This is the story of Marcus the Greatest. And young love. And heartbreak.
It’s also the story of a grandmother’s gift and the power of a talisman.
Marcus is 21 years old and lives in Cincinnati. Everyone knows him as “The Greatest” because that’s what he calls himself. And there’s some justification for that:
Marcus, you see, is one of these rare guys who you can count on to do what he says he will do.
Now, the general theme of men who keep their word is the stuff of heroic legend, literature and film. Guys who say they’ll go back for ammunition, and you know – freaking know – they will rejoin the firefight. When Wesley tells Princes Buttercup that “I will always come for you” and that death cannot stop true love. And it doesn’t. When Spenser and Hawk never even talk about this stuff because real men just don’t – it’s understood, it’s up to Susan to interpret it for us, because what we are talking about here is guys who would die before breaking their word.
That’s Marcus. Laudable. But the journey to become this person began in pain.
The story, as he told it to my son, Logan, began 16 years ago when Marcus was just 5 years old. Marcus loved his father more than anyone in the world. He woke up every day looking forward to making his father proud of him. He idolized his dad, like little boys do.
When you are little, your dad is your hero. When you grow up, you know better. And when you become a dad, you know that, eventually, painfully, you will never be able to live up to your son’s expectations no matter how hard you try.
Marcus faced all that too early, too young.
In addition to his father, Marcus’ household comprised his Cambodian mom, his maternal grandmother and his sister. He found his grandmother annoying because she kept trying to get him to wear a silly necklace that she had specially made for him.
Marcus, like most little boys, didn’t want to have anything to do with wearing jewelry of any sort, let alone a necklace.
But she kept pestering him about it, said the Buddha on the chain had been blessed by monks. Whatever they were.
Marcus just wanted her to leave him alone. And he might never have worn that necklace except for something that happened right about that time.
His dad left home.
Marcus loved his dad and he blamed his mother for him leaving. Blamed his grandmother, too. His loyalty was totally with his father. And he missed him terribly.
On Christmas Eve, having been gone for a while, his dad finally called. Told him to wait outside on the front porch for him at 6 p.m. That he wanted to see Marcus, but didn’t want to go inside and deal with the Ex and her mother.
As soon as Marcus hung up the phone, he ran in his room, packed his Spiderman backpack, put on his Lion King tennis shoes, and the shorts, T-shirt and hat his dad had picked out for him. At noon, Marcus was outside waiting for his dad in case he came early. Six hours until his dad was supposed to arrive, he waited outside in Ohio’s winter for him in nothing but shorts and a flimsy T-shirt.
The appointed hour came, he told my son, Logan, but his father didn’t. Marcus waited until well after dark, 9 p.m. Still no dad. His sister begged Marcus to come inside, but he told her to bug off. He didn’t care how cold it was, he was waiting for his dad, just like he told him to. After 11 p.m. it became harder to stay awake. It became much colder at night, but 1 a.m. came and he still sat on his porch. Keeping his eyes open became a struggle.
At dawn, a hand on his shoulder startled him awake. He snapped awake in excitement hoping to see his dad. After a night in the cold, it should have been the Grim Reaper. Or Child Protective Services.
But it was neither. It was his grandmother.
Marcus recalls that he couldn’t fight the tears any longer. His grandmother couldn’t either. They both wept. But why was she crying? he wondered.
His grandmother then reached out and placed that annoying Buddha necklace around Marcus’s neck and said, “Marcus, this necklace will protect you. As long as you’re wearing this, there will never be anything you can’t do. If you desire something, your necklace will help you get it no matter what.”
A talisman. That’s what it was. Imbued with power to make Marcus strong. Blessed by a Monk and a Grandmother. Maybe the two strongest forces in the universe.
For it to work, all he had to do is one thing:
And he did.
He wiped his tears away and told his grandmother, “I promise I will never take it off, no matter what.”
“I don’t want you to do that,” his grandmother replied. “I want you to take it off and give it to the one person who you’d wait all night on this cold porch for.”
And through the years, Marcus never stopped believing in the necklace, his talisman, and it never came off. It gave him confidence. He believed there was never a single thing he couldn’t do. If someone told him “you can’t do this,” or “this is impossible,” he went out of his way to do it just because he knew that necklace would power him through it. It made him The Greatest.
It took nearly 12 years of praying to that necklace every single night that he would see his father again, and at 17 years old, his wish came true, and he visited his father for the first time since he was 5 years old.
The power of the talisman. There was nothing he couldn’t accomplish.
Time passed. All was well. But now the power of the talisman is facing, perhaps, its greatest challenge.
Yes, you probably saw this coming: there is a girl involved.
Marcus was no stranger to the ups and downs of romance. But this girl, The Girl, she’s different. She is the woman his grandmother foretold, the one person he couldn’t live without, who he would wait for forever, who he would spend the night on a porch freezing half to death waiting for. The Girl the talisman was made for.
Which is why he decided to give her his necklace, his most important possession.
“Since I was 5 years old, I thought the only thing I couldn’t live without was my necklace,” he told my son. “Now I have two things I can’t live without, and I’m giving her my necklace, and I’m only accepting both of them back, not one or other, but the next time I wear this necklace is when she comes back to me. I will wait until I’m 50 years old, I will spend every night waiting on that porch for her, but no matter what, I’m getting her back and spending my life with her.”
This is from the guy who always does what he says he will do.
“She asked for space. I gave her space. I gave her my necklace. She’s too afraid to keep it. If I just had instructions on what to do, it would’ve been done already. I have never not been able to do something in my entire life.”
Except fix this.
Marcus told my son: “Some thoughts in my head are scary. If she was at the bottom of a volcano, and I knew she couldn’t be saved, and I knew there was zero percent chance I could survive, I know I would jump in anyways to try and save her. The way I feel about her, is literally scaring me — the things I’d do to have her back.”
What do you say to that? How do you help someone whose heart is broken after experiencing True Love?
Especially someone so young and still so vulnerable, for whom the scars of life have not hardened his heart, for whom True Love, the Wesley and Buttercup brand of True Love, is still possible?
My son called me and told me this story. How after three years together Marcus and The Girl are now apart. How stricken he is. How he hasn’t lost a girlfriend, but his best friend. And how not even the power of the talisman, the necklace his grandmother gave him, is helping him right now.
Where this story goes from here, I don’t know. But I would offer this:
I believe in True Love. And if this it, it will work out.
As for the necklace that has meant so much to Marcus, God bless your grandmother for that. For giving you a talisman to help guide your life.
But remember this: The power of the talisman comes not from outside, but from within. You are Marcus the Greatest, not because of a string of jewelry, but because of the man you are. And that ought to be good enough for anybody.