She had her 6-year-old daughter by the forearm. Tugged on her in the produce section, then hurriedly pulled her into a vacant aisle.  Like an eagle—-even with piercing eagle eyes—-her talons clenched onto that arm as if she were truly preparing to take flight. As if she were willing to do whatever it would take to bust through the ceiling of the grocery store, then upward, exploding through the roof, breaking into daylight, and taking her prey far, far away.

“Stop acting like a child!!” She snapped at her as discretely as possible, while restraining her voice. “Stop touching everything you see!! Can’t you just act normal!?”

“But, Mom…I…”

“STOP IT!!!!”

And that was it.  That was where the beratement ended, just before those talons clenched her arm one last time to leave a final impression of the mother’s anger.

I watched the entire scene. I wanted to intervene, but kept my distance. Probably because I hadn’t witnessed the daughter’s supposed unruly behavior that warranted such a stern scolding. On the other hand, the mother might have been the type of person who was upset by the slightest infraction. Maybe her daughter had simply picked up an orange to innocently study its texture. Perhaps, before they entered the store, something had happened causing the mother to lose her last bit of patience. I hadn’t a clue of the scene’s history, so I stayed quiet.

*           *          *

A week later at the store, I met a man in the checkout line whose hand was badly scarred. He’d obviously had reconstructive surgery. The scene I had witnessed between the mother and daughter had stayed with me. When I saw his hand, I began to think about the mother’s fierce grip on her daughter, and wondered if her talons might have pierced her skin—deep enough to make a scar. I thought about how our lives are full of scars. Some are physically visible, while others have penetrated deep within our memories and will remain there until we die. And some scars have pasts that, over time, have clouded and become hard to recall, their details muted.

But there was something about the man that compelled my curiosity. It was one of those feelings where things just felt safe. Perhaps I’ve trained myself to feel comfortable asking people about things that others might deem as intrusive or stepping over their boundaries. But I don’t see it that way. I simply go with my gut. I go with my radar of reading people’s character. It’s something I’ve done all my adult life, and, honestly, sometimes I can get that read in just a matter of seconds. Such as the man in line with me. Unlike the angry mother, he had a kind expression—-he was approachable.

“Excuse me, sir” I said. “But I have a question.”

“Okay,” he replied. “What is it?”

“Your hand…what happened?”

“What happened? Well that, my friend, is a story.”

“I don’t mean to pry. I—“

“It’s quite alright. I’ll be happy to tell you.”

*           *          *

Whenever there is a threat to our survival, we instinctively use our flight or fight response to protect ourselves…or someone else.

That’s why he defended his grandson during an evening walk. There was no concern that the pit bull might turn on him. He had found himself caught in the line of duty—-a place he couldn’t avoid, He would be cursed forever knowing he had failed to protect. But he was a good man, and the thought that he would opt for self-preservation was utterly absurd.

The pit bull charged at the boy with primal and deadly intent. The dog’s chain leash slapped at the concrete sidewalk and whipped itself in the air as it gained speed, having broken free from its owner’s hands. Just seconds from reaching the boy, the grandfather positioned himself between the two, and took the hit with an outstretched arm.

He remembers the pain as being horridly torturous. He recalls his hand being trapped in the dog’s iron jaws, and how it was shredded as it shook its head side to side.  And yet, as quickly as it attacked, it suddenly chose to run away.  He referred to the dog’s retreat as being part of a divine intervention, that it was more than just happenstance.

“I often wonder,” he said.  “If my scars were sort of meant to be. I know this sounds crazy, but I wonder if they’re intended to remind me of just how much I love my grandson. And if it happened again, I’d lose all my fingers if I had to. Anything to protect that boy’s life.”

His grandson will never forget how fortunate he was to be able to walk away without a single tooth mark, completely unscathed. Not one single scar.

As for the 6-year-old girl who was vehemently yelled at by her mother, maybe her day took a turn for the better. Who knows what her mother may have come to realize when she tucked her into bed that night. Who knows the depth of her sorrow that finally bubbled to the surface.  This was her only child, and she knew she had frightened her.  She knew she had lost her patience and wound up going in a direction she never intended to.

“Sweetie, mommy’s really sorry about what happened at the store today. Please understand that. You’re all I’ve got. I love you.”

“It’s okay, mommy.  But my arm does kinda hurt.”

The mother’s eyes welled up as she leaned in and hugged her daughter. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “I must have come across as a monster.  I’m so sorry.”

“No, mommy.  Monsters only live under my bed.  You’re not a monster.  You’re my mommy.”

The mother lifted her head up with tear-filled eyes and a smile, and then tenderly kissed her daughter on the forehead. And that’s when the scars began to fade away, as the mother stayed in her room and slept with her through the night.

Copyright Ros Hill 2018



Six Times Was All It Took

There is nothing more impressive than watching a grown man on a mission, as he walks over to a chair and kicks it. Kicks it as if it had actually done something horribly wrong and needed to be punished immediately. As if that chair had a mind of its own, manipulating cunning schemes designed to mess with your mind until the end of time. After all, it would only seem logical, rational, and fair to presume that because you just cut your thumb open with a knife while trying to carve the furry skin of a kiwi fruit, that the chair sitting over there in the corner (yes, the one intentionally hiding from you) is the real culprit for your now bloody problem. No second thoughts are needed. Just drop the knife, make a beeline to the chair, and kick the living splinters out of it. There, that’ll make things right!

I met a college student the other day at a local gym whose right hand was wrapped with an ungodly amount of that all-too-common, unstylish, flesh-colored, ACE elastic bandage wrap. So heavily wrapped, it was as if there was a football concealed inside. You could also say he resembled a fiddler crab with that one lone enormous claw (in this case, a mitten). He was walking around the gym trying to figure out if he could lift weights without enduring too much pain. After watching him finish a set of agonizing, grimace-on-the-face barbell curls, I became curious about his injury.

“So, what happened to you?”

“Oh, just a little accident.”

A “little”accident? Been juggling chainsaws blindfolded lately? “Looks like you really did a number on it. Break anything?”

He lowered the barbell to the floor, accompanied with the grimace that simply didn’t want to go away. Raising his massive mitten, he exclaimed, “Yes, I broke three bones.”

“And may I ask, what was your little accident?”

“It was a door made of steel. I punched it a few times.”

Looking at his bandaged hand, I couldn’t help but wonder: Just how many times was a few? Are we talking thirty punches? Forty?

 Hardly. He told me he hit the door six times. Six times he attempted to knock that door off its hinges and send it flying into tomorrow. Six times was all it took to realize he didn’t have a seventh punch left in him. The bones were screaming for him to stop.   He looked down at his mummified hand and spoke with profound wisdom, “Steel doors don’t budge.”

No kidding, Sherlock. And all it took was six George Foreman’s to figure that one out.

 Of course, it’s always the girl…

“My girlfriend just really made me angry. It was a stupid thing that set me off. Just stupid. Don’t want to talk about it.”

Well, good thing the steel door took the blame, because otherwise there might not be much left of her. I didn’t pry into the details of his personal affairs, but I can only imagine how the conversation probably went…

Her: Honey, I hate to break the news, but my parents are going to stay with us for a month over Christmas.

Him: BOTH of them?

Her: Yes, and their four dogs and the goat.

Him: Wait a sec. BOTH your parents and a goat?

Her: And four dogs.

Him: I got that, but a goat?

Her: They thought it was a stray puppy on the highway. Pulled over and put it in the car. By the time they got home, the goat was riding on dad’s lap with its head out the window, tongue lapping in the wind. So, he’s a keeper. They named him Buckle Up.

Him: Four hyper-yappy Pekingese dogs, your parents who are notorious for clipping their fingernails at the dinner table, and now a goat named Buckle Up? A month of this? WHERE’S THE STEEL DOOR!!!!!!?

Whatever it was that he couldn’t talk through with his girlfriend, he should’ve at least punched a bag of cotton balls, pulverizing each and every one down to their very last tiny fibers. Even a box of cereal would’ve sufficed. But he saw that 250-pound rectangular punching bag, and just had to pick a losing fight. In the heat of his anger, he tossed the Give-It-24-Hours rule to the wind. Instead, he opted for the least rational route and, in the process, racked up a not-so-pleasant medical expense of having to cover his $3,000 health insurance deductible.

Your girlfriend said something you didn’t agree with. It hit a nerve. It happens. But you shot off like lightening towards that steel door. This thing we do as humans, having to unleash our destructive energy on inanimate objects—aren’t there better options? Here are some suggestions (they’ll save you major medical expenses, as well as having to replace things you once purchased to enhance the beauty of your home):

  • Go for an all-out sprint around the neighborhood (even if you’re in your pajamas, GO! The neighbors will understand….”Oh, look Harriet! It’s the neighbor running like a crazy man. But bless his heart. Sure beats throwing the computer off the roof!”
  • Take your temper tantrum out to the backyard and try jumping rope with a 25-foot water hose.
  • Bike to the next town.
  • Hyperventilate till you faint and shut up.
  • Stick your head in the garbage can and scream like a rock star.
  • Try to hold ice cubes under your armpits for 10 minutes. When they’re all melted, the rage to deal with them will have completely neutralized all that venom coursing through your brain.

If those suggestions for calming your psychotic behavior are beyond your grasp, then I’ve got one more to offer (which, in fact, is probably the best advice):

Take your hot-headed disposition face-to-face with that steel door and, right before you strike the first blow, try unclenching your fist, turn the doorknob, and put one foot in front of the other until you find yourself outdoors in the therapeutic open air. Once there, take a deep, calming breath. I bet if you have any sense at all, you’ll soon discover a path of least resistance…

Go talk to your girlfriend.

Copyright Ros Hill 2015