A place where moments take your breath away

Defeated Hero

The alarm clock rang out in John Mercer’s ears. He placed his hands across his eyes in a frustrated motion and slowly sat up. Another day of restless solitude would start his day. He performed his daily rituals; the same one’s he has done for the past year since his release from prison.
He numbly stepped into a cold shower, brushed his teeth, and took a slightly dull razor to his stubbly face. He stood at the basin with the water running and stared at his reflection with saddened disgust.  

“What have I become?” He asked.  

He pulled on his old denim jeans and a clean shirt. He picked up his paper plate and empty beer can from dinner the night before and threw them away in the overflowing trashcan. He stood for a moment in his small apartment in the heart of Brooklyn and inhaled deeply, to get psyched for another day.   

When he opened his front door, a pink piece of paper, dangling in plain view, greeted him with the word Eviction typed across the top. He crumbled and threw the notice inside the house next to the small table near the door. There were several of the same papers lying on the ground as a cushion for yet another.    

John’s determination geared him to make today a better day. Fighting against the negative odds of his life in order to turn life around and come out ahead. A job interview would start his day but he knew it would be the last interview he would ever subject himself to again. He already spent a year of his life being turned down by every job that received his application. Determined to detour his interviewer from asking about his past, John played out every possibility of the interview in his head.  

Maybe this time will be different; maybe they will recognize the hard worker I am. I wonder if they can understand the simple fact that my past does not dictate who I am today. I’m a guy down on his luck; a young man riding on one stupid decision after another. He thought.   

He paused at the large old building in front of him before straightening out his clothes one last time. He inhaled deeply on a breath of hope. “Here we go.” He mumbled.   

The dull office housed used furniture and a ripped up black leather sofa. John sat in a metal chair waiting for his interview while thumbing through a motorcycle magazine. One picture after another, he aimlessly fidgeted with the magazine instead of enjoying the stories.     

“Mr. Mercer; Mr. Holmes will see you now.” The receptionist said as she escorted him in to Mr. Holmes office.   

John was not at all surprised to see the closet-size office where Mr. Holmes conducted all of his business. He shook the man’s hand and then sat down in another metal chair on the other side of Mr. Holmes desk.   

John knew the man in front of him held the power to decide his fate.  


Holding John’s resume in his calloused hand the manager paced back and forth familiarizing himself with the key points of the document.  

“Well, you seem to have the qualifications we are looking for.” The man said while he continued to study the résumé.   

John nodded, not wanting to interrupt the man while he evaluated his worth for the company. This job would decide if he could stay in his apartment. This one interview meant everything.   

After his release from prison a year earlier, he worked side jobs, which barely kept a roof over his head. The jobs were infrequent and undesirable. However, he made a promise to himself and he intended on keeping it. The day he stepped foot out of prison he would fight to live his life according to societies laws rather than his own. The transition was emotionally painful, not to mention financially and physically draining. He walked away from childhood friendships and severed ties with influential connections.   

He knew his life was out of his control and such an acknowledgment took a lot out of a man. Either the elder man before him would give him the strength and power to integrate his life back into society or he would send him out on the street where he would once again turn to crime to survive.   

Mr. Holmes took a seat behind his small oak desk and clasped his hands together while staring at John. John’s pleading eyes showed his uncomfortable state of mind.   

“I was browsing over your résumé and I see you have a fork lift certificate. Can you give us a copy of that?”  

John nodded but said nothing. He knew he would have to try to stall them while he worked on getting that certificate.  

“You also use to work for Edward Powell. He happens to be a good friend of mine. If you can handle his sporadic tyranny then you will have no problems working here.” Mr. Holmes smiled.  

“I had no problems taking orders from Mr. Powell. He’s a funny guy; especially when he would twitch his eye each time he went through one of his rages.” John mimicked his old boss’s mannerisms.   

Mr. Holmes threw his head back in hysterics. “I like you. We need guys with a sense of humor around here. And look,” he said pointing to a spot on the resumé, “it says here you’re from Canarse. It’s good to have another guy from Brooklyn around here.”   

Mr. Holmes stopped laughing and reached over to take a drink of his lukewarm coffee. His eyes continued to scan the paper looking for answers to his usual interview questions.   

“It says here you have been in-between jobs this past year. Can you tell me…?”  

The office phone rang out disrupting Mr. Holmes concentration. He motioned for John to hang on.”Holmes here.”   


His face immediately brightened up when he heard the voice on the other line. “Ed, my good friend. Your ears must have been burnin because we were just talking about you.”  

The voice on the other line was talking just loud enough for John to hear the vibration but unable to make out any of the words. He began to panic while he listened to the one-sided conversation.   

“I’m interviewing an old employee of yours. His name is John Mercer.” Mr. Holmes nodded at John and did the same impression he had done earlier with the eye twitch. After a few moments of listening intently, he began to sit up straighter and the smile on his face started to fade into a straight line.   

John felt the need to explain before the man on the other line went any further. He did not get the opportunity. The minute Mr. Holmes hung up the phone he glared at John and stood up from his chair.   

“Mr. Mercer, I have to cut this meeting short but I want to thank you for coming in.” he walked over to his door and opened it. “We will call you if anything comes up.”  

The pit of John’s stomach tumbled the bubbling acid. He needed this job; he had to have it. There was nothing else out there for him with his criminal record. “Please Mr. Holmes, I am a hard worker; I really need this job.” He had stood from his chair but remained near it.   

Mr. Holmes had a short fuse and was becoming irate. John knew what Ed had told Mr. Holmes but he was not the same person he once was. He felt slighted in some way.   

“Sir, please give me one week to prove myself.” He pleaded walking toward Mr. Holmes and the opened door. When the manager said nothing he continued, “Then give me one day. I promise you I am not the person I once was. You can count on me.”  

“Mr. Mercer it is time for you to leave.” The man said with a taint of poison behind his words.   

When John stepped foot outside the office he heard the door slam behind him. He was able to feel the nip of the door at his backside with the swiftness in which the man had slammed the door. He immediately felt a frustrated-despair building up inside of him. He walked past the receptionist desk and kicked the trashcan on his way out.   

The helpless feeling quickly turned to anger. He was angry at his younger self for the stupid decisions he’d made. He was increasingly angry at the system; a system that locked him up behind steel bars and then set him free with boundaries suffocating him and denying him the ability to integrate back into society.   

Society was pushing him back into a life of crime and no matter how hard he fought against such calamity, the inevitable would win.   

He did not have the money to pay rent to the short stubby hand of his landlord. Although today was his last day to pay, he thought the proof of a good paying job might give him another two weeks.   

He had no family or friends to turn too. The bone-chilling cold of ‘alone’ was standing on his shoes. John stood desolate waiting for his train to arrive.   

Standing next to him was a boy bouncing up and down to the music spewing from his MP3 player. The sound was interfering with John’s thoughts and in rage he yanked the music player from the boys’ hands and tossed it onto the subway tracks right before the train pulled in.   

The boy stood dumbfounded with his hands up in the air. John’s spirit had finally broken. He no longer wanted to be what the world asked him to be; he was done trying to fit in to the mold of society. He walked away from the train station and the life he tried to be a part of.   

John put both hands in the pockets of his jeans as he walked with his head hung low. His eyes bore into the pavement and his mind was blank. With each step, his desire to live right was being erased from his memory. He was going to walk until he could no longer take another step. Before he knew it, he wandered to the outskirts of the city and into a run-down neighborhood.   

The streets were pitted; the homes were hanging on by old rusty nails and rotted wood. He hesitated, but continued to walk. Thoughts lay dormant while the peaceful sound of nothing simmered through his body. A woman screaming down the street brought him back to his reality. When John looked up he saw a house half engulfed in flames. The woman flung her arms in hysterics as she ran toward him. Her pleas were slurred behind fright and shock.   

“Please help me,” She yelled “please, my daughter is in the house; I-I can’t find her.”  

John knew the woman had torn through the home. Dark ash streaks smudged her face and her hair was falling out of the pigtail at the nap of her neck. Between the streaks of tears and the ash, she looked like a mess.   

John eyed the woman with no intention to help. Who was she anyways; she was no one to him. “Listen lady, call the fire department to help you out they are trained for that kind of stuff.”  

“No, no, no” she said frantically while she shook her head back and forth. “My baby will be dead by then. Please, she is a little girl; don’t let her die in there, please.”  

John looked around at the people coming out of their homes. He realized the neighborhood was old and so were the people living there all but the woman who stood before him. He looked over at the billowing flames pouring from the windows in the house and then turned his attention back to her.  

“She is probably already dead lady.” He felt a tinge of regret for saying that when the woman lost control of her tears. Maybe if the system had been there for him all those times he cried out and pleaded he would have taken kinder to this woman.   

Desperately she grabbed his shirt and dragged him towards her house. “She is in there damn it, can you hear her pleas? Don’t let her die, I’m begging you.” Her tears were covering her distraught face and her body was weak and feeble. “Please” she said again dropping to her knees and sobbing harder into her hands.   

John swallowed hard hoping to hear sirens at any moment. There was nothing. He left the woman crying on her knees and started for the house. Each step felt laden with lead and as he neared closer to the hot heat, he found himself in a new place in his life. Finally, he was in control of the decision he was making. He was going to open the front door and see if he could find the child before the whole house went up in flames.   

The doorknob was hot, but not singeing hot. He opened the door and walked into heat and smoke, an almost intolerable amount. As the smoke began to fill his lungs, his body tried to cough the smoke out. He used his hands to try and push away the thick clouds of ash and smoke. He could not see anything but once inside, the roars of the raging inferno muffled her deafening pleas. 

He called out to her, fighting to know her whereabouts. When he finally saw the top of her head in the corner of a room, he ran to her and swept her in his arms. The fire had engulfed the room and when he turned to run out the same door he entered, the wicked flames met him with fury.   

Surrounded by flames he clung to the little girl. Ash and soot coated her lungs, smothering her whimpering cries. John stood with her life in his arms and he screamed out; a yell of anger at the world for giving them no way out, for not allowing him to save her.   

He dropped to his knees and sobbed. His deep heart wrenching sobs echoed outside the home. He trembled as the fire got closer and the heat began to singe even the hair on his arms. In this moment, nature was a consuming beast. John let go of his hurt, anger, and disappointment. He leaned down, kissed the top of the girls head, and collapsed trying to protect her under him. He surrendered to life as he knew it and accepted his destiny.   

This is the true story of John Mercer, the man who saved me all those years ago in that raging fire. It is because of him I am able to stand here before you today and accept this award for the research and cure of Cancer.   

John Mercer came to us for a reason. He chose to walk that night, to let the path beneath his feet take him where it would. That path led him directly to my mother and me. At a time when life had us down, it sent us an angel that wrapped his wings around me and protected me against harm; a man that put his life on the line for a perfect stranger.   

John Mercer and my mother fell in love all those years ago. Although he is my stepfather, he is also my friend, my angel and my hero. This award belongs to him. Dad, would you please come up here with me.   




January 16, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: