Living in the Moment

So that you don’t get your hopes up, let it be known that my daughter did not get the puppy.

Now, let’s begin…

Bailey is a sophomore at St. Edwards University, where she’s a shooting guard on the basketball team.  She was recruited for various reasons: ball handling, a high basketball IQ, game swagger, and she can drain 3s from downtown.

It’s a sweet sight watching your daughter’s 3-point shot sail through the air with such accuracy that you can predict the oncoming swish solely based on its trajectory.  But even sweeter is when she plays for Division II St. Edwards and her opponent is Division I Texas State University, and that 3-point shot rains down with victorious redemption.  After all, she didn’t return to Texas State’s home court just to put on another 0-11 shooting performance like she did the year before.  Besides, this was her hometown, and she was determined to not let people walk away with another memory like that one.  After she made the game’s opening basket, she began positioning herself beyond the arc and sank three 3s.  One shot in particular was a quick release that she nailed after a stare-down into the eyes of her defender. The ball appeared to cradle itself in the net—a perfect swish that silenced the home crowd.

After St. Edwards’ opening 10-0 lead, the closest Texas State would come was nine points. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Hilltoppers led the Bobcats by 20.  In the end, it was St. Edwards upsetting Texas State for the first time in school history, 65-51.

The stars were lined up for Bailey. So many parts of the game were markers of success, and would solidify themselves as everlasting memories for her. As a parent, and being someone who had played basketball for a large part of my life, I lived vicariously through the game. I felt just as much a part of the victory as she did.  Of course, her team could have lost to Texas State, and I would still be the proud father as I am at all of her games. Pride isn’t easily removed after you’ve coached your daughter since she was a 5-year-old.

I envisioned her riding on the bus back to Austin—celebrating the defeat of a Division I opponent. Bodies bouncing in their seats to the catchy rhythms of hip-hop. These kind of victories don’t come often. What else could possibly be on her mind? I texted her to say congratulations.

Me: What a game! You played great!

Bailey: Thanks.

Me: Your three ball was on.  That must have felt so good, especially on Texas State’s home court.

Bailey:  It was pretty awesome.

She sent another text directly after that one. It was accompanied with the photo of a puppy.

Bailey: Will you get him for me for Christmas?

Me: The puppy’s for sale?

Bailey: Yeah! My friend’s mom is selling him. Isn’t he cuuuuuute!!!?

Was I missing something here?  Was there a gap in time that I had skipped over? Was Einstein’s theory of general relativity at work? Could this be the first ever “telephonic wormhole” whereby our conversation entered a shortcut in a space-time continuum, and all permanent basketball dialogue had been sucked into oblivion? Thirty minutes ago she had quite possibly experienced the biggest victory of her collegiate career, but now she was asking about a puppy?  I wanted to talk about the two steals she made, the offensive charge she took, and her invaluable shooting contributions. It was time for a phone call. She answered with instant enthusiasm.

“Can we get the puppy? Isn’t he cuuuuuute!!? Pleeease, Dad, can we?”

“Bailey, you’re in college.”

“Isn’t he cuuuuuute!!?”

“Bailey, you’re—”

“He’s adooorrrable!!”

I had to speak quickly or I was neeeeeever going to get a word in.

“You’re a college student. You’d see the puppy only on the weekends. We’d be the ones raising it.”

“The puppy’s a he, not an it,” she said assertively.

“Okay, a he.  You wouldn’t see him much.”

“But he’s adooorrrable!!”

“Yes, he is. I can’t deny that. But, Bay, if you’re going to get a dog, then that dog needs to bond with you. Seeing him only on the weekends isn’t going to cut it. Wait till after college before you get one.”

It was the first quiet of our conversation.  I imagined our local newspaper’s game coverage headline:  ST. EDWARDS UPSETS STATE. BUT PUPPY HAS NO CHANCE. FATHER KILLS MOMENT. “There he is!!!!!!!” the townsfolk would angrily yell, brandishing battle axes and torches to guide them into the night. “The puppy hater!!! Do not let him flee!!! Off with his head!!! He is no father!!! He is but evil’s rot!!!”

“Bay, am I making any sense?”

The excitement had drained from her voice.  She had conceded to my suggestion. “Okay,” she said. “I guess I see your point.”

Before we hung up, a curiosity loomed in my mind.  “I got a question. This game that you just played, this incredible win—are you excited about it?”

“Of course I am, why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Guess I’m just a little surprised about the puppy.”

“What about the puppy?”

“Well, that you’re mentioning him like the game didn’t even happen.”

“Dad, it was a great game, but it’s over. I mean, yeah it was a huge win, but…isn’t he soooo adooorrrable!!?”

Our conversation ended soon after.  I couldn’t help but smile as I now understood the simplicity of her mindset. The game was over. She had given it her full attention. There was no puppy out there on the court, nor part of any discussion on the bench or in the locker room. But on the bus ride home, as they shared the highlights of the game, the normalcy of their lives returned. Snapchat, Twitter, music, homework, life’s dramas, what to eat, and a puppy all surfaced amongst their discussions.

Here I was though, talking to my daughter whom I had coached in basketball leagues and tournaments for so many years. My mind was cemented in a vicarious state.  I wanted to talk at length about nothing more than the memorable details of the upset over Texas State.  This kind of victory doesn’t come often.

And neither did those moments with your daughter, when—little did she know—she inadvertently taught you that there’s really only one thing sweeter than victory…

Living in the moment.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

9:01

Baylee Almon would be 22 years old if she had attended my daughter’s college basketball game yesterday. She would have watched her team get a proverbial spanking by Oklahoma Christian University. But she didn’t watch it, because 21 years ago Baylee closed her eyes for the last time, soon after her rubble-coated body was in the rescuing clutch of a fireman’s valiant arms.

You come to an opening that gives you full view of the memorial. Beneath you are 168 empty chairs. Beyond that is an expansive rectangular pool with just inches of shallow water. Positioned at opposite ends of the pool are two large walls referred to as the “Gates of Time”. Each has an open entrance. On one wall, in large numbers above the entrance is the time 9:01. The other wall reads 9:03. It is then that you realize the one minute between the two walls harbors itself in the shallow serenity of the pool of water that was once N.W. Fifth Street in the heart of Oklahoma City. Within that one minute of 9:02, life was either taken or life was spared. By 9:03, the magnitude of the human spirit undertook the painful task of sifting through concrete, rebar, mangled steel, sheet rock, and too many personal belongings to remind us of who had perished.

You stand there looking down at the memorial. This body of water tugs on the gravity of your mournful thoughts that have billowed up so unexpectedly. It’s 9:02AM on April 19, 1995. You were driving a UPS truck in Stonewall, Texas. On that warm, sunny morning you were standing in the doorway of a mobile home, waiting on a signature for a package. Then, you caught sight of the TV and joined in with millions of other viewers in disbelief at the destruction created by a cold-hearted, remorseless killer. For the remainder of the day in that UPS truck you drove around with your mind firmly planted in a place it would take 21 years to eventually see. And how would you know the effect the memorial would have on you? How could you possibly know the tears you would shed?  168 empty chairs honoring 168 people who had died. Of those, 19 smaller chairs to remember the deceased children. One chair was Baylee Almon’s. Of course you would cry.

All you came to Oklahoma for was a basketball game. To watch your daughter and her team play about as miserably as they could possibly ever play.  Amongst a sea of Oklahoma fans you had no choice but to listen to their loud, supportive cheering. That game clock could not tick fast enough to end this beat down, this proverbial spanking.

A day later, as you drove through Kansas for another collegiate game, you looked out at that wide-open, fertile landscape, and reflected on the pool of water between the Gates of Time. How insignificant did your daughter’s poor three-point shooting now become. How insignificant was her team’s embarrassing loss. If only Baylee Almon could be so blessed to have those problems. She would have happily missed every shot she would’ve taken, fully knowing she was alive. And the people in the stands would have no stories to tell regarding a tragic day in 1995.

But the stories do exist. And they all begin at 9:01.

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

The Rabbit

The moment I jabbed my foot hard to the right was the moment I felt my right knee buckle. I collapsed down on the court, watching the hot-handed 18-year-old kid I was defending rise high above me, rhythmically settling into perfect shooting form as he swished a game-ending 25 foot three-pointer. The perfect shot that I was doing everything in my power to disrupt, deny, and dismantle. My infamous, confident last words to my teammates moments before the shot was taken: “I got this guy!”

This was a noon time pick-up game at our local Activity Center. There was no game clock, no fans, and no refs. Just ten guys out to work up a sweat, and each one of us detesting the taste of losing. Down I went to the hardwood, and once I made my way off the court, a substitute player was hollered in from the hallway to make me history. That’s how we roll. The game must go on.

And off I went, hobbling out into the parking lot with what I was certain was a strained knee. Within an hour it swelled like a prized water balloon. Within two hours I could barely bend it, as if concrete had been injected. Within three hours I pretty much surmised that this was something more than just a strained knee. Within four hours I was wondering if how I was feeling could be diagnosed as acute, irreversible, clinical depression. Luckily for me, I put my knee through a battery of self-diagnosis tests: a little jump here, a little side step there, and some hands-on massage to gauge joint stabilization. My findings: I had dodged the bullet. I had not torn my ACL.

*         *         *

“You tore your ACL,” said Dr. Ivy, after contorting my leg at various uncomfortable angles. “This joint is pretty loose. Of course there’s the off chance that it’s a partial tear. The MRI will tell all.”

Dr. Ivy is a highly respected orthopedic surgeon in our town. It was only natural that I tried to push her initial diagnosis a different direction. “But is it possible that it’s just a really bad strain?”

“I doubt it. I think it’s torn. But yes it’s possible.”

Later that day I had my MRI. I saw Dr. Ivy the following morning.

“You didn’t tear your ACL.”

Just as I was about to do a one-legged jump off the table and ecstatically jump into Dr. Ivy’s arms, she added, “You shredded it. It’s totally obliterated.”

Due to my scheduled out-of-state travel plans, the surgery was performed a month later. Two days after the operation, I asked Dr. Ivy about my most pressing concern: “When can I start jogging?” That’s all I cared about. I’ve been a runner and basketball player since I was ten years old. I competed in the state track meet in five events my junior and senior years in high school. When I was 50, I ran a 4:45 mile. At age 53 I could still dunk a basketball. Many of the greatest moments of my life have pivoted around my knees. And then, I made the decision to show the world how to stop a punk, hot-handed teenage three-point sharp shooter.

“You can start light jogging around four months as long as you do exactly as you’re instructed.” Dr. Ivy looked me straight into the eyes, “Do not overdo it. Listen to your body.”

I listened to my body and progressed exactly as planned. I was slow jogging at four months. I was picking up speed at six months. Nine months post-op, I was performing introductory lateral movements. At a year I was at full linear speed. Everything was back to normal except for one small detail: I was unsure of myself being able to move laterally on the basketball court. Or, to be more specific: I was unsure of my knee.

As that one year mark arrived, I recalled Dr. Ivy telling me about a one-legged hop test. She said it was a test that actually entailed measuring more than just the distance you could hop on one leg from a static position. It also measured hesitancy, which indicated how confident you were about landing on the involved leg. The test was administered to patients who were released to full activity. “Your reconstructed ACL is strong and stable,” she said, “the question is how stable is your confidence? How hesitant are you about landing on the healed leg? You’d be surprised how many people just stand there, not wanting to perform the exercise for fear of blowing the knee out again. At some point, you have to completely trust yourself.”

The day Dr. Ivy released me to full activity, I put on my workout clothes and stood on one leg on my back deck. For the longest time, I stood as motionless as a flamingo. Then I hopped for what I think was the distance of maybe three inches. I had the confidence of a mouse entering a rattlesnake den. I firmly planted both feet onto the deck, turned around, and went into the house to eat ice cream. What was it going to take to trust that my knee wasn’t going to collapse beneath me?

*         *         *

About a week after I chickened-out performing the one-legged flamingo test, I let our rat terrier, Domino, outside to take care of his morning business. It was a cool, foggy morning with plenty of dew blanketing the lawn. Typically, Domino will take about five strides in the yard, hike up the leg, and then immediately make his way back to the house. On this particular morning, Domino stayed out longer. I had not yet put in my contact lenses, but I noticed movement as I looked through the kitchen door window. (Without my contacts my distance vision is a blur. Stand out there in the yard 20 meters from me, and ask me how many fingers you are holding up. I can practically guarantee I’ll say you aren’t holding up any but, instead, what appears to be a pitcher of lemonade or something just as incorrectly obscure.) My nebulous farsightedness detected a small black and white figure speeding along the backyard fence line. The figure then made an abrupt change of direction and went back from where it came. Then it reversed its direction again.   I squinted my eyes to sharpen my view and noticed that Domino was chasing a rabbit. I quickly opened the door and, in only my underwear, sprinted barefoot out into the wet yard. The only sounds were that of his rapid footsteps and collar tags jingling. There was no barking or growling, for in the heat of the chase his internal hunting mechanism was locked in for the kill. And my Save-the-Rabbit mechanism (otherwise known as a soft heart) was locked in on Domino. Staying as low to the ground and as agile as possible, my feet jabbed to the left and then, a few strides later, back to the right, quickly pushing off after planting firmly into the dewy turf. Frightened by me now entering the pursuit, the rabbit relentlessly darted back and forth, staying close to the fence in hopes of finding an escape route. It was doing everything in its power to out maneuver us, but Domino was gaining, and within seconds had his mouth clamped around the rabbit’s tail. And that’s when I bolted from a low angle, laying myself out into the air, tackling Domino. I kept him in my grasp, as the two of us slid across the wet grass and careened into the fence. I knew he wasn’t happy with me. I had spoiled the hunt by being a rescuer instead of a spectator. During the short time frame of the tackle, the rabbit broke free from Domino’s jaws and found an exit point at the bottom of the fence. With grass stains from shins to chest, I laid in my underwear with my dog panting heavily in my arms while his lips smacked bunny fur. And amongst that wet, dirty mess, a revelation hit me: I had taken my reconstructed knee out onto the proving grounds and pushed myself beyond hesitancy. As the sun hit the horizon, it quickly dawned on me how many sharp lateral moves I had just performed on slippery wet grass. This was more than a one-legged hop. This was everything Dr. Ivy had told me I needed. I stood up and realized how stable my knee was. It was raw instinct in my quest to save the rabbit, and in the process I had discovered confidence.

I went back into the house and gave Domino a dog biscuit as a consolation prize for not getting his rabbit. I swear there was a moment of disgust and reluctance as he beamed his eyes at me and slowly opened his mouth to accept it. I cleaned myself up before putting on my socks, running shoes, workout shorts and, of course, my contact lenses. Walking back out to the deck, I positioned myself only on the leg with the repaired ACL. And then, in a moment of no second thoughts, I flexed my knee and single-leg jumped up and out, airborne for the longest and happiest one second of my life.

Copyright Ros Hill 2015