It was one of “those” childbirths.
One and a half years after the birth of his first son, Richard, another boy, Sacha, found the warm embrace of his beaming papa. But Sacha came at a high price tag for Vince. Gaining a son, he lost his heart’s best friend, as his wife soon lay still in the operating room. Embolism, they said. Clot lodged in her heart. Clot that dislodged her from him.
Her memory was very dear, but after the funeral, he put away all traces of her from their abode; her clothes, her books, even the pictures of her, were given away or put in permanent storage, not to be seen again. It only seemed right, knowing that neither son would remember the gaze of her kind and affectionate eyes, and this would spare him the pain of repeated explanations. For no good reason, he did keep a bottle of her favorite perfume stashed away in a drawer, as one secret and tenuous thread of connection to an unrecoverable past.
Truth was, Vince found it very difficult to speak of her, even to the boys. Words spoken and emotions unfurled were unfamiliar ground to him, and he felt safer if he could keep that garden walled off. She had touched him at the deepest levels. He buried much more than a lifeless body that day.
An accountant, Vince worked from his home, and having a business and two young boys to juggle, never got around to re-marrying. The older boy, Richard, showed a remarkable aptitude for numbers, and early on Vince figured he’d keep him around and apprentice him into the career. Sure enough, as Richard got older and breezed through his math classes, he grew into a diligent and studious young man with a natural grasp of business, cash flow, and financial best practices. A budding accountant before even going to college, he stayed at home for a time to assist Vince and get his feet wet in the business world.
Sacha, however, was the polar opposite of his brother. A free spirit, Sacha excelled in artistic endeavors, sometimes blowing off homework assignments in favor of creating jaw-droppingly complex graphics on the computer. He’d tip-toe downstairs and play network games late into the night, sometimes even sneaking out after midnight to party with friends – something Richard would never even think about doing, and which he condemned when Sacha got caught. Even when punished, Sacha would blow it off lightly, and quickly return to life as the class clown. Needless to say, he was rarely in sympathy with the house rules, and though Vince loved him dearly, his wandering irresponsibility was a constant source of grief in the household.
Once, Sacha did manage to persuade Richard to leave his responsible ways, and go on a brief rampage in a nearby neighborhood, shooting out inflatable holiday displays with a pellet gun. Of course, they got caught, Richard thoroughly chagrined by the experience but Sacha secretly laughing to himself at the destructive fun…until the bill came in for the damages. Months of allowances would have been required to make restitution, but Vince quietly paid it all off, and for some reason, didn’t even punish the boys. When they asked why, he gave them a faded smile and simply said, “Grace.”
The grief, however, was just beginning. One day, right after high school, Sacha got it into his head that he wanted to move to the West Coast and be part of an artists’ group. Sacha had heard about this free-wheeling conclave from one of his Internet buddies, and he was itching to be in a place where his talents would be recognized, and where rules would be few and far between. Vince, ever the accountant, had set up a generous fund for each boy’s education, but Sacha insisted that he wanted that money right now, and that this learning experience would be his “higher” education into artistic realms, including poetry (which he’d begin writing, to some acclaim by his peers, in high school).
With a heavy heart, and despite vehement scowls from Richard, Vincent gave Sacha the funds. Exuberantly, he bought a ticket to San Francisco, and promptly dove into the bohemian lifestyle of his little artist colony. This was the first time Sacha had serious cash in his pocket, and he spent it freely in order to make lots of friends quickly. His graphics skills didn’t carry him very far, and his poetry (it turns out) was rather run-of-the-mill, but the other loose-living folks sure enjoyed his educational fund. He was the star of the show – until the money ran out a few months later. Soon, he was on the streets, homeless, begging, and living on nothing more than scraps and regrets.
The few phone calls and e-mails he’d sent home while at the colony brought no comfort to Vince’s heart, and infuriated Richard. Sacha had been a budding disaster all along and now he’d thrown away his father’s hard-earned money on…emptiness. Meanwhile, Richard was earning a tidy sum and preparing for college, with a bright future ahead. Unlike his dim brother. What a bozo!
Every once in a while, Vince would retreat up to his room, and reach into the lowest drawer of his bathroom cabinet. The smell of the perfume would transport him back to happier days, when love was a hearbeat away and the horizon ahead looked bright and cheerful. His wife had been a true gift – even more than anyone (including the boys) knew, because he had been a profligate and rebellious young man for a season, and she could easily have refused him. But she saw more in him than the clown role he was playing, and gave him exactly what he needed to start afresh.
Hitchhiking across the Great Plains, Sacha rehearsed in his mind what he would say to his Dad. No words seemed to work. His glibness had gotten him out of many a scrape in the past, but the gift of gab didn’t feed his hungry belly when the money was gone, and didn’t nourish his empty soul when his so-called friends left him behind. For once, he was at a loss for words, though not for regrets. He’d just have to suck it up and…take whatever he got. Couldn’t be any worse than the nothing he had now.
The rides dried up 50 miles from home. Borrowing a phone, he called his Dad, hesitating to even ask if he’d come get him. Why should he bother? Yet in no time, Vince raced down to the diner where Sacha was huddled, greeted him with tears in his eyes, bought him a big meal, and went over to a neighboring clothing store to get him a new outfit to replace his remaining rags. Then, calling his friends on his cell phone, he quickly got a huge group together at the house so that when he pulled up with Sacha, there was a welcoming committee. Sacha never even had a chance to make his remorseful speech. As they pulled up to the house, tears in his eyes, Sacha choked out, “Why???” “Grace,” Vince responded. Grace.
Infuriated by the hoopla, Richard didn’t join the party. He sulked at the edge of the backyard, not believing that his father would expend another penny of time, money, and energy for his wasteful and stupid brother. “Dad never threw any parties for me!” he muttered, “And I’ve done nothing but be obedient and serve him and be responsible! That rat Sacha gets all the attention and he’s nothing more than a scoundrel!” As if reading his thoughts, Vince came outside to find Richard, and putting his hand on his shoulder, asked why he wasn’t joining the in party.
Richard spewed the venom that filled his soul. Dutiful, diligent, and despised, he described himself. Resentment toward brother and father overflowed. I’ve been good! How can you treat that shiftless son of yours as if he were still my equal – and even throw a big party for him when he stumbles home empty-handed!
Tears filled Vince’s eyes. One son was just coming to know grace, after throwing so much away for empty pleasures. The other, devoted and faithful, still only knew investment-and-return. A good accountant, he had not yet learned a heart is not won, or moved, by a spreadsheet, but only by grace. Sadly, Vince left him to stew in his resentful pride, aching that one son still didn’t know his father’s heart, even as the other was just beginning to see it.
Hours later, Richard sneaked into the basement as the party died down, and with nothing better to do, started rummaging through some boxes of old stuff. He found one well-sealed carton and, with some effort, forced it open. There, on the top, was the picture of a beautiful young lady, and underneath it, a single letter. Though feeling vaguely guilty he was so intrigued that he opened the letter – and the past – as he read words written long-ago to his father.
You have been a good friend and companion to me these months as we’ve gotten to know one another. It must have been very difficult for you to open up and tell me about those years when you left home and lived like a wild tomcat. And, yes, it hurt me to hear it. But your honesty convinces me that you want to turn over a new leaf, and love and provide for me. If you need to hear it, I’ll freely and gladly say it – I forgive you and accept you as you are. Let’s make a great life together. And maybe even some wonderful kids too!
Richard picked up the picture. Her features looked vaguely familiar. With a start, he realized that he was gazing into the eyes of his mother. Turning over the picture, on the back was written one word. Grace.
The names in this story have been changed, and details have been added and embellished. The lessons, however, are timeless.
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