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Dear Marcus

Cover of Dear Marcus

Dear Marcus

A Letter to the Man Who Shot Me
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The idea to write to you was not an easy one.
The scar from where the bullet entered my back is still there.

Jerry McGill was thirteen years old, walking home through the projects of Manhattan's Lower East Side, when he was shot in the back by a stranger. Jerry survived, wheelchair-bound for life; his assailant was never caught. Thirty years later, Jerry wants to say something to the man who shot him.

I have decided to give you a name.
I am going to call you Marcus.

With profound grace, brutal honesty, and devastating humor, Jerry McGill takes us on a dramatic and inspiring journey--from the streets of 1980s New York, where poverty and violence were part of growing up, to the challenges of living with a disability and learning to help and inspire others, to the long, difficult road to acceptance, forgiveness, and, ultimately, triumph.

I didn't write this book for you, Marcus. I wrote this for those who endure.
Those who manage. Those who are determined to move on.

The idea to write to you was not an easy one.
The scar from where the bullet entered my back is still there.

Jerry McGill was thirteen years old, walking home through the projects of Manhattan's Lower East Side, when he was shot in the back by a stranger. Jerry survived, wheelchair-bound for life; his assailant was never caught. Thirty years later, Jerry wants to say something to the man who shot him.

I have decided to give you a name.
I am going to call you Marcus.

With profound grace, brutal honesty, and devastating humor, Jerry McGill takes us on a dramatic and inspiring journey--from the streets of 1980s New York, where poverty and violence were part of growing up, to the challenges of living with a disability and learning to help and inspire others, to the long, difficult road to acceptance, forgiveness, and, ultimately, triumph.

I didn't write this book for you, Marcus. I wrote this for those who endure.
Those who manage. Those who are determined to move on.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    The idea to write to you was not an easy one, but I could no longer ignore the calling. It came swiftly and unexpectedly, like a thunderstorm on a humid afternoon or a tumor returned with a renewed ferocity. You can't keep a strong force down. The question becomes, why write to you now, some thirty years after the fact? Why bother to waste this precious blood, sweat, and energy on you-someone I never even met? Someone whom I can only imagine, but never truly visualize or come to understand? Why put any effort at all into contacting someone who came ever so close to ending my life with just the twitch of a finger? It's a valid question whose response is not very easy to articulate. But I suppose I have to try.

    The scar from where the bullet entered my back is still there. It always will be, like a tattoo or stretch marks. I honestly never think about it now, as it is out of my sight line, but every so often it rises from the obscurity of my skin. At times a lover will be running her fingers down my neck in a caring, intimate manner and her finger will catch on that point. It feels like a zit now, no larger than a bee sting really. Still, the question always comes: "What's this from?"

    The veracity of my answer will always depend on my feelings for the questioner. If I believe she will be around for a while, if she is someone whom I care enough about to share this darkness with, I will give just a little, but only so much.

    "Oh, I was involved in an incident a while back," I'll say. You can't reveal too much too soon, you know. There's gotta be some mystery.

    If it is someone I just leaned on for comfort at a particular moment, or someone I can tell is not truly "share-worthy," well, then she will receive the casual, harmless white lie. There will be no follow?up response. Not even eye contact. "Oh, that's nothing. Childish roughhousing," I will ramble off as if swatting away a fly. The majority have received the latter. I don't really like to share. It's not in my nature anymore. The events that occurred to produce that scar are not really a place I care to visit. As the saying goes, I have moved on. And I'm proud to make that statement. But now-in this moment in time-addressing It, addressing You, just feels appropriate. Until I speak to you, I can never fully close this door. And I need that resolution. I think I've earned it.

    You-my nameless, faceless friend with whom I share such a close, personal relationship-do you ever think about me? Do you ever wonder what became of me-that kid whom you saw walking down the street that one brisk night in January? Was it your intention to link us indelibly with your simple, somewhat effortless act of violence? Were you even remotely aware of the potency of such an act? Did you blink? Give it a second thought? Did you say to yourself, Maybe I shouldn't do this?

    I have created over a hundred scenarios for how we "met." With all my time in the hospital there was nothing to do but obsess. It was fascinating at first, putting together those shards of a jigsaw that would forever lack pieces. In my mind you are either black or Latino. Why? Simple deduction, since those are the only types of people who lived in that area where we grew up. I'm going to go ahead and make you black. I have the power now. You are positively a male since women don't typically go about ghettos shooting guns to prove their worthiness. Women don't really grow up with thuggish gun fantasies, do they? They sure as hell didn't back in 1982.

    Maybe your name is Leroy. Or Tito. Or Dante. Or Hector. Or Tyrone. Or Javier. Or Jamal. Or Luis. For my own purposes, I have decided to give you a name. It helps me, you see, to give you...

About the Author-
  • Jerry McGill is a writer and artist. He received a BA in English literature from Fordham University in the Bronx and his MFA in education from Pacific University in Oregon. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 19, 2012
    A moment of senseless violence transforms a young man in this inspiring memoir of disability. In 1982, McGill was 13 years old and living in a Manhattan housing project when he was randomly shot in the back by an assailant who was never found (he dubs the unknown gunman “Marcus”). The wound left him a near quadriplegic, and the once athletic boy faced an agonizing struggle to recover some bodily function, and adjust to losing most. McGill takes an unsparing though humorously insightful look at the frustrations and humiliations imposed by his handicap and at the permanent rifts his family suffered from the strain. In time, McGill learns to appreciate his care-givers, finishes college, embarks on a rewarding career, and experiences a tender sexual encounter with a former camp counselor. “Happiness is a thing I can control if I put my mind to it,” he realizes. McGill moves from bitter contempt for his attacker to a deeper analysis of the ghetto culture of violence, fatherlessness, and misguided machismo that victimized him—and eventually to understanding and forgiveness. Agent, Lydia Willis. Photos.

  • Lorrie Moore, The New York Review of Books

    "Inspiring."

  • Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore "As I started reading Dear Marcus, I found I couldn't put it down. This is a compelling marriage of remembrance and forgiveness, absolution and compassion, cynicism and understanding."
  • Dalton Conley, dean of social sciences at New York University and author of Honky "Written with passion, honesty, humor, and a stubborn, rebellious optimism, Dear Marcus is like nothing I've ever read. When a bullet in the back told Jerry McGill not to go on, Jerry went on--smiling." --Shalom Auslander, author of Hope: A Tragedy "It's hard to remember how out of control our cities were back in the 1970s and '80s. If you want a firsthand account, there's no better place to turn to than Dear Marcus. But Dear Marcus is more than that: It's an incredibly intense story of triumph over tragedy that can inspire people dealing with any sort of challenge in their lives. It's rare to find a book that speaks to you on the most personal level while illustrating much bigger themes, and is so compelling to read to boot."
  • Publishers Weekly "A moment of senseless violence transforms a young man in this inspiring memoir of disability. In 1982, McGill was 13 years old and living in a Manhattan housing project when he was randomly shot in the back by an assailant who was never found (he dubs the unknown gunman 'Marcus'). The wound left him a near quadriplegic, and the once athletic boy faced an agonizing struggle to recover some bodily function, and adjust to losing most. McGill takes an unsparing though humorously insightful look at the frustrations and humiliations imposed by his handicap and at the permanent rifts his family suffered from the strain....McGill moves from bitter contempt for his attacker to a deeper analysis of the ghetto culture of violence, fatherlessness, and misguided machismo that victimized him--and eventually to understanding and forgiveness."
  • Kirkus Reviews "An inspirational memoir by a writer who refuses to be defined by his paralysis, as he comes to terms with the unknown man who shot him."
  • The Oregonian "A powerful book."
  • Library Journal (starred review) "An unforgettable and intriguing journey . . . Violence, hope, despair, forgiveness, anger, and living with a disability are explored both lightly and deeply, humorously and profoundly, and always honestly."
  • Shelf Awareness "Thoughtful and profound...written in gritty and brave language...McGill presents the pivotal moments of his life with the clarity of a cinematographer's lens."
  • The Rumpus "Dear Marcus is my current favorite book....This is a literary page-turner that explores the reverberations of an action and a moment, the ways in which perpetrators and victims are connected...From the packaging, to the insights, to the defiance and challenge of assumptions, to the writing, this is a straight up gorgeous book."
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