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  • Jill Gaulding

Stories on the Way

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

One of the benefits of spending time together in Waltham is the chance to hear some amazing stories—all different kinds of stories, told over a cup of coffee during the breakfast program, or on a Riverwalk bench on a sunny afternoon, or under the gazebo on the Commons during a downpour.

It’s a benefit, too, to be able to tell a story. Stories let us say out loud who we are and what we believe. They let us say out loud what we think life is really about and what really matters.

There’s a kind of generosity both in telling stories and in listening to them. Zen Buddhists might say, “Giver, receiver, and gift: three turnings of the wheel; not separate.” Appreciating this, we want to offer even more opportunities for story-telling and story-listening, by occasionally sharing stories in this space, in the story-teller’s own words.

Mark Carroll, a member of the Chaplains on the Way community since 2018, generously offers this first story of our new story series:


All’s I Needed was a Four-Letter Word

By Mark Carroll

My birth mom tried to kill me. She stuck me in a bureau drawer and just closed it. But I had two older brothers, and they were old enough to know a baby had to eat. So they tried to stuff crackers in my bottle, not knowing that that wouldn’t work—but they tried. They really did keep me alive until DSS finally kicked the door in. And the only reason why DSS kicked the door in was because one of my older brothers had another brother out the window by the hand, holding him, saying, “I’m gonna let you go”—so they had to kick in the door. And that’s when they found me. They were like, “Wait a minute, she has a baby here.” They searched and they found me in the bureau.

So they grabbed me and brought me to Mass General, where they gave me IVs. Later they told me I wasn’t able to stand. I wasn’t walking, and I wasn’t responding. Anything an eleven-month-old baby was supposed to be doing, I wasn’t doing. I was just lying there, dying.

When my mother came to pick me up—my foster mom—she was told by her husband, “A girl, or nothing,” because he’d had it with boys—he wanted a girl. And he told her, “A girl or don’t come home.” And when she brought me home, my father came in—he’s Archie Bunker all the way, with the cigar and the beer—my mother had his dinner ready when he comes home. He puts out the cigar and was like, “How’s the baby?” and she goes, “Oh, he’s fine” and he goes, “He? Whaddya mean, he? What’d I tell ya?” And then she sat down and explained my situation. He turned around and said—and he was just looking out for his wife, because he knew his wife: if anything happened to me, she’d blame herself, you know, for something she couldn’t help. And he didn’t want that—and I don’t blame him, I don’t blame him one bit. He said, “You know he’s not staying. He’s going. This baby’s gonna die on you.”

Then my two sisters stepped in. They go, “Oh those blue eyes ain’t going anywhere!” And he felt outnumbered by the women. He was like, “I never thought I’d see you girls stick up for a boy.” But they all did. My sisters were like, “Why don’t you just go look at him?”

And it was amazing, because when my father went in the room, a little room off the kitchen, to see how I was doing, I was standing! He saw my blue eyes. And I looked up at him and said, “Dada?” So then he turned and closed the door and says, “All right, he can stay a week.” But I never left.

Two weeks later, my mother had me running at Mass General. That’s how she made the medical journals, because they didn’t think I was ever going to live, and here I am, running, you know? All’s I needed was a four-letter word: love. And once I felt that, you know, I think I got better. It made all the difference in the world, once a baby feels that. Because a baby needs to feel love, or else they don’t want to live, you know. And that’s how I look at it.

That four-letter word is still in my life. It helps me forgive a lot, when people do me wrong. I just sit back and I think about where I came from and what I’ve been through and how lucky I was to get through that. Anything else life throws at me is nothing compared to that. Love’s still making a difference.

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