A grandmother's tale of unresolved shame and guilt and denial. And now grief.

Ruth Woods remembers her grandson Mark (top left) as a happy child loved by his family. "He wanted for nothing. . . . He didn't come out of no street," she said.
Ruth Woods remembers her grandson Mark (top left) as a happy child loved by his family. "He wanted for nothing. . . . He didn't come out of no street," she said.
Posted: August 09, 2013

RUTH WOODS laid out a few of the family photos she'd been staring at all night on her kitchen table.

Marky, at around 12, posing sheepishly in a family portrait. Marky, an awkward teen, holding his cat Fluffy near the family Christmas tree. Marky, with that beaming Woods-family smile, laughing at his grandmother mugging for the camera.

Woods, 69, had called me to set the record straight. Or as straight as a grandmother in mourning could, given her unresolved shame and guilt and denial. And now, grief, over the grisly death of her grandson.

A few weeks ago, while watching the local news, Woods heard that the dismembered body of a 31-year-old transgender woman named Diamond had been found in an empty, trash-covered North Philly lot. She'd allegedly been killed by a john in Strawberry Mansion. Even before her oldest grandson called to tell her it was Mark, Woods knew.

"His name was Mark William Woods," she said on the voice mail she left me after I wrote about the July 26 vigil for Diamond held by the transgender community at LOVE Park. "I know they are calling him Diamond. But I have to call him Mark, Marky, because that's who he was."

He had a great-grandmother who adored him and a beautiful mother he loved, she said. He had a father he never really knew but who was in the service and whom he was named after. He had two brothers, and a half sister, too.

And, what went unsaid, a grandmother who desperately needs people to know that he was loved, that she loved him. Love is hard and complicated, and so are change and forgiveness and understanding. That's why Ruth Woods' story is worth hearing.

"You see him in these pictures? He was a happy child," Woods said as we sat in her Center City living room. "He wanted for nothing. He was a smart young man, you understand? He was raised in the church. He didn't come out of no street."

Until Woods overheard teachers at the high school where she worked talking about Marky being gay, she had no idea her grandson was struggling with his sexual identity. "I never saw it," she said.

She didn't believe it then. She can't accept it now, not totally.

"This was a little boy. He was born a boy. He was raised a boy. He did all the boy things. He was a boy."

But something changed, she said, when his mother, her only daughter, died when he was just a teenager. He asked for his mother's ashes, and he started carrying them around. Once, to a job interview Woods had helped him get.

"And this thing those people told the papers, about him only ever wanting to be beautiful . . . is this who he wanted to be?" she asked, looking down at a photo of her daughter. "It makes no sense. He was a good-looking boy. Look at the pictures; he was such a good-looking boy."

Over the years, Woods said, she tried to understand. When gay friends told her that they always knew they were different, that they were born gay, she said, she accepted it.

"But they were outside," she said. "Marky was inside, you understand? Marky was my blood."

So when he showed up on her doorstep in makeup, when he was about 19 or 20, she ordered him into the bathroom to wash it off. "I said, 'You are a handsome young man, why are you doing this to yourself?' He told me, 'This is how I have to earn money.' "

And when he told her that his name was Diamond, she told him, "Your name is Mark. I will never call you that."

"To say I might have grown enough to deal with him just being gay, maybe. But this other thing, I can't cross that line."

And when, after he got into drugs, he asked if he could come over, she said no.

No.

For a few moments, the grandmother is inconsolable. "Don't think I'm a bad person. Please don't think I'm a bad person. God, have mercy . . . I loved him."

The night she found out that Mark was dead, she said, she cried and prayed until she passed out from exhaustion.

"I talked to the Lord. I asked him, 'What did you do here? You say you know us all. You knew he was going this route, and you had to let him be killed like this?' Oh, my God. His soul is never going to rest, Lord."

And that seems to weigh heaviest on her, a grandson who was lost in life, possibly forever lost in death.

A few days after we talked, I called to check up on her. She was feeling better, she said. The few friends she had confided in had called to comfort her, and told her she did all she could, that she wasn't to blame.

"I almost believe them when I start thinking with my head instead of my heart," she said.


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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