Tom folded his wrinkled hands on his lap as he sat on his hardened verandah in a grazed couch. The rivets in his skin were so deep now. It had been many years since they were smooth and tanned. He could still feel the softness of Joel’s nine year old skin. A knife stabbed his heart as it had each day, at each memory, for the past forty years. With no body for burial there had never been any closure. No closure at all to the death of the only son born to his serene Sierra.
His other children had been so jealous when Joel was born. It was his fault. He could not hide the joy that had mesmerised him from the moment of the tiny infant’s birth.
They had suffered enough, but Philip the most, at the shocking death of their mother. Finding her body like that on the bathroom floor had settled its image in his eldest son’s mind. Tom didn’t know which was harder, the pain from his grief at losing her, or finding the humility to forgive her for leaving them with trauma sketched into their hearts.
In a short eighteen months he guided their five children as best he could to trust in God despite their life gasping pain. He knew it helped, yet there were still so many days where they couldn’t remember their passing. It was on one just like this that he met Sierra, and he resisted as long as he could from letting her naïve, honest love melt the heartache that he wanted to hold on to.
Unfortunately, she didn’t have quite the same effect on his children. The marriage was a risk they both agreed to persevere in prayer through.
The realisation of Joel’s conception made Tom and Sierra smile a private joy. They told the children with trepidation of the approaching birth. Philip had silently left the room.
Sierra’s slow death when Joel was five wrenched Tom’s heart from his chest. He strained through each day for the children, and the belief that part of her lived on in Joel. During her sickness they grew accustomed to playing outside, often wandering down to the national park. In allowing them to go, Tom was able to block out their bickering. He hadn’t prevented Joel from growing into a whiner, so he ignored his late afternoon complaints about his half-brothers’ teasing and pushing. He averted his eyes from the look of hate Philip held towards the chubbiness clinging to Joel’s young years.
After Sierra’s death, this false non-existence of a disharmonic family forced its way into a reality. Joel’s complaints fell on deaf ears, and then faded into a quiet, frightened spirit.
The day they came home without him, Tom had taken twenty minutes to realise he wasn’t there. The boys hadn’t even acknowledged his missing presence.
“Where is Joel? Where is your brother?” He gripped Philip by the arms and the long denied truth was realised as he looked into eyes that had lost their deep pain to wells of hate.
No matter how many days he interrogated the boys, they never said anything, except that Joel had just disappeared amongst the trees.
The police and the SES searched for three weeks. He searched for ten.
Tom back handed the tears from his cheeks and eyes. Now his health was sputtering through blocked veins. Not long now.
“Father, I yearn for your heavenly rest.” He whispered to the only listening ears.
“Dad? Is it really you?” Tom looked up at the tall stranger who had walked silently through his front gate. His blood leavened. Sierra’s eyes looked down at him and he heaved for breath.
“Dad, it’s me, Joel.” The middle aged man knelt before him and grasped his folded hands.
“My son, can it really be you?” Tom lost sight of him through puddled tears, but at his touch, that same soft skin, warmth flooded his heart that had become an accustomed foreigner.
As Joel relayed the story of his kidnapping, Tom touched his face.
“I didn’t know whether to believe if you were dead or not, and here you are before me. I never believed I could die happy, but you have given that back to me.” Tom’s vision freshly blurred as he rose from his chair and held Joel in his arms for the longest time.
And Joel wept from those Sierra eyes.
The inspiration for this story: “And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ and his heart became numb, for he did not believe them.” Genesis 45:26 (ESV)
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