Sunday, September 24, 2017

🎄 King of the Hill

December 22, 2016 by  
Filed under 2016 Christmas, Monthly Articles

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King of the Hill
by Mari Lavell

I wiped my sweaty palms on my brand new Levis and readjusted my death grip on the steering wheel before turning up the familiar driveway. There stood the house, gleaming white with a fresh coat of paint, courtesy of my younger brother.

A quick glance towards the kitchen window I saw my sister’s tentative wave. This was going to be rough, but I loved Ma enough to deal with the demons of my past.

On my way to the front door I avoided looking towards the hill. I wish I could flatten the beast with a bulldozer. I jumped when the door flew open and my baby brother stood grinning ear-to-ear.

“David!” He wrapped me in a big bear hug, his strong arms reminding me he was no longer my vulnerable baby brother.

“Josiah, my God you’re huge.” I stammered what I hoped was an appropriate response.

“Is He your God?” His bright eyes teased.

Esther came around the corner, pretty as ever. “Hey David, good to see you. Ma’s sleeping right now.”

“Sis,” I nodded.

She stepped towards me and the long sought for embrace was warm and welcoming.

Two cups of coffee later, Ma was still sleeping. I excused myself to get some fresh air and have a much needed smoke. My steps automatically lead me to the hill that bordered our property. I could almost hear us as kids playing. We’d jump our bikes into midair, and one time Esther tried to be Mary Poppins, ruining her new umbrella. But my most prominent memory was King of the Hill.

Josiah eased down beside me. A chill ran up my spine. Subconsciously, I tugged on my shirt cuffs.

I smashed my cigarette into the dirt and exhaled smoke away from Josiah’s face. “Tough memories,” I stared at the bottom of the hill.

***

“Come on, cry baby!”

Josiah lay at the bottom of the hill crying.

I saw his twisted arm and tumbled down towards him then switched directions and clamored to the top to run and get Ma.

Ma and Esther rushed Josiah to the hospital. My drunken excuse of a father came at me with the rage of a bull.

“We were playing King of the Hill…” I started to explain.

He grabbed me by the arm and shoved me towards the hill. His beer breath filled my nostrils. “I’ll show you whose king of this hill!” His spit splattered my face. He shoved me down the hill.

“Get back up here!”

I obeyed.

He pushed me again. I tumbled backwards and hit my head on a rock. I felt blood when I touched my temple.

“Haul yourself back up here, boy!”

I noticed the neighbor watching from behind her curtains.

Dirt filled my fingernails as I scrambled back to the top only to be pushed again. This time, prepared for it, I was able to stay on my feet all the way down the hill.

“Come on, boy. I don’t think your lesson is learned yet. Get up here.”

When I reached the top, Dad picked me up like a sack of potatoes and threw me off the edge of the hill. I felt a rib crack. Maybe two.

“I’m king of this hill and don’t you ever forget it!” And with that he stomped off towards his shop to guzzle more beer.

My ribs ached, my head pounded and my wrist was swollen. I stuffed as much of my belongings into a duffle bag and left the white house on the hill, vowing never to return again.

***

“When did he die?” I refused to call him dad.

“I don’t know. He abandoned us. Ma got something in the mail one day saying he was dead. She never said anything about it to me and Esther, though. I would’ve rather known he was dead than to think he might come back.”

“Ma’s not going to make it, is she?”

“Stage four…likely not long left.” Josiah turned to face me square and look me in the eye. “You need to make peace with Ma. She blames herself for not taking you with us that day to the hospital.”

“It was best for everyone if I left.”

“Where did you go?”

“Does it matter? It’s where I ended up that allowed you to find me.”

“It was Esther’s idea to check the prison rosters. How long were you in for?”

I reached for another cigarette. “Which time?” I took a drag, turned my head and exhaled. “Thanks for writing…and forgiving me.”

“I never held anything against you. Honest. We were kids playing a game we always played. I just didn’t tuck and roll right. It was my own fault.”

“Hey boys?”

We turned towards Esther calling from the back porch. She motioned us to come in.

“Ma’s awake?” I shrugged out of my coat.

“David? Is that you?” The frailty of the woman in the bed struck me in the pit of my stomach.

“Hi Ma,” I whispered.

“You came home.”

“Yeah.”

“David, Esther and Josiah,” Ma struggled to sit up in bed. “Do you know why I named you like I did?”

“Bible names,” Esther answered.

“Not just Bible names. Royalty in the Bible,” Ma closed her eyes and smiled.

My eyes wandered to a painting of Calvary.

“On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross,” tears trickled down Ma’s face. “David…Jesus is truly the King of the Hill. Won’t you make Him King of your heart?”

I nodded. “I have, Ma. I’m tryin’.”

A few weeks later I sat between my sister and brother at Ma’s funeral. Esther rubbed her hand over my tat from prison on my right forearm; My name, with a crown over it and the reference Ps 51:10.

I knew all along where my name came from, the lineage of Jesus. In honor of Ma, I will strive to live up to it and be a man after God’s own heart.

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