Since then, she had lived in two-dozen crash pads, slept on park benches, and was trying to lose weight by taking speed. Someone beat her up with a milk crate in Tompkins Square Park. She became pregnant during drug-fogged sex and borrowed $200 for an abortion, then illegal, which was performed in an apartment by a woman who was just out of her teens and made crude jokes during the procedure. Her idea now was to earn money to help friends buy a bus and go see the Grand Canyon.
I’d become dazed by all her distress, having had little experience with people lost and in pain. But, never mind, I knew what I’d been sent for, and deadline loomed. I handed her the few dollars in my pocket, said to wait there for the photographer—don’t worry, he’d do a profile shot, not her full face—and split for the office.
Writing the piece, I wondered what to call her. I’d used “Marcy” in the draft because that was her name, but told Shew Hagerty I’d promised not to identify her. He said he liked the sound of “Marcy,” so let’s keep it. There are hundreds of Marcys running around, he reasoned, and besides, we’re not using her last name. “Fine with me,” I said.
Headlined “Gentle Marcy: A Shattering Tale,” the story blew everyone away. It earned me a write-up in the front of the magazine. I got a scribbled “Hear, hear!” from Oz on his special notepaper—he wasn’t too free with those. It also created a sensation among readers. Hundreds of letters poured in, many of them with checks for Marcy. One little girl from San Francisco sent a quarter and a dime. “I have enclosed my week’s allowance,” she wrote. “Please give it to Gentle Marcy.” To top it off, Reader’s Digest said it would pay $1,500 to reprint the story, a giant fee back then.
After a few days, the glory faded. Then a researcher at the magazine told me she’d just heard a radio interview with Marcy on the New York rock station WNEW. I got the tape. The interview was conducted by a newsman named Steve Young, who opened with some commentary trashing the hippie movement, how unwashed they were, and deluded. A case in point was this girl Marcy, whom he claimed to have found at the Diggers Free Store—no mention of the Newsweek piece. He’d persuaded her to talk by letting her and some friends sleep on the floor of his apartment.
He titled his bit “Marcy, a Child Again.” When she came on the air, you could tell from her speedo speech she was flying high. Much to my dismay, she led off by saying how devastated she’d been by the Newsweek article. This reporter had paid her for the interview, she said, and promised not to use her name, only he did. I’d also mentioned Flint, so her parents could easily identify her, something I hadn’t bothered to consider. Her mother would be crushed; she’d thought Marcy was working at Macy’s.
Young then cut in, his voice lowered to a whisper, like some guy in an alley selling a hot watch. “Would you like to call your parents?” he asked. “Oh, wow, you don’t mean it!” she said. “It’s early in the morning, but I’d love to talk to my mother.” He slid the phone to her, and you could hear her dialing. Her mother answered, but you could catch only Marcy’s end of the conversation.
“Momma, this is Marcy,” she said in a rush. “Momma, you know Newsweek, you haven’t seen it, have you? Don’t let Daddy read it.” She then broke into sobs and had difficulty getting words out. “Please, Momma, please still love me when you read it. Oh, Momma, I really love you. I thought you wouldn’t love me anymore. I told them I loved you but they didn’t print that. It wasn’t like they said. Oh, Momma, don’t cry. Don’t cry.”
The conversation went on for five minutes, and I was feeling lower and lower. Young ended the program by saying that the next morning he drove Marcy and her friends over the George Washington Bridge and got them maps of the United States. “I last saw Marcy on the ramp of the New Jersey Turnpike,” he said. “Those maps don’t show where Marcy [big pause for dramatic effect] can be a child again.”