The Better Story: Papa Was Murdered

Memories are strange. They’re an invaluable resource that influences our actions, our thoughts, our relationships, our decisions, our life etc. And the funny thing is how inaccurate they are. There’s that cheesy saying, “there are 3 sides to a story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Well, our memory is malleable. We can remember something as being funnier than it was, sadder than it was, colder, night time/day time. Our mind plays tricks on us. But we are stronger than the auto-pilot functions that our brain enacts. We can manipulate our memories into resources that can enrich our lives! It’s YOUR fucking memory.

I read the book, Life of Pi, in my junior year of high school. Its message didn’t hit me until much later. I wont spoil anything, but the overall theme was the value of the better story. The ‘better story’ being the way we choose to digest a memory.

I told you that story about jumping that kid for cocaine money, here’s another. My father was shot in the head and killed in 1997, I was four. My whole life I was told that he had died in a car accident. 14 years later, I was living in Idaho and my cousin told me the truth over the phone. My father was a cab driver and had picked up two young black men in a bad part of Bushwick. They wanted to rob him. He had given my mother over a hundred dollars that same morning, so he only had $45 during the robbery. The young man in the passenger seat, Elvin Hill (this one), thought my father was disrespecting him by giving him so little money, so he shot him in the head point blank. Elvin’s associate in the back seat would later explain that my father was shot while pointing at pictures of my brother and I that were taped on the dashboard.

Elvin Hill got 43 years in prison for $45.
My father’s killer, Elvin Hill. Published by the New York Daily News. 

The situation was fucked. The facts are stagnant, but the story is dependent on perception. There are so many pieces, so many colors. It’s too easy to demonize my father’s killer, to make him the villain. Here’s a better story, just a fraction of it rather:

Elvin Hill was 18 when he killed my father. I was 18 when I found out. Connections connections. How different were we at that age?

  1. I had two loving parents, my step-father and mother. His died at a young age, and he was raised by his drug addicted aunt and uncle.
  2. I lived in a house in upstate New York, in a nice neighborhood with a dog and a backyard and a pool and a trampoline and stuff. He was raised in a bad part of Bushwick, Brooklyn, back when it wasn’t occupied by white dudes with fancy haircuts and flannel vests.  
  3. I had a great education and great support. I was in a 4-year private university. My thoughts and ideas were valued and validated. I don’t want to assume Elvin’s support system or education, he could have been brilliant, but he was arrested several times for assault, gun charges, and drug related crimes before the age of 20 and I’m not sure any college accepts that kind of record.
  4. I’m Brown. He’s Black. 

I’m not allowed to look at 18 year old Elvin Hill and judge him. I had so many more opportunities, opportunities that I hadn’t earned. If one butterfly fluttered differently when I was 4, maybe my life would be similar to Hill’s. It was luck and lack of luck that put us in such different situations. THAT’S the better story. That’s how I look at this individual, not with bitterness, but with understanding. There are Elvin Hills everywhere, being ignored. Ignored by the school systems, ignored by society. They become helpless and are constantly told that they will never be anything. The theory of the ‘looking glass self’ states that we act the way we believe we are being perceived. The world might have told Hill he was nothing, so he acted like he had nothing to lose.

Another fraction of the story:

I told you I found out when I was 18. My mother ended up telling me when I was 19, because that’s when Elvin Hill was finally caught. Imagine that. 15 years to pin the murder on this guy. Now, I can think, “how shitty is that. 15 years to catch my father’s killer, were the detectives asleep? Did they just not care enough?” Or I can look the the individual, Mike Zeller, who was given my father’s case as a detective in Bushwick. He never forgot about him. Retiring in 2005, and becoming a Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office investigator, he insisted with the feds that he be able to look into the case again. He made a breakthrough when the second young man my father picked up, the one sitting in the back, agreed to testify that Hill had shot my father over $45. Hill was indicted in 2012 and sentenced to 43 years. MIKE ZELLER is the better story. My father wasn’t his business anymore, the guy was retired. But he never forgot about him. 15 years later he did good by our family for reasons that I can’t explain or understand. It was just work left undone, maybe. Or a story of the only person, other than my mother, who was thinking about justice for my father for 15 years and through sheer will and determination, made sure the man who destroyed my family was put to jail for the rest of his life.

Finally the last part of the story I’d like to share:

I am a product of my father’s murder. Everything I am, everything I will be, is because Elvin Hill decided he was gonna shoot my dad. I can use this information by playing the, “what if?” game. What if my father was alive? What if I was still living in Queens, in a working-class family? Would I be happier? Would I be better at talking to girls? Would I find writing and photography? Would I find love? It’s a shitty game. It’s unproductive and impossible to play correctly. The better story is this:

  • I would never sacrifice the insights, the knowledge and experience I’ve gained to have my father back.
  • I would never sacrifice my interests and hobbies to have my father back.
  • I would never sacrifice my step-father, half-sister, and step-brother to have my father back.
  • I would never sacrifice the girl I love to have my father back.

My father is gone and I am who I am. Life is a circle, he dies every time. There is no what if?, there’s only what now? What can I do now? How can I use this information, these memories, these arbitrary evils, the mistakes, the shit luck, to move myself forward?

We can only control so much of our lives, but we have full control of how we want to perceive them. Choose the better story.


Here’s the article on my father’s murder, published by the New York Daily News.



38 thoughts on “The Better Story: Papa Was Murdered

  1. Your experiences shaped who you are as a person and as a man. Survivors move forward and learn from the harsh lessons dealt to them. I am glad circumstances didn’t hold you back in life, but propel you forward.

    Powerful human story, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow Steve, first I am sorry for what happened to your Dad, your Mom and you! When I read your last line I got goosebumps. I really admire the attitude you have taken with this. It would be so easy to be angry. I totally agree with your approach, not that you need my approval, however I believe that innately we all know what is right and wrong regardless of our environment and Hill chose to kill your father even though it was wrong. I believe your Dad is very proud of you, this story and the man you have become. Bravo to you!! Yes, choose the better story!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve, thank you for sharing your story. Each of us has a choice to spin a story of being a victim and to hate the other or to seek to understand and build up from what we have been given. I am inspired by your choice to look deeper with compassion, to act on your power to choose your reaction, and to step forward with gratitude for what you do have. You made it look easy here but I know it must have taken a lot of thought to get there. I can’t imagine the hurt. I will be thinking about your story all day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, thank you. It definitely isn’t easy. The easy thing is to be angry, hateful, bitter. It’s in our nature. But happiness Is a choice. Growth is a choice. This strange experience we’re all in can be enjoyable or it can be filled with grief. I pick the former.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow. This is a very powerful piece of writing. You are very wise for someone so young. It’s difficult to find opportunities for personal growth in the huge challenges we are sometimes faced with, and I am inspired by your commitment to be the best you can be. I once heard a writer say he now felt his abusive father had been a gift; that if he hadn’t had the childhood he’d experienced, he would not be the man he is today. I get that. Going forward with what we know is the only option. Thank you for your words. I’m glad to have discovered your words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could imagine it takes a lot of strength and creativity to translate abuse into growth. Unlike the writer you mentioned, I’ve been fortunate enough to live rather comfortably. That’s the best thing about stories, you can learn so much from second-hand experiences without having to suffer. I’m glad you found some meaning in mine. And once again, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment with such a meaningful response.


  5. You’re a talented writer. But that’s not even your true skill. Your true skill is perspective. You have a heart and mind that even filled with human emotions you chose to not hate, but chose to try and understand. You compared yourself and your fathers killer and you came to an “overstanding” of the killer. That is am amazing thing to do. I am sorry for your loss and I am sorry that anyone would have to go through anything like losing a parent that way; but to have your outlook on it, I am sure it took a while to get there but the fact that you got there at all is amazing. You restore faith in humanity

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This so moved me. And a lot of the comments. I am so sorry, too, for your losses, especially when it is so senseless and violent. But you are right – letting go, understanding, forgiveness, are the paths to take to break cycles.
    I am so glad you found me, so I can find you 🙂 Thank you for the follow. I am really looking forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am amazed at how you manage to rewrite your story and own it. Turn it into a human tale with a powerful morale. Your charisma and the beauty of your person shine through your lines. Thank you for sharing your enlightening perspective. I always try to choose the better story too, every step of the way. Not always fair nor easy, but we only have one life, and “what now?” it is the only way to find happiness.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is so insightful. I already commented on the poem you wrote about Hill, but again, it’s interesting to see how you’ve come to terms with what happened. The butterflies are always fluttering but this is just one of those flutters which changes it all. Something like this, happening so early on in life, really does act as part of the foundation of who you are as an adult. It’s not easy to write about something so deeply personal. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

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