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..: stories

Nothing to it.

..: Older Brothers

In my UCLA days, I had some really great roommates. One of the best was a guy named Sam. When he first joined the four of us, he was the youngest, and the most naive. For years, we called him the Freshman, and gave him every kind of grief we could. He was from Burbank, and just didn't seem to have the kind of focus that we did.

He lived with us for many years. At first, he saw us as older brothers, but after enough time, I came to see him as more mature and wise than most of us, especially me.

Tonight I was thinking about money, and about how we're ever going to do this whole "living within your means" thing. As a powerful excercise, kj and I have stopped using our credit cards, and it's been tough.

I remembered today the story Sam told us one day when he came home from school. He said that he was severely short on money, and wasn't sure if he was going to be able to pay UCLA's registration fees for the upcoming quarter. Sam's father had financial trouble for as long as we knew Sam, and so Sam was always careful with his money. When we would go out to eat, Sam would not. When we'd go see a movie, Sam would study. So there he was that quarter, out of money for registration.

He says a miracle happened. He was at school when our friend Kelley ran into him and told him "Sam, someone told me to give you this." It was an envelope filled with cash. Sam asked who it was from. Kelley would not say. It was intended to be anonymous.

Sam came home and told me that night. I think he did. He told me that he hadn't let anyone know about his predicament, and yet God had provided. Not only was it cash enough to cover his fees, apparently it was the exact number he was short. To the penny, Sam said.

A couple years later, I was preparing to graduate. My mother had agreed to give me quite a bit of money so I could by my own Mac computer, which I would need for work in the graphic design industry. I had picked out a first generation PowerMac 7100/66, and it wasn't cheap. I even got a external CD-ROM drive for it, which at the time was kind of a luxury. The day before I had planned to go pick up the Mac, my mom told me she was not able to get me the cash for the Mac, and that I would have to wait about a week.

I was pretty upset about that. I remember telling Sam about my situation, telling him how lousy my situation was, and about how upset I was that my mom hadn't come through for me. Frustrated with my grumbling, Sam said something that today still shames me: "Perry, if it's that important, I'll lend you the money for it."

Maybe his offer probably wasn't completely genuine, and perhaps he meant to shame me for a second -- but the sting was still there. It had already been many years since I had fell from status as his mentor in his eyes. By year four, I was really more like a fool. An unteachable, impatient, fool. And here he was, offering to help my buy an expensive box that I could have waited another week for, if only I was more patient.

As it turned out, my mom found a way to get me the money, and I purchased the machine. When I got it home, I set it up, and in passing said something about freelance to Sam. "Oh, you're going to use that for work?" Sam asked. Ugh, I was even more ashamed. Not only had he offered to loan me money for the Mac, but he thought I was putting up this much of a fuss over a machine I was going to use simply for entertainment. I reached a new low.

And now the years have passed. Sam and I have fallen out of touch. He moved to Massachusetts, where he is moving mountains. I didn't invite him to my wedding, I knew he would not come. I see his brother every now and then, and his brother is so kind to me, much like when I first met Sam so many years ago. Once, I was able to have lunch with Sam. It was very awkward. I asked him "Sam, I feel like I let you down all these years. Like you expected me to be there for you as an older brother, but instead you had to carry me and my stupidity." He simply said yes, it was true.

So that Mac ended up selling for a good $800 less, with more features and a bigger hard drive, only a week later. Had I waited, I would have saved quite a bit of money. But I was impatient, and foolish. Today, the Mac is sitting in a pile behind me in our apartment. It hasn't been used in years. Sometimes I can't even look at it without thinking about Sam, and how I disappointed him.
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