My wife used to complain that I had no sense of humor. She used to tell me that I was a good man, but I needed to smile more often. That having a pleasant demeanor would take me further in the world.
Sound advice for the normal world. Not so much for the world I live in now, ever since I became The Punisher. No amount of smiling is going to help the people I interact with on a regular basis like me or want to be my friends.
That’s served me quite well so far. People are not supposed to like me. They’re supposed to fear me. Fear is what makes the criminals that exist in this city toe the line.
Tonight was supposed to be my night off. I was planning to stay in. Get a pizza. Watch some TV. The moment I turned on the set, the first thing I saw was a breaking news piece about the murder of a local teenager named Daymond Stone. The reporter was doing the whole fifteen minutes expose on what had led up to the murder, starting with the victim’s life prior to the incident.
Daymond Stone was a 16-year-old who lived in the east part of the city. His neighborhood was little more than a slum, with a badly managed school next to a grocery store. The place is better known for turning out teenage drug dealers than scholars or artists.
But Daymond was different. He didn’t want to sell drugs. He didn’t want to rob stores with his friends. He wanted to become an artist. And he could have. He was good at it. The news report talked about how, a month before he died, Daymond had joined an artistic community in NYC that made clothes and sneakers for a company called Soul Purpose Designs. The company used pop culture symbols to start conversations about the importance of art in everyday life. The company also used part of the money earned to fund art and culture learning centers.
Art and Culture. Pretty sure those centers weren’t from Daymond’s side of the city. This afternoon Daymond had been spray painting on a wall outside his neighborhood when he was spotted by Marcos and his gangmates. Marcos is a local drugs and arms dealer. He and I have never met, but we know of each other through mutual acquaintances, most of whom I killed. Understandable that Marcos doesn’t like me after what I did to his friends.
It seems Daymond had been wearing a T-shirt with my face on it, which he himself had drawn. Marcos noticed this, and disapproved. He showed his disapproval by beating Daymond to death and stringing him up next to the wall he’d been spray painting on, with a racial epithet carved into his chest. Marcos and his friends must have thought that was a hilarious joke.
My wife used to tell me I had no sense of humor. She was right.
They showed the T-shirt that Daymond had been wearing on the news. The one that got him killed. It had my face on it. Me as The Punisher. I was smiling in that picture drawn on the shirt. Not like I actually smile, which only seems to terrify criminals even more.
On the T-shirt, I was smiling the way my wife always wanted me to smile. Calm and reassuring. The way Captain America smiles that makes everyone trust and love him. And I had a small child standing next to me, my hand resting on his shoulder. Not like I was rescuing the child from some danger, but like the child was just happy and excited to be standing next to me. The news reporter said the child was Daymond at a younger age.
I couldn’t understand why Daymond would make that drawing. But then the reporter told me. Daymond grew up watching The Punisher’s exploits on TV. He didn’t believe The Punisher was just a violent vigilante. He believed I helped protect people against criminals whom even the police would not touch. For Daymond, Frank Castle was no different from Captain America, Iron Man or any of the other heroes the world loves.
Once the report ended, so did my plans to stay in for the night. I locked up my house, packed my gear, and took my van out of its hiding place. Since then, I’ve been driving and thinking about what I saw in the news report.
I’ve now reached the house in which Marcos and his men are hiding out. Although “hiding out” is the wrong term. Everyone knows they live here. The police know. But any evidence or witness against Marcos and his men tends to disappear before the police can get to them.
I knock on the front door. I can hear loud music in the living room, and the music swells as the door opens. One of Marcos’s thugs. He recognizes me. He tries to shout a warning. I hit him in the throat, and he goes down. I step inside the house.
The next few minutes get bloody. But here’s the thing: I don’t kill anyone. Not a single criminal in that house dies at my hands. Some of them won’t be able to walk for some months, but no deaths. I tie everyone up, one at a time. I call the police to the house. I take out some of the packets of drugs and illegal guns that were hidden away and leave them in the center of the living room for the police to find.
Then I leave.
As I make my way to my van and slowly drive a hundred yards away from the house I hear sirens nearing Marcos’s house. The police will be surprised I didn’t kill anyone tonight. I doubt they’ll ever understand why I let Marcos go.
Tonight in that house, it wasn’t just a fight between me and Marcos. Daymond was there too. A kid who dreamed of a better world than the one he lived in. Who looked at me and saw a savior instead of a killer.
People used to make fun of Daymond for dreaming of a more peaceful world where he could become a successful artist. For trying to achieve the impossible. But today, Daymond did do something impossible. Something that all the superheroes, supervillains and morality preachers in the world haven’t managed to do. He made The Punisher show mercy to criminals. Will this merciful phase last? I don’t know. I can only speak for today. And for today, I’m following Daymond’s path instead of my own.
Ever day, time passes you by, and it leaves you feeling a little bit older. A little bit more drained. A little bit less happy. The only good thing about the passage of time is that it allows you to evolve. To become a better version of yourself. Someday, I hope I will finally be able to hang up my guns. Someday, I hope I can become the kind of man my wife and Daymond believed me to be.