Dear Readers (a.k.a. Really Cool People):

Just a heads up…

My book is nearing completion.  Still some kinks and pages to smooth out and rearrange, but it’ll soon be available on Amazon.  I wanted to include a piece of Bazooka bubble gum for each person to enjoy while reading, but my publisher axed the idea and suggested I get an MRI to have my brain scanned.

“Ros,” he said, “Do you realize how difficult it would be to put even a small block of gum inside a book?”

“Tootsie Roll?”

“You’re killing me, Ros.”

“Twinkie?”

That’s when I heard the phone line disconnect.

Guess I’m glad he spoke up. I cancelled my order of 35,000 pieces of gum from Bazooka International.  Been a real stressful week.

That’s probably a lot more information than you ever needed to hear.  Anyhooo, I’ll keep you posted as the book’s completion date nears.

Have a great day everyone!

Ros

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2018

Advertisements

Nile

When you’re 13 years old, the last thing you ever expected or needed was four days of unending tears. Add an equal amount of anger, and I can’t begin to fathom how far down the anguish must have been. I was never there to help him. And even if I had been, I doubt he could’ve reached my outstretched hand. I was simply too far away. The well of mourning is a dark and tiresome place to be.  It’s simply a matter of time before, eventually, you begin to see some light.

Nile Copeland found himself in that well the moment he returned home from school, and was greeted by three police officers in his living room. The news was not good.

His father, Ken Copeland, would not be coming home that night, or any night thereafter. He had just been killed in the line of duty while serving an arrest warrant for a violent crime.

Nile doesn’t remember what he picked up, but he does recall throwing it with everything he had. Anger and mourning are a fierce combination, and to even think that you can demagnetize them would be a foolish thought. Although destructive, it’s best to give them the right-of-way, and let them run their course

*           *           *

Three weeks ago, I crossed paths with Nile, his three brothers, and his mother.  They were on their way to a benefit concert to raise money for the family.  As his personal trainer, I had been wanting to touch base with Nile, but wasn’t sure when the time was right.   It had only been 18 days since his father’s passing, and they had been subjected to a number of formalities that are followed in observance of a fallen police officer.  The brotherhood among officers is tight.  No two cops ever need to know each other to form a fraternal bond. It exists upon first recognition of their professions.  And when one of their own is murdered, the fraternal bonds only becomes stronger.

The week after I saw them, I trained Nile for the first time since his father’s death. Due to his condition of spina bifida, he is restricted to a wheelchair.  My job is simply to keep him strong. His mother, Sheila, had brought him. From what I could tell, she was holding herself together fairly well, as she told me about the avalanche of donations that had spilled into their home, and mentioned several fundraising benefits that had been organized to raise money and ease the family’s financial burdens. I mentioned I had written a tribute to her husband that had run in the local newspaper. She said she had been so out of the loop regarding articles about Ken, and hadn’t read anything, but asked me to send her my story.

And that’s when I detected a slight pause in her speech—the recollection of her loss.  One of the many that would occur in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.  I shifted the conversation to Nile and his training, and suggested we get started.

As he entered the weight room ahead of me, I looked back at Sheila walking away. What she must have gone through the day she learned the news.  It’s beyond comprehension. We lose something so priceless from our lives, and its vacancy yields a far greater weight than we could have ever imagined possible.

*            *             *

Nile was born with a type of spina bifida called myelomeningocele.  It is when the backbone and spinal cord don’t come together properly during development in the womb. He’s confined to a wheelchair due to the severe weakness in his legs.  Despite that, he possesses a number of qualities that immediately steal your attention away from his physical condition:  his personality, his intelligence, his keen interest in the animal kingdom, his wit, and, never to forget, his smile.

Prior to meeting him, I knew very little about lizards, tarantulas, and snakes.  But if you spend enough time with a kid whose entire family has a strong interest in those animals, you start to appreciate the excitement and intrigue for their pets.  I have always had a big dislike for spiders.  Keep me a few hundred yards from them, and I begin to feel comfortable.  However, Nile has a way of easing my aversion toward arachnids.  He has a tarantula whose body has a hint of blue.  Right there I’m thinking, Okay, I love the color blue, so I’ll give this big spider some credit for being likeable.  And before you know it, Nile is educating me about their behaviors, their feeding habits, and their quickness.  The kid’s in 7th grade, but I swear he should be teaching college biology.  

So, this is how it goes when I strength train Nile:

With free weights and cables, he goes through a series of bicep curls, hammer curls, triceps kickbacks, high-pulls, front presses, lateral raises, pullovers, and close-grip cable pulls. To strengthen his legs, he is able to maneuver his body out of the wheelchair and situate himself onto the leg press and leg extension machines.

Then comes the part that doesn’t excite me, but thrills him to no end—he gets to throw the ten-pound medicine ball at me.  Good lord, the kid can throw.  He propels that ball as if we are the last two competitors left in a merciless game of dodgeball.  Each throw is accented with a cunning smile—one that is intent upon getting the best of me, or making the worst of me.  For all I know, it’s a game called “aNILEation!!”  The purpose of the game:  destroy your opponent.

It’s one of many exercises designed to help strengthen his core.  So, there I sit, shielding my face as he launches the ball from ten feet away.  We can’t help but laugh as he continues the onslaught.  And I can’t help but see how much enjoyment he’s having.  He loves the possibility of me missing the ball and getting blown off the bench that I sit on.  And if there’s one thing that Nile could use in his life right now, it’s exactly that—a hefty dose of fun.

For an hour I get the blood pumping in his arms and legs.  His heart rate climbs as the weight or repetitions increase.  A little bit of heavier breathing is a good thing for him.  I have no intentions of diverting his mind from anything. The loss of his dad is still very close in the past.  But if exercising gives his mind a reprieve, then so be it.

And though we laugh each time he fires the medicine ball at me, I can’t help but have sympathy for what must be running through his mind…

The memories of his dad.  The anger toward the man who took his life.  The understanding that his mom now needs every ounce of love that he could ever give her. And knowing that he must be there for his brothers when times are tough. Nile is in many places at one time.

His father is now gone—and forever untouchable—but Nile’s bond with him will never be broken.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2018

The Very Last Time

As a parent, when it happens, you are completely unaware. And after it happens, you will never reflect on it, because the fact that the moment even occurred will never cross your mind. But once you realize that it did happen, you’ll sit there scratching your head, until you realize, perhaps, it’s just something that you’ll never figure out.

Sounds like a riddle, but it’s not.

There came a moment in all of our lives when it was the last time we were picked up by our parents. The day came when they stopped reaching down to grab us by our underarms, and lift us up to giggle, coo, and rub noses. They stopped sweeping us up from around our waists to hold us in an arm hammock. The day came when it simply stopped happening. It wasn’t planned, nor was there any awareness that it was to be the last time. It just happened without anyone knowing. And for many, if not all, it was never noticed or even discussed. It was a sort of silent rite of passage in our childhood development. We were a little heavier, a little taller, a little more vocal, and preferred to do things a little more on our own. Our arms no longer reached out for our parents. We walked on our own throughout the house. Instead of carrying us, they called us to come to them. And if they didn’t call us, it was because we were leading the way.

Whether it’s you the child, or you the parent, I’m intrigued by how nearly impossible it is to trace our footsteps back to that moment, where the first signs of independence and separation began.

Our lives are full of many “last” moments. Some we are well aware of, like our last day at high school or college, our last day at a job, or the last time we wore braces. They are milestones in the chronology of our lives.

And yet, as traceable as those dates may be, I find it interesting how unnoticeable it is when a parent picks up his or her child for the last time. But not being aware of that moment occurring or having occurred is probably a good thing. Otherwise, to be cognizant of it might be a complete soul crusher….

* * *

It’s early morning as a sliver of magenta creeps upon the horizon outside the mother’s bedroom window. It’s been a long, restless night. It happened with her two older children, and now, she could sense that the inevitable was about to occur with her third child. She gets out of bed, and lugs her heavy feet through the house and into the kitchen, where she makes a cup of coffee. But she can only manage a couple of sips. The memory of yesterday clogs her mind and triggers pangs in her gut. Why must it be this way? Time was moving at a nice slow pace.

She hears the soft footsteps approaching the kitchen. There is a teetering about them, a newness of sorts. Her youngest child enters through the doorway, knuckling the sleep out of his eyes.

“Sweetie,” she says, “Why are you up? It’s very early.”

“Smell Mommy’s coffee. It wake me up.”

“I’m sorry. Let’s get you back to bed, okay?” She stands up and approaches him. “Let Mommy carry you back to bed.”

“It ok, Mommy. I go myself.”

This has come to an end all too quickly. Why?

There is no way of restraining her tears. There is no way of escaping this moment. Her little boy….a bit heavier, a bit taller, and a bit more vocal, turns and leaves the kitchen, leaving nothing but the sound of his footsteps trailing off in the distance.

She sits back down, and peers into the dark abyss of a 4-inch mug of coffee. This morning….it is a confirmation. Gone are the days, when, like yesterday, she picked him up for the very last time.

* * *

So, maybe it’s a fortunate thing that we aren’t aware of the last time we picked up our child. There seems to be a mechanism of some kind within us that’s designed to soften that blow, or rather, bypass it altogether. And I’m good with that. Because the alternative would be forever painful recalling those footsteps walking away for the very first time.

Copyright Ros Hill 2018

70 Million Years

It’s midnight, and I’m alive. But feel free to bury me up to my neck in the sand, near where the surf rolls in.  I want to feel the pull of the tide as it recedes and tries to take me with it. I want to feel that initial tug that says, “Come with me.” There are a myriad of primeval forces around us, but it’s the moon-driven tide that impresses me most. We and the earth are comprised of so much water, that it’s no wonder the attraction exists.

Then, as I shift my body and break free, I stand covered in wet sand that sticks to me like a second skin. I’m not sure I want to shake it free, because I’m immersed in a connected and ethereal moment that I don’t want to end.

Stare at an ocean long enough, and you won’t want to leave it.  Travel far out to its deeper waters, or listen to the arrival of its tide and you’ll come to understand its ever-changing moods. It can rattle your comfort zone with a violent thunderous pounding, or it can sing you a lullaby with the soothing sound of its gentle, foamy surf, and put you to sleep like a baby.

I’ve stood before mountains that make my jaw drop. To say that they are magnificent only touches the surface. To say that they have stirred my emotions does far more justice to defining their presence. Yet, as spectacular as their size and formations are, given the choice between mountains and the ocean, it is the ocean that catches my attention most.

Its movement and sounds are ever-changing, as it ebbs and flows, and rises and falls. It is truly as if it is alive—an organism of its own kind—restless, and never sleeping. A Jekyll & Hyde. A monster and a best friend. It can support massive ships just as easily as it can sink them.   Its danger and beauty are equally enthralling.

And it loves to surprise us…

Just outside of Denver, Colorado, there is a lookout point that provides a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains to the west. They consist of peaks climbing to over 12,000 feet. While the sight is impressive, there’s something else about it that completely challenges the imagination…

Prehistoric fish.

There was a time during the Oceanic era when the Rockies were underwater—when aquatic life was abundant. Aquatic fossils have been found thousands of feet high up in the mountainsides, confirming just how great the volume of water once was.

And so my imagination goes to work:

I’m standing at the lookout point. Well, I’m trying to stand, but I’m actually floating. After all, I’m in scuba gear, and it’s 70 million years into the past. I know, I know…as unrealistic as a hot air balloon ride to the moon, but bear with me…

The Rocky Mountains are about to enter a period of formation, but they’re obviously too far to swim to. The water is murky, and I have no idea how far up the surface is. I suddenly feel a turbulent current as my feet are swept from underneath me, but it is only momentary as I soon regain control of myself. However, in that moment of losing balance, I saw it pass by—obscured by the cloudy water, but close enough to partially make out: dark gray, scales along the ridge of its back, a large head, and at least ten feet in length. Was it carnivorous? Was it hungry and now on its return? Or was it docile and simply enjoying an afternoon swim?  Uncertain, I figure it’s as good a time as any to leave the lookout point, and swim upward.

I swim until the murky water gives way to the first signs of penetrating daylight. Soon, shafts of sun rays are beaming down around me, and before I know it, my head breaches the surface. I push my mask up to my forehead, take out my mouthpiece, and then look around. Water, water everywhere. Not a mountain peak to be seen. I taste the water’s salt, and feel its sting in my eyes. Bobbing up and down, it dawns on me that I’ve traveled 70 million years into the past, only to confirm that the ocean—for as long as it’s been around—never gets old.

                        *         *        *

If you drive 236 miles east of Denver, you’ll come to an outcropping of chalk formations called Monument Rocks in Oakley, Kansas. And what an unlikely place it would seem to be where an archaeologist discovered the 14-foot fossil of a carnivorous saltwater fish—Kansas, of all places. But the region shared the same seaway that extended from the Gulf of Mexico through the Rockies and north into Canada.

The locals in Oakley will tell you that after a rain, the chalk monuments will emit a smell like that of an ocean bay. Seventy million years later, and in flat lands of Kansas, you can see and smell the remnants of the ocean.

If you’re fortunate enough to make the trip to Oakley, do yourself a favor and look out at the surrounding prairies of tall buffalo grass, and even beyond, to the sprawling fields of wheat.  What you’ll notice is the sound and movement of the fields as they sway in the breeze.  And, like the ocean, it’ll captivate you.  It’ll put aside any concern you may have with time by simply drawing you into its near-hypnotic rhythms.

Funny how land can have a way of mimicking water. Perhaps those waves of grass are paying homage to prehistoric times when, after all, it was water that carved the landscapes of the continents and allowed life to exist.  The Monument Rocks are far more than just a place where a large fish skeleton was found encased in a tomb of Kansas chalk.  Instead, it’s a place that is alive with the history of the ocean.  A place where the sea once rocked hard on stormy nights, and rolled gently on lazy afternoons.

A place where the ocean receded, but really never left.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

All He Had To Do Was Turn Around

I’ve never been in prison. The closest I ever came was not related to any crime, but occurred when I was a UPS driver. The prison was a daily stop on my delivery route. I arrived mid-morning, and went through a security process that allowed me access to proceed down a hallway to the mail room.  It was during that short walk that I passed by a window giving full view of the inmates milling around in a recreation room.

I remember they were loud, and walked either with a slow shuffle or a swagger.  Some greeted each other with structured handshakes reminiscent of gang brotherhood. Others jostled each other with elbows and shoulders in a way that was rough, but full of camaraderie. And then there were the few men who appeared isolated from all groups. Perhaps they were–as I would learn—the “new fish” who had yet to find their place in the prison cliques. Or perhaps they were simply individuals who preferred their isolation. Looking through that window, it was hard to tell.

I don’t have a clue what life is like in prison. We’ve all heard stories, but they only give us a glimpse of what it’s like to live within the razor wire-surrounded walls.  What I do know is that going or not going to prison teeters on the one second difference between a wrongful or rightful decision.

*          *          *

One second.

I have a friend whose 18-year-old grandson, Derek, was recently sentenced to prison for a first-degree felony aggravated robbery charge. He and his buddy had the foolish idea to arm themselves with guns and rob an apartment occupied with several people.

One second was all that was required to stop in their tracks, turn around, and call it a day. But they didn’t.

Their plan was to barge in through the front door, point their weapons, yell a few expletive orders, then take the drugs and money, and run. Pretty straight forward.  Except they didn’t factor in a rifle pointing at them. Or being fired at, for that matter.

In the end, two people were killed. One was an occupant in the apartment, and the other was Derek’s buddy. Derek was lucky, though, and fled the scene with only a grazing shot to the leg, but was apprehended by the police just a few blocks away.

It was an irreversible moment as he was handcuffed and put in the police squad car. His soft-spoken and gentle good nature had gotten him entangled in his own ability to hang with any group of people. Be it the jocks, the geeks, the punks, or the wayward kids of mischief, he was intrigued by them all. Unfortunately, this time, he had hung with the wrong kid at the wrong time and place. While it was Derek’s choice to be there, he simply didn’t realize what he was getting into.

Although he never fired his gun, Derek’s involvement in the robbery proved catastrophic in terms of the prison sentence that justice dealt him…

Forty years.

*                 *                    *

Our lives are full of seconds, some of which have far greater repercussions than others.  How quickly one second was to become the darkest 40 years of his life. And it is that thought where my imagination wanders…

At night my mind travels to the prison that houses him. I choose nighttime, because that is when people are the most reflective. My wandering curiosity quietly enters the front doors, then slips past the security check point that grants access into the facility.  I meander through the hallways until I find Derek’s cell. I recognize him from newspaper articles that reported the botched robbery. He’s just brushed his teeth, and has climbed atop a bunk bed. Lights out. The entire prison settles in for the night.

My curiosity, though, is wide awake, and in need of answers. And it is there that my presumptive imagination finds them.

I stealthily perched at the end of his bed. Initially, there is some slight tossing and turning, which is normal during your first week in prison. But then, you lay still with your eyes gazing far, far beyond the ceiling. Into the night, as my mind freely travels, his, too, escapes. It goes home to his mother and sister—the two people he most dearly loves.  His dad has been out of the picture for years.

Derek sees them in the kitchen, eating beef stew together on a cold, snowy night. Frigid tree limbs tap against a window as they eat in silence. This used to be a kitchen that was the centerpiece for jovial conversations and sharing the events of the day. Now, it’s as if those days never existed. It is bleak. The slow pace at which they eat their stew is indicative not that the food is hot, but rather that something is missing—that something has been unfairly removed from their lives. They don’t understand why the law must be so strict. It all seems so unfair.  But the law is that if more than one person participates in a felony where death occurs, then all involved are equally responsible—even those who didn’t cause the death. Forty years is too long a time to wait, thinks Derek’s mother. I’ll be dead by then. 

It is a bittersweet place that he visits each night. But his fondest memories are all from his home. Either his mind goes there or remains back in prison, where he must listen to the late-night, psychotic laughter of his cellmate—a convicted rapist, who lies beneath on the lower bunk.  Unfortunately, it’s never easy blocking out reality.

I visited his cell to find an answer. To see what it was that he thought of most.

Loved ones and happiness.

The human body can turn 180 degrees in one second. He missed that opportunity, and will forever regret his decision.

May we all be so lucky to take some time to learn from his mistake…even if it’s just one second.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

 

Goodbye, Ken Copeland

It’s 7:30PM and dark.

You sit in your car in the grocery store parking lot and stare at the side of the building, as the tears well in your eyes.  Cars and shoppers pass by, but nothing steals your attention.

Earlier in the day, you had a friend take a photo of yourself, standing by two large garbage dumpsters at your town’s Activity Center. In your hands were a pair of running shoes—the same running shoes you had written about in your previous story titled, Wonder. This photo was to accompany a follow-up story about finding your shoes—to tell your readers about how they had spent the last two weeks on the feet of a college student in Wharton, Texas.  About how the kid doesn’t even prefer running shoes, but much prefers boots.  After all, he’s going to school to be a certified welder.  You were going to tell the story about how you had left your shoes out by those dumpsters to dry in the sun after your morning run.  About how you had driven off and left them behind, only to be found by a man who would later give them to the kid from Wharton, who, just happened to be visiting the Activity Center that day.

And through a series of odd events and coincidental conversations, someone would recall the details of your description of your lost shoes, and surface with the answer of their whereabouts.

And then, today, your shoes arrived.  And you were all prepared to write the sequel to Wonder.

But, then, the details of that story became completely insignificant, as did the photo.

Because today, a friend of yours was killed in the line of duty.

*                    *                    *

I’ll wonder about Ken Copeland for a long, long time.  I’ll wonder about his wife and kids, but mostly his son, Nile, who I train, and is, for the most part, confined to a wheelchair with spina bifida. I’ll forever think back on Ken’s last words to me: “Ros, Nile loves you.  You’re the best with him”.  And how can I not stop thinking about his son, when you know fully well that “the best with him” will never be there to rub his hair for one last time?  How can I not think about Ken as he would marvel with Nile at his pet tarantula that has turned a slight hint of blue?

Four years ago, I met Ken for the first time when he was working routine security during my daughter’s high school basketball game.  The instant I saw his smile…that instant…I knew this guy had it—the gift.  He could lighten up any room with just his smile.  For ninety minutes, I stood with him at the end of the basketball court, and we talked like buddies who’d been separated for years.  The conversation flowed and never dipped into boredom.  I drilled him with endless questions about his experiences as a police officer, and he answered them as candidly as I never expected.  I just let him run with the stories.  And why not?  I mean, he was the model of sincerity.  Of committed fatherhood.  Of being just a great, great guy.

*                    *                    *

And so I parked my car outside the grocery store tonight and stared at the side of the building.  I needed a place to stop and let my eyes pour.  That’s where I started writing this story.  It’s where emotion was riding heavily on my shoulders at each tap of the keyboard.  It’s where I found myself wondering about the fragility of life and the cruelty that can harbor within it.

So much travels through your mind when you suddenly lose a friend.  So much emotion sweeps through you, that it becomes nearly impossible to handle.  But you aren’t his family, and that thought alone—thinking of them—just levels you.  And you aren’t Nile, and the helplessness just eats away at you because you don’t even know how to begin to offer your sympathy.  The kid’s rock was taken away from him, and all of us—to be forever missed.

Goodbye, Ken Copeland.  I’ll never stop wondering about you.

After all, you are a wonder.

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

 

Wonder

Somebody stole my running shoes today. They were only a week old.

I ran fast in those shoes. They fit like a best friend. I remember taking them out of their box for the first time, and immediately trying them on. I wanted to sleep in them. I wanted to read them a book. I wanted to take them to a movie. And so I did. I took them to Wonder.

Wonder is about a young boy with a disfigured face. Much of the movie focuses on the bullying he must endure while at school. You have no choice but to feel for him, as all the other students keep a safe distance for fear if they touch him, then they each will be plagued with a disfigured face as well. It can be a cruel world for kids who must go public with such pronounced scars.

The disfigured boy is a wonder though, with a brilliant mind that knows exactly what’s going on. He learns to shake off the bullies, and embrace those who come around to understand just how special he is. How engaging and funny he is. How amazing he is.

That was the last movie my shoes and I will ever see together. Someone took them, leaving me in a state of wonder.

I wonder why you took my shoes. Are you, by chance, the bullying type who gains pleasure out of messing with other people’s lives? If so, then show me your face. Walk up to me in my shoes. I dare you. Because if you do, I’ll take a gamble and surprise you.

I’ll take you out to lunch. I’ll pay for your meal. But you don’t get to leave until we talk. Not just me, but you must talk as well. You see, I believe that many of us are just one conversation away from being helped. It’s not always the case, but you never know when it just might be someone’s lucky day.

So sit there and wonder about why I’m being so kind to you. Wonder about what a fool I must be to think that I can make a difference in your life.

Or wonder about what a difference you can make in your own life.

You do that, and the shoes are yours.

Copyright Ros Hill 2017