Title: To Have Been Loved
Rating: R for language and some thematic elements. But if you've seen the movie nothing in here is shocking.
Summary: Jack Mercer's life, from beginning to end.
He'd been born underweight and underdeveloped, shaking and shivering with someone else's addiction. She was twenty-two and had no home because she put all the money she made in back alleys and back seats into her arms and up her nose. They kept him in a plastic box, on display like a prize baseball or a ship in a bottle, all tied up with tubes and tape until he could breathe on his own and his heart thumped at a steady beat.
People liked adopting babies but sick babies tended to be a harder sell. Especially babies sick the way he was. They all knew what the statistics told them; crack babies were destined to be smaller, weaker, ADD ridden ghosts of what they might have been.
The main problem though was that she kept coming back. She would get clean, prove herself worthy as far as the standards set by social services went, and she would get him back. It never lasted though and finally, when he was two, she signed over her parental rights for good. If he could remember any of that he might have been comforted by the fact that at least some part of her had wanted him. That she had kissed him goodbye one last time and told him she loved him. But he can't remember and the earliest years of his life are a blur of different beds, offices, group homes and car rides with social workers.
He was smaller than most. An almost skeletal face swallowed up by those giant blue eyes, a meek voice and vulnerable smile. He was five the first time a grown man reached inside his underwear and for the rest of his life would walk around wondering if it showed on him, if people could see it when they looked into his eyes. He spent two years in that house and by the time anybody figured out what was going on it was too late to undo the damage. He cried sometimes for no reason; hit other kids sometimes just the same. He pulled his own hair and bit his palms and didn't sleep.
At the next home, the only one that would have him, they didn't sneak into his bed at night but hit him hard when he did normal kid things like accidentally spill his juice or leave the sink dripping after he brushed his teeth. And sometimes they put things in his drink to make him feel dizzy and crazy and sleep for a lot longer than he should have. He got back at them by taking their things; learned to swipe five dollar bills without being seen, started flushing car keys down the toilet.
That lasted six months and then he spent another six in a group home where he learned to hide what little he had and to never make friends. Nobody could be trusted.
He was steadily reaching the point of no return for an orphan, the age of "if nobody wants you now than they never will." The words 'sexual abuse' made the good foster parents nervous, they worried that he would turn around and hurt one of the other children the same way he'd been hurt. They read that he'd already exhibited self-destructive behavior, just eight years old, and it scared them away. And then there had been her.
Back then her hair had still been sunshine blonde and she kept a dish of taffy's on her desk.
"Jack, that's a fine strong name," she told him as she glanced over the thick manila folder that told the whole story and he couldn't really remember the last time he'd been addressed by his own name. It was always 'kid' or 'boy'. "A strong name for a strong boy," she had smiled and closed the folder and he didn't know why, because he rarely did, but he smiled back at her. She'd sighed, leaned her elbows on the desk.
"Well Jack, how'd you like to come home with me for a while?"
She took him home that night with everything he owned: the clothes on his back plus two t-shirts, some underwear and three G.I.Joes he'd received from the shelter Santa last Christmas. She let him pick the radio station in the old El Camino and he swiveled the knob until Jimmy Hendrix's 'American Woman' crackled through the speakers.
"I see someone has a taste for the rock and roll," she'd observed with a grin, "You know I was a bit of a hippie in my day." He hadn't understood much of what she meant, but he'd nodded and turned his attention to the worn down sights of the Detroit neighborhood.
She had three sons and he didn't realize that she meant she had adopted them until he saw them. Two were black and one was white. They were like real brothers though from the moment he walked through the door. They were always arguing, always teasing and laughing.
Angel was the closest to his age, four years older but much bigger already with arms full of muscle from rec center football. And he was a charmer; Angel could smile his way out of his own curfew and talk his way out of handcuffs. Those first several years, when Bobby still lived at home consistently, he had been Jack's roommate. At first the older boy had ignored him entirely, until the first night Jack started screaming in his sleep. He can remember waking up in a start to find Angel staring down at him, "Jackie man calm down, Jackipoo calm down, you're safe man." Angel had taken to him after that, letting Jack tail him around the neighborhood. The girls loved Angel and therefore took a shining to his baby brother.
Jerry was next in age order; a gawky boy with long limbs and as Angel liked to put it, the teeth of a horse. Jerry was always, without a doubt, the brains of the operation. None of Bobby's half brained schemes or angry revenge missions went through without a warning of "Bobby why don't you just think about this, you gonna wind up in trouble. We're all gonna wind up in trouble." Not that Jerry wasn't there beside his brother's side when all was said and done, he always was. He just tried to be the voice of reason first. Jerry was the one who would sit beside Jack and help him with his homework, the one that helped him turn a Styrofoam ball into a model of the Earth's layers for the science fair.
Oldest was Bobby, who had scared him. He was short but all compacted muscle; thick arms that Jack knew would hurt if they came down on him. His knuckles were all scarred and that first week he wore a deep gash across his right eyebrow proudly, "a whole period in the penalty box but it was worth it". Bobby was a teenager then and had carried his attitude and anger so strongly in his handsome, chiseled face that you couldn't look him in the eye without feeling like you were about to get suckered in the mouth. Bobby was loud and about every other word that came out of his mouth was a swear. He hid Jeremiah's math book just because he knew it drove the other boy crazy and always seemed to be pulling Angel into a headlock.
Over time though Jack learned that Bobby wasn't really that scary at all. Bobby was actually pretty funny when he wanted to be. Plus when it came to Evelyn Bobby was a momma's boy through and through. And sometimes when he spoke Jack could hear the same thing in his voice that he'd heard in Evelyn's when he first met her: the quiet understanding, the love, the soothing reassurance of safety.
Bobby was tough, no question. He did bad things sometimes and he wouldn't lie about it. But Bobby wasn't bad, which was something Jack had never really understood before, that good people could do bad things. He'd always considered himself bad. Bad kids flushed keys down the toilet and scratched their own palms and hit other little boys when they got too close. Bad kids got hurt the way he had been.
Evelyn explained to him though, that when nobody ever teaches you to express your emotions, like anger, you figure out other ways to let people know how you feel. That was what Bobby was doing she said, expressing all the hurt that was always going to be in his heart. "But don't you be scared of Bobby, there's a lot more love in that big heart than there is pain, trust me."
And Evelyn had told him that what had happened to him at his old foster home hadn't been his fault. She told him over and over again that it didn't make him bad or dirty or any less special. What had happened to him was a word called abuse and it was wrong and nobody had the right to touch him. His nightmares kept coming though, no matter how many times his new mother made him repeat the words "It was not my fault."
He had come stumbling into the kitchen one morning, barely three hours of sleep in his system and Angel had said something about his night terrors. Evelyn had already left for work and Bobby had been devouring a bowl of cocoa puffs.
"You're still having nightmares?" he'd asked, his mouth all-full of milk. Jack had shrugged.
Bobby had lifted him easily, swinging him up and placing him down on the counter top so he was sitting, staring back at the three older boys. Bobby wore one of his many hockey jerseys, stained with rusty spatters of blood. His short-cropped hair was gelled back off his head; one of his eyes was bruised black. His shoulders were tense and his was voice rough, but there was something calming about it to Jack.
"Look Jack, you're a Mercer now. That means all the shit in your past, anything bad anyone ever did to you, it's over now. Nobody's ever gonna lay a finger on you again without having hell to pay. You just gained three big brothers and in case you didn't know, the Mercer boys are the baddest mother fuckers this side of Detroit," Angel had released a hoot of laughter behind him and flexed his arms while Jerry rolled his eyes as Bobby continued, "That means you gotta bulk up a little man, we can't have our little brother being some kind of pussy," he'd gave Jack an affectionate slap on the shoulder, "Welcome to the family."
And from then on he'd been a Mercer. It wouldn't be official for several more months, but they had become his family long before any paper confirmed it.
His brothers taught him most of what he knew. They made sure he could throw the kind of right hook that left the other guy on his back. They force fed him street hockey until he thrived off playground penalty shots and using his sharp elbows when checking a member of the other team became instinct. It was Jerry who sat beside him patiently while his tongue wrestled with silent letters and short and long vowels, because he was two reading levels behind the rest of his class and they were threatening to hold him back, "just sound it out man, it's not as hard as it looks." Angel was the one to give him the birds and bees talk, who told him how to smooth talk a girl and pick a lock with her hairpin, back when they were both always awake in the middle of the night and discussing everything there was to discuss. And it was Bobby who taught him about loyalty, about sticking to your guns and never, ever backing down from anybody. "I don't care if a mother fucker is ten times your size, you don't ever back down. Because nothing is scarier than a man that isn't scared of anything Jackie. And if some big goon fucks you up, then you've got three big brothers that will always be willing to knock heads for you."
It had been Evelyn though, that had taught him about music. The second hand guitar had been his tenth birthday present, along with a spiral bound book whose title he had sounded out slowly: "Acoustic Guitar for Beginners". She had explained to him that sometimes it was the people who had been hurt the most, the ones with the most pain in their hearts, that created the most beautiful art.
He grew up in that house in Detroit and sometimes, most days, the past just seemed like a foggy memory. His adolescence was full of happy, normal family memories: birthday cakes, Christmas presents, wrestling with Angel in the living room and the two of them trying to glue their mother's vase back together before she got home from work. Jerry teaching him to drive and shouting the whole way as Jack screeched and skidded through the parking lot at Cass Tech. Him hanging up the telephone and Bobby quipping "done chatting with your boyfriend dickeater?" and Jack, once his growth spurt hit and stretched him a good four inches taller than Bobby, stopping his brother before he climbed into the car, "Sorry little fella, but you have to be this tall to ride the ride." There were plenty of fights too. Bloody noses, broken elbows, running from police and sneaking back into the house through the side door in the garage because it never creaked as loud as the front.
He loved his family so fiercely even he had a hard time believing they did not share the same blood. His brothers grew up and left home before him but they were never really gone. Jerry was just a ten-minute drive away and Angel could never stay away for long, both because his missed his family and because there was a girl down the street that he could never quite get over. And there was Bobby. Bobby could disappear for up to a year at a time and then one day he would just be sitting at the kitchen table when Jack came down in the morning, snorting at the comics and emptying the refrigerator like he had never been gone. "Morning fairy," he'd mutter and Jack would sigh, trying to hide his delight at the return as he mumbled, "You're a prick". Bobby would barely glance at him twice, "You would know one when you saw one."
School had always been hard for him; the statistics were right, learning disabilities were almost a guarantee to kids that had been born the way he was. But he managed to graduate, smiling at his mother from the stage as the principal who's office he had spent plenty of time in, handed him his diploma. He was pretty sure he heard the man mutter something along the lines of "thank God that's the last Mercer boy" as he walked away.
New York had never been his plan, but music always had. Detroit was a great place for those looking to break into the hip-hop scene, but wasn't nearly as lucrative for white boys with guitars. Evelyn had cried but never once tried to stop him. "I tried my hardest to teach you to follow your heart Jackie, it would be hypocritical if I tried to keep you here all to myself."
His band was the 'Spares' and they had played just about every and any dive in the city. They didn't make much money and Jack worked side jobs as a barback and busboy. But he was happy. It was all worth it when he got to walk onto a stage and pour his heart out. Angel and Bobby had both seen him perform, in New York at different times. He'd been expecting Angel, knew the marine was on leave and wanting to see him. They spent the weekend getting drunk together, even managing to get themselves into a barroom brawl that they fought out together, back to back. Bobby had been a surprise; he'd simply looked up from his guitar one night to find his big brother nursing a beer at the bar, watching him with something that almost looked like a proud smile.
He was barely twenty-one when the phone call came, a collect call from Detroit and of course he would accept the charges. Jerry, their childhood voice of reason, was talking quiet and calm. "Calm down Jackie, just take a deep breath." He was screaming, crying, as he sunk down into the shitty sofa. "I know little brother," Jerry's usually collected voice had broke, "I know Jackie. I booked you a flight ok? The ticket is waiting for you at the airport. Just come home to us Jack."
The rest was a blur of tears and violence, elated joy at seeing his brothers together again completely tarnished by the heartbreak of their mother's murder. They'd been kids again; hotheaded Bobby leading them on a rampage while Jerry tried to keep them all out of trouble. The fight between his three brothers had made Jack's hands tremble. He had never seen them hit each other out of real anger before; he had never seen them turning on each other. The ringing doorbell had been such a welcome distraction, such a terrible mistake.
The fresh snow, the kind they would have pitched at each other's heads when they were younger, was stained red with his blood. He was screaming for Bobby, Bobby could fix anything. He realized though, as they gathered around him, that it was over. They had given him a real life, and for that he did his best to force a smile.
He had come into the world shaking and shivering and maybe it was only fitting that he was going to leave it in the same way. At least now he had his memories to cling to, at least now he could have the small comfort of knowing he had been loved.