Simon and Papa John
by Ed Coet
part 1 of 2
Simon Gaunt wasn’t your average teenager, even though his circumstances resembled the experiences of some of the most troubled of youth in modern-day America. Simon was the second oldest of three children. Their father, Henry Gaunt, was an alcoholic who couldn’t hold down a job. He deserted his family when Simon was just two years old.
Simon’s baby sister Tammy had just been born. Simon’s older brother Martin was still just a youngster himself. The responsibility of providing for three children was not in Henry Gaunt’s plans. When he left, he never called or visited his family again.
Henry Gaunt did not provide for his family in any way. He didn’t even send birthday or Christmas cards much less presents. He was an irresponsible and self-serving bum. He didn’t care about his family or anyone else.
Simon’s mother, Mary Gaunt, had become pregnant with Mark, Simon’s older brother, when she was a16-year old high school student. She dropped out of school to marry Simon’s father. Mary believed Henry Gaunt’s love proclamations and surrendered her virginity to him while under the influence of some cheap wine. Henry had encouraged her to drink to intoxication.
Mary Gaunt convinced herself that Henry would love and take care of her and their child. She ignored every warning that family and friends tried to tell her. Mary refused to believe that Henry was only interested in sex. Henry reluctantly married Mary only because his parents told him that it was the right thing to do. His parents pressured him to “do the right thing.”
Henry Gaunt kept Mary barefoot and pregnant for five years as they survived on welfare, food stamps, and family handouts. He remained unemployed and in a perpetual state of drunkenness the entire time.
When Mary finally had enough and insisted that Henry stop drinking and fulfill his family responsibilities and obligations, out the door he went! Without a high school diploma, Mary Gaunt was forced to work for minimum wage if she could get a job at all. Half the time she was out of work.
Mary tried to provide for her three children as best she could. She understood the huge mistake that she made in her youthful indiscretions. That mistake would define her life, and that of her children, for many years to come. Without an education Mary Gaunt was destined to a life of poverty living in the Five Points area on the East Side of Denver, Colorado.
Five Points was the projects area that most often was referred to as “the slums” or “the ghetto.” The area was infested with poor sanitation, rodents, and numerous health hazards. On every corner, one could see alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, and freeloaders. All manner of violence and crime was commonplace daily, especially after nightfall. It was an ugly and dangerous place to live. Still, rent was cheap in these run down and rat infested tenements and it was the only place Mary Gaunt could afford to live as a single parent of three children.
Concerned about what would happen to her children if she lived in “the ghetto” too long, in desperation, Mary turned to prostitution to support her family. Mary Gaunt was an attractive woman. She reasoned that with the money she could earn through prostitution she could save up and move her family out of Five Points.
Mary dreamed about finishing high school and picking up a trade of some kind. She fantasized about someday having a socially acceptable job that would enable her to move her kids out of poverty without her having to sell her body.
Every day before she came home, Mary would pray that God would forgive her for the sinful manner in which she earned her living. Her work filled her with shame and guilt. Mary’s parents disowned her. They even turned their back on her children, their own grandchildren, upon learning of Mary’s immoral lifestyle. Mary was terrified that her children would also find out that she was a prostitute. She feared losing their love and respect. Sadly, her secret would have to be revealed to them.
Shortly after Simon’s 8th birthday, Mary was diagnosed with HIV. Her many liaisons as a prostitute would prove to be fatal. A week before Simon’s 12th birthday his mother, whom he dearly loved, died in incredible pain from AIDS.
Now homeless, Simon’s grandfather, John Gaunt, whom they lovingly called “Papa John,” was the only relative that Simon, Mark, and Tammy could turn to. Papa John happily and lovingly accepted them into his humble home despite the fact that he was poor in health and in wealth.
That hadn’t always been the case. Once Papa John had been a true specimen of a man. He was an army paratrooper, a ranger, and a Special Forces intelligence officer. He mastered a variety of martial arts styles while stationed in Japan, Korea, Okinawa and Brazil. Papa John was an accomplished expert in Korean Tae Kwon Do, Okinawa Kaji Kempo, Japanese Sho Do Kan, and Brazilian Ju Jit Su.
He was also a Special Forces master fitness trainer and self-defense instructor. Papa John was not one to boast about his extraordinary physical attributes. He was a humble man, a man of faith.
Only his wife and a few select people knew that that Papa John was the foremost martial artist in the United States Army and perhaps the best in the world. He was so fast and deadly that he could thrust his hand in to a man’s chest, pull his heart out, and show it to him before he died. The Special Forces considered Papa John to be a human secret weapon.
Once, while on a secret military mission, Papa John was shot twice while saving the lives of two fellow soldiers. They were being held hostage by terrorists. Papa John killed five of the seven terrorists in hand-to-hand combat, all by himself, prior to being shot.
The two remaining terrorists, upon witnessing what happened to the other five, didn’t stick around to see if their bullets had killed Papa John. They were too afraid of Papa John’s extraordinary martial arts abilities. Papa John received America’s highest award for valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for the heroics he displayed on that particular mission.
Few people took notice when the President presented it to him. The citation had to be classified due to the secret nature of the operation. While presenting Papa John with the Medal of Honor, the President openly wept. He said America had never had a more courageous, selfless, and patriotic hero than Papa John.
Sadly, because of the secrecy involved in his military missions, the public could not know about his heroics. Papa John was medically discharged, under honorable conditions. His combat wounds forced his medical retirement. He was provided with a small veteran’s disability pension.
Papa John recovered from the bullet wound in his chest but the second bullet logged in his spine. It paralyzed him from the waist down. Beth, his wife, worked as long as she could to help out financially.
Sadly, Beth Gaunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died just two years after Papa John’s discharge from the army. Papa John was devastated. He loved Beth so deeply that he would never fully recover from her loss.
It was hard for Papa John to go on living. Wheelchair bound, Papa John lived on his small VA pension in a tiny Five Points apartment where a seemingly ungrateful society could care less about his war wounds, heroism, and national service. Only Simon and Tammy, and his deep faith in God, gave him the will to go on.
Time passed by quickly and Martin, Simon’s brother, turned 19 while serving a 20-year sentence in the Texas State Prison. He had been convicted of trafficking in illegal drugs and narcotics. Martin Gaunt had already served two terms in a juvenile detention center for possession of illegal drugs, involvement in gang activities, and repeated expulsion from school for poor attendance, failing grades, and a long history of inappropriate behavior.
Unbeknownst to Papa John, Martin had already been involved in drugs and gang activity while his mother was still alive. Martin was a drug addict. He developed his drug addiction through involvement in the East Side Raiders or ESR as they called themselves. ESR was a gang that recruited its members locally. They tried to establish a sort of perverted community bond.
The ESR recruited young. They focused on teenagers who were immature, impressionable, gullible, and easily led. Gang leaders slowly initiated and grew them into the gang. By the time they were old enough and mature enough to understand what they had gotten themselves in to, they had already developed a drug habit and a history of involvement in criminal activities. The gang was like an “evil” family that they needed to feed their out of control drug habits. They also needed to maintain a protective gang shield because rival gangs soon targeted them.
Once in the ESR you were committed for life. You could never quit or leave. The gang, fearful that you would tell what you knew about gang activities, would kill you and even members of your family if you tried to leave the ESR. The ESR was extremely violent.
For its youngest members, the ESR leaders made gang life seem like a brotherhood that looked out for each other. Nothing could be further from the truth. All loyalties were for the ESR, even before family and God. Few members actually believed in God. Those few who did have faith dared not mention God in gang circles.
Papa John was determined not to let Simon and Tammy fall into gang activity and drugs like their older brother Martin did. He decided to teach Simon the many martial arts skills that he himself had mastered. Although Papa John’s disability prevented his performing many of the techniques he had mastered, he still had them committed to memory. He still knew how to explain and teach them. Papa John wanted Simon to be able to protect himself and his younger sister.
On Simon’s 16th birthday, Papa John finally told Simon about his years in clandestine Special Forces operations. The stories intrigued Simon, but he wondered if it could all be true. Papa John also showed Simon the Medal of Honor that was given to him for bravery above and beyond the call of duty. Simon admired it even though he didn’t understand the medal’s full significance.
Papa John made Simon promise to never reveal the secret skills he would teach him. Simon promised to keep the secret always, and Simon’s word was his bond.
Copyright © 2007 by Ed Coet