Ray Duckler: Paying it forward, riding forward, moving forward, all at once
Mark Lucier poses for a portrait outside of his home in Concord on September 6, 2013. After he purchased a motorized wheelchair, Lucier found himself in a convenience store near his home meeting a man whose need for mobility seemed greater than his own. Lucier drove back home and gifted the chair to the man as an act of kindness. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Mark Lucier, once a tough guy who drank and drugged and didn’t care about others, says his heart has grown for reasons even he can’t explain, while his back and legs continue to ache.
Which is why Lucier gave his wheelchair away this summer, to a man with no legs, even though it has left him struggling to get around.
“It was good and something I never, ever thought of doing,” said Lucier, a 51-year-old former house painter. “I still feel good about doing it.”
He admits he’s always thought of himself first, starting from his days growing up near Kimball Park. No, it wasn’t a rough, big-city neighborhood, with drive-by shootings and crack sales on the corner.
But a street code existed, Lucier said, the one that says what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine, too, if you’re not tough enough to keep it.
“I was a tough kid growing up,” Lucier said. “I wasn’t a bad guy, but I wasn’t a good guy. I would never give anything to anyone. If you saw something you wanted and you couldn’t get it, you had to take it.”
And that was that, for several decades. Lucier married, had kids, painted houses, got wasted. He drank and he got hooked on OxyContin.
Then, while painting a condominium at Island Shores in Penacook seven years ago, the feet on the ladder Lucier was standing on slipped out from under him and he fell 16 feet.
That’s when his physical pain began, chronic back pain that still haunts him today.
Meanwhile, he kept partying, joined later by his fiancee, Sharon. But after they got married, Sharon changed, while her husband did not.
The drugs and alcohol kept coming into the house, their money kept leaving the house and Sharon finally kicked her husband out of the house.
“He has an addictive personality,” Sharon said. “I gave him an ultimatum. I kicked him out a couple of times, and he went to friends’ houses, and they were on crack and worse than he was.”
21∕2 years ago, Lucier went to a methadone clinic and got clean. He and Sharon have since divorced, but they live in the same trailer park, across the street from one another.
“We still love each other, but we’re not in love,” Sharon said. “We’re better as friends.”
She continued: “He liked seeing the world with a clear head and not worrying about where the next fix was coming from and seeing himself evolve into the person he could be.”
In recent months, Lucier has developed lymphedema, which causes severe swelling and pain in his feet and legs. He tires easily, no longer paints and can’t do some of the things he once loved, like fishing for trout at Hot Hole Pond in East Concord.
Okay, the wheelchair.
He bought it from a neighbor for $100. He’d charge it at night, then buzz around with near-total freedom, to Market Basket, to downtown, to wherever he needed to go.
Other times, Lucier would ride his bike, which is what he did one day in July to buy cigarettes and scratch tickets at the nearby Hess convenience store on Hall Street.
There, he met a man with no legs, gone from below the knees, in an old, beat-up, manual wheelchair. Lucier says the man told him he had fallen asleep, drunk, near his campfire and lost one leg from severe burns. Frostbite later took the other leg in another homelessness episode.
Lucier, a burly man, his arms covered with tattoos, says he doesn’t cry often, and I believe him. But he says he choked up listening to the man, right there on the spot.
“He needed the chair more than I did,” Lucier said.
Lucier pedaled his bike home, got in his wheelchair and drove it to the Comfort Inn, where the man had a room for the night. He gave it to him, then walked home, slowly, leaning hard on his wooden cane, now more important to him than ever.
Sharon saw him walking on Hall Street and pulled her car over. Had Lucier’s chair lost power?
“He told me he gave it away,” Sharon recalled. “He told me the story. Even when he was telling me you could see he was breaking down.”
Why the change? Why this Grinch-like transformation, in which the man who had given nothing, one day gave a lot?
Giving up the drugs and alcohol, perhaps?
“It was a change for me, Lucier says. “I can’t explain it.”
He doesn’t need to, of course. Someone, a homeless man with a sad past, is riding around on an electric wheelchair, while someone else, whose recent growth has nothing to do with height, is moving slower but smiling more.
That’s all that counts. The foundation was built six weeks ago, on a humid day, during a simple trip to the local store, to buy scratch tickets.
“It was that big jackpot,” Lucier said. “Of course, I didn’t win, but I’ll get it eventually.”