things he never did and even beat him. I can’t say he grew to hate me, but he did fear me. One day, I caught him crying in his cell. I just taunted him more.
“I got so bad, other corrections officers told me to back off. I even got written up twice. The lieutenant told me that one more complaint and I could lose my job. I started to back off of him, but still saw nothing I did as being wrong. I later learned that inmates would not sit with him at meals because they were afraid of my hatred falling on them, even after I backed off.”
I guess inside I felt almost numb. It was as if my personal hero showed himself to be a phony. I was so disappointed to learn this, I was speechless. I may have appeared interested, but I really only wanted my father to stop. I felt myself shifting, actually squirming in my seat as I listened to detail after detail. I really did want to go home and study or even just hide my head in shame at my father. I hoped it could not get worse. It did.
“It was around this time that your mother and I were engaged. Then we had our wedding. It was a huge at St. Michael’s in Enfield. Your mother insisted on a church wedding. The pastor at the time Fr. Paul Saulus married your mother and I. Uncle Peter was the best man and Aunt Mary was the maid of honor. It was a wonderful wedding and the honeymoon was even better. We went to New York and had a great time. It was there that first night, we figured that you were conceived.”
Now I had the images of my parents doing it on the honeymoon and that was where I came in. I really wanted him to stop, but I said nothing. I think I was just in shock.
“We had a great time and we settled into a wonderful life. Your mother returned to her job teaching and I returned to the prison. She never saw me at work and everyone knew that if one person could control my bullying habits it was your mother. She was the one person who everyone knew was tougher than me. So at home I was the best husband and father to be I could think of, but at work, I was just a monster or as I thought of myself as a monster destroyer.
“Then my life changed. This is something we never told you, Marcus.”
I suppose I had to appear interested, but now I just wanted it all to end. I would have returned to Mass if it would have ended this talk.
"Your mother was coming home from shopping and was followed by someone. We did not have cell phones then and she could not call anyone. She drove toward home, a little nervous. She had the groceries in her car and the person who followed her out of the store, stayed behind her in a small sedan, a Japanese car I think. It looked like he was stalking her.
While stopped at that light at Wilkins and Derwood Street . . .”
It was about half-way between the market and our house. I used to ride my bike there. Somehow my parents always told me that it was a dangerous intersection, but did not understand why it was more dangerous than any other.
". . . this man rear-ended her. He jumped out of the car, opened her car door that she neglected to lock and dragged her into the cemetery at that intersection. There he attacked her and left her for dead. She was in a coma which means so were you.”
I was now stunned. My mother was beaten into a coma, left for dead and I was in her womb at the time. I really did not know how to handle this.
“The man left her car in the intersection and returned to his car and drove off. The only reason why they found her was the police came upon the car stopped at the intersection with the door wide open and the seat belt cut off. They suspected foul play and looked around for her. They found her in the corner of the cemetery near the road, barely conscious. She could not respond and her heart was just barely beating. They rushed her to the Enfield General Hospital.
“I received the notice while at work that Mom was in a coma in the hospital. They let me go for the day and I rushed to her and your bedside. She looked horrible. Needless to say, there were tubes and machines and the electronic sound of her heart beating. She had a tube down her throat and even a machine that monitored your heart beat.
“Her face was a mess, and I could hardly recognize her. This man really pounded her eye sockets and broke some of her bones. She was severely bruised, with blood around her eye and blood that dried around her nose. If you had not told me it was her, I do not know if I would have recognized her. I have no idea if she even heard anything I said and I spoke to her and told her how much I loved her as I wiped tears from my eyes. I asked them if you were going to survive and they said they were not sure but they were doing the best they could.
“They said she was critical with about a forty percent chance of survival and about a ten percent chance of not suffering permanent brain damage. There was an eighty percent chance of losing you. I was devastated and angry. I vowed to her lifeless comatose body that people would suffer for doing this and I knew it was another of Quiet Man Jackson’s kind. Yes, I imagined it was another black man, but I did not use that word, I had just figured. I actually had no idea who did it and do not know to this day. But back then, I was an angry, vicious racist.
“I spent the whole night sitting next to her and hoping beyond hope that she was not gone. The doctors said they did not give us any hope. I was about to lose my wife and my son and I was only married two months.
“I had the next two days off normally and I went every day to her bedside from morning to night. I spoke to her and to you. I told you both how much I loved you over and over again. I also vowed to take vengeance for what this black man had done. The chaplain came in, a Catholic priest and I just waved him off. We did not need prayers, God was not who I wanted to talk to at this time, after all where was God when this happened. I was respectful but told him to get out.
“When I returned to work, I was filled with rage. I did not show it, but I was determined that Quiet Man Jackson was going to suffer for all that had happened to your mother. Guys warned me not to let what happened to affect my work. They reminded me that I had been written up twice and warned that any further mistreatment of any inmates would lead to my termination.
“Actually they should have put me on a desk job, but they did not think like that in those days. So I went to work, but I let my anger consume me.”
“From the beginning of the day, every chance I had I started on Quiet Man. I roughed up his room, I screamed at him and yelled, that was until I had to move him, some kind of psychologist meeting he had that was routine for those in their first twelve months of incarceration. I had to walk him to the next floor which means that I had to take him in the elevator.
“The elevator, because it was outside of all view of everything and there was no camera there is where I did my most vicious beating. I could stop the elevator and no one would care. The bell would not go off, it had been disabled since before I even arrived in the prison.
“So, as soon as those doors shut, I let all my anger and hatred out on Quiet Man. I began by punching him in the face. What made it worse is that he was cuffed. He could not fight back. He begged me to stop and I am sure his pleas went to every floor on the elevator shaft. But I was not going to stop and I continued punching him and even kicking him with every hatred I had for Him. I hated him for being black, I hated him for what he did to that woman, I hated him for what happened to your mother and you and I hated him because I hated him and with all that hate, I just beat him and beat him and I just would not stop and no one could stop me.
"Suddenly, in all his pain and my anger he fell backwards in such a way that he twisted his right knee and tore just about every ligament in it. He screamed out in intense pain and begged me to stop.”
I sat now in shock at what I was hearing. I was disappointed in my dad, paralyzed at what had happened to Mom and me. It was all too much for me to hear at one time. I was beyond wishing it would stop. I was now numb. He himself never looked me in the eye, he just looked forward as if he was talking to the windshield, with both hands on the steering wheel.
I began to see a part of my dad I never thought I would. My father was a gentle but tough man. Now I literally began to see him cry. I watched as he paused to catch breath with his emotions and to wipe away the tears that fell from his eyes across his face. He used his sleeve like a young child does as he paused in his deep emotion.
“The other CO’s overroad the elevator and got it going. When it stopped on the next floor there was Quiet Man writhing in pain on the floor as I stood looking over his body listening to every scream in pain. The lieutenant was there and grabbed me, pulling me off the elevator. He called for medical to come and take Quiet Man to the infirmary and told me to go home. I was not to return until called.
“It was then that man stopped yelling and he had become unconscious, apparently the pain was so bad, at least I thought.”
My father began to cry out loud. Tears were uncontrollable as they fell down his face. He stopped and shook his head. Then took a deeper breath and continued.
“I was sent home and for the first time, I realized that I had done a terrible thing. I never considered what I was doing to be so bad and now I realized I had done a great evil. I was never supposed to hurt him. My job was not to take my justice out on him ever.
“I immediately ran to the hospital and to see how your mother and you were doing.
“ ‘I think you need to call your family and even a priest at this moment.’ The doctor looked at me seriously. He entered the room when he saw me arrive from work. I knew that my time with you both was coming to an end. I never even saw you, but, I refused to give up.
“ ‘I have to be frank, Mr. Brennan.’ The doctor looked me right in the eye in that cold clinical tone of voice. ‘I cannot see them surviving more than forty-eight hours.’ He sat on the bed as I took those words in and then walked away. I sat there in silence with all those words and events in my mind. I became almost catatonic until maybe hours passed by and I finally found the strength to go home to that dark lonely house that was empty and maybe will be forever.
“About ten minutes after I went to bed, trying to sleep, I received a phone call which I figured was from the hospital to tell me that you were gone. Instead it was the captain on duty. He told me that I was being suspended without pay until there was an investigation and that chances are I was going to lose my job, if not go to prison myself. It was then that he told me that Quiet Man could no longer talk. He apparently had a stroke from what he suffered at my hands.”
My father then just sobbed out loud as he tried to hold back the remaining tears. He took a deep breath and continued.
“He had to go into emergency surgery for his knee. Chances are it would be months if not years before he would walk again and he never would talk again.
"The best I could hope for was to be just fired without severance or anything. They would work to ensure you two were on some form of health insurance, but aside from that I was to be gone. I hung up the phone in shock.
“My day could not have gotten worse and some of it was my fault.
“The following day, the warden came to see me, I was in the hospital room with you and your mother. I arrived early, around six o’clock and hadn’t slept at all.
"He sat me down next to your mother’s comatose body and told me that things did not look good for Quiet Man Jackson. He probably may never walk again the damage was so intense, more intense for a prison infirmary and it was a blood clot from the injury that caused the stroke. He was in danger of another stroke.
“I said nothing to him. He turned around and left. I just sat there all day looking at what happened to you and Mom and remembering what I did.
“The doctors came in asked if I wanted to donate your mother’s organs and even your body when you both died. They assumed I wanted to disconnect the machines you were on. I shook my head no to removing the machines and would not answer on organ donation. I would not give up. I spent the whole day and whole night in a chair at your mother’s side and finally I fell asleep.
“The next morning, I woke to hear your mother moaning. It was six thirteen and her eyes opened up. Immediately, I yelled for the doctors. They ran into the room and started telling me this was a hopeful sign. It looked like that actually your mother and you were going to make it. The head surgeon, Doctor Charles Michaels told me that this was clearly a miracle.
“We were celebrating that maybe you both would survive.
“At three o’clock in the afternoon the lieutenant came to see me. He had bad news. Quiet Man Jackson had another stroke and died. I asked him what time he had died and he told me at six thirteen in the morning.
“He then handed me a piece of paper that Quiet Man wrote the day before he died. I later learned that his family begged the prison not to prosecute me. They understood my pain and forgave me for theirs. It was because of them I am not a prisoner myself.”
My father reached into his right front pocket and pulled out his wallet. He opened it up and pulled out an old wrinkled, worn piece of paper. He began to read from it.
“He could not talk,” my father added. “But that day he could write and he wrote me what may have been his last words.”
“Officer Brennan: I want you to know that I forgive you for what you did. Please know that I never would want it held against you what happened. You did not know. You did not know that I was falsely accused and the confession I gave for that crime was coerced. It still happens in this country.
“I want you to know that despite your animosity to me how you saw me as a monster, I prayed for you every night. Ask anyone in the prison. They thought I was crazy, but every night I got down on my knees and I prayed for you that one day you may know the truth. You may find Jesus and that you may be saved.
“When I heard your wife and unborn child were attacked, I got down on my knees and prayed more and more for them.”
“I am sure if you knew the truth, you would not have treated me this way. I hear the doctors talking and even though I cannot talk back, I know things do not look good for me. If I die soon, I will go to Heaven and ask the Lord to do all he can for your wife and your son. I will also ask him that make sure he does all he can to lead you to know Christ.
“May you truly know Christ in your heart,
“Sincerely in Christ,
“The moment that Quiet Man Jackson died, is when you two began to come to life. I know that he really did go to Heaven and asked the Lord that you two would be healed.”
“Son, that is why your first name is Marcus and that is why I go to Mass every Sunday. I met a saint when I was the worst of all sinners. I actually tortured that saint and I learned the depth of the love of God from that saint that taught me about Him. I have no right to do anything but live my life in thanksgiving for that God forgiving me. So yes son, I do go to Church every Sunday and as long as you live in my house so will you. Marcus Jackson would prefer it no other way.”
I finally understood my dad in a way I never could have before. It was a terrible story but a powerful one, that because of a falsely accused man, the victim of racism, whom my father treated like a monster, we both learned about holiness, sainthood and why we attend mass every week.
The District Attorney heard the whole story of what my father did and about Quiet Man's forced confession and decided to listen to the pleas of his parents against prosecuting my father during his crisis. I will say, he was not easily swayed against prosecuting, but it was Quiet Man's parents virtual begging that freed my father.
The DA also decided to reinvestigate Marcus’ case. He found it was just as he said. The confession was forced and he was not even near the scene of the crime. The detective planted evidence and he was fired and prosecuted because, unlike my father, he knew Quiet Man was innocent.
Marcus’ parents told the DA their son planned to be a physician and never got that chance, he died at nineteen because of my father. Dad lived with that pain until the day he died.
We never told my mother about that time in the car and she to this day does not know if I am aware of the circumstances of our mutual almost death. She never brought it up and Dad never mentioned it again to his death of a heart attack ten years later. He requested in his will that on his head stone were the words “Father, forgive me.” They memorialize his deepest regret.
We never did find the criminal who attacked my mother, but I am NOT assuming he was a black man. Some even think that the culprit who killed Maria may have attacked my mother. The crimes were similar. But to this day we do not know.
As for me, it is many years later and since that time, I never missed a Mass ever. For I am not only my father’s son, I am Marcus Jackson’s namesake and Marcus Jackson is a saint.
This story is a work of fiction, any similarities to any persons living or deceased is purely coincidental.
Tomorrow, the anatomy of writing A Holy Man Named Marcus
Jay Roberts is the pseudonym Fr. Robert J Carr uses when writing fiction