It’s an unfortunate fact that many Black men fall victim to gun violence in America. Jerry McGill became one of those men when he was shot on the Lower East Side on New Year’s Day 1982. The then-13-year-old suffered a bullet wound that left him nearly quadriplegic. “Dear Marcus: A Letter to the Man Who Shot Me” details McGill’s journey from pain to anguish, hate to sadness and eventually triumph.
Marcus isn’t the name of the person who shot McGill. His shooter was never found and, since he was shot in the back, he never saw the shooter’s face. McGill’s first-person account of his life to a man (or woman) he’s never met tugs at the reader’s heartstrings even before the book reaches the moment when his life is changed forever.
McGill recalls a family history littered with poverty, drugs and alcoholism and his desire to break the cycle. He was involved in various performing arts and, despite the poverty of his family and the Lower East Side neighborhood he called home, was an average kid with dreams.
McGill doesn’t hold back any feelings in “Dear Marcus.” He lets the reader–and the shooter–know that he spent months in a hospital, that he met people there that would change his life, that he was ashamed of his state whenever he saw old classmates and didn’t feel like a full person.
“Dear Marcus” demonstrates a way with words that would be expected of someone who graduated from Fordham University with a BA in English. Detailing issues of love and sex, work and travel, McGill writes with flair and a matter-of-fact journalistic tone when attempting to separate accounts from feelings.
Humor, guilt, despair and defiance dominate much of “Dear Marcus.” McGill cycles between these emotions on a loop, signaling that while he’s led quite the life as a near-quadriplegic, from traveling around the world to being able to find jobs, he still can’t escape the shadow of why he is in a wheelchair. He struggles every day with things that would be routine for an able-bodied person but are monumental for someone forced to live in a wheelchair.
McGill tries not to let it get to him, even going as far as thanking the shooter for allowing him to live a fulfilling life and making him stronger, but his pain oozes through the pages. He is undoubtedly happy but has not fully come to grips with his position after so many years. McGill admits that his open letter to Marcus might need a few more books to sort out.
If he were to write more, he’d have a lot to live up to. “Dear Marcus” is one of those rare books that can leave you with a feeling of exhilaration or depression–no emotion is wrong. One wouldn’t be surprised if McGill wanted it that way.