Story Notes:Written circa 2003. Lyrics from "Long Before Your Time", an Irish folks song.
Love does hurt.
It hurts when you love and hurts when you don’t. He wasn’t abandoning his son. He loved him more than any other living thing on earth, but . . . when he saw the thing she left behind for him to raise, the tiny bundle of life that was placed into his arms for the first time, the toddler that took his first step without her, the child that smiled with those shining eyes, those rosy cheeks, that face that mirrored her beauty . . . it was almost unbearable. It hurt to look at his son. The older he grew the more he looked like her, the more he noticed the little things that reminded him of her . . .
He gazed into the living room, where sunlight spilled through the open windows and the warm summer breeze made the curtains flow like sails on a ghostly ship. There he was, his son, playing in the light as it was cast onto the wooden floors. He was making shadow puppets with his small, plump hands and humming a made-up tune. Had it already been five years? It seemed like only five months ago he got his first tooth . . .
Sapphire blue eyes misted over as he watched the small child continue to play. Then, as if feeling the eyes on him, the boy turned to look at his father. He always seemed to be doing that, just looking at him from a distance. It made the lad wonder.
He stood up on clumsy little legs and skipped over to where the older man sat on the sofa. He noticed his father brushing his eyes and cheeks and blinking rapidly; he cocked his head to the side.
“Why do you cry, papa?”
The small voice made him lose his own and the man swallowed, running a hand through his dark hair. He spoke softly, picked his son up and placed him in his lap. The child listened intently, blue eyes wide with wonder.
You ask me why I look so sad on this bright summer day,
Or why the tears are in my eyes and I seem so far away.
Well, sit yourself beside me here and put your hand in mine
And I’ll tell of someone I loved long, long before your time . . .
“How long before my time?” the dark-haired boy whispered.
“A long time. Years.”
“When you were my age?” came a timid inquiry.
The man smiled. “When I was young like you.”
I’m sitting here and thinking of those days so long ago
When I was just a child, like you, and a girl I used to know.
Though fields of green we laughed and played and sang our merry rhymes
Oh, summer days were warmer then, long before your time . . .
“Was the girl pretty?”
“Very pretty. Like you.” He tapped his son’s nose and the boy giggled.
“Was summer your favorite season, papa?”
“Yes, it was.” He sighed heavily. “It still is.”
Through childhood years our love did bloom till our hearts were just as one
And we promised each eternal love in the church before the town.
We settled in this little house, I was proud to call her mine
Oh, we were young and happy then, long before your time . . .
The boy squirmed anxiously in his father’s lap. “You growed up ‘n got married?”
“We did, and we moved into this same house, right here.”
“You were so happy, papa,” the boy frowned. “Why’re you so sad now?”
His father took a breath and closed his eyes, a heavy weight on his heart.
One lovely year was all we had until the sickness came
And stole the roses from her cheeks, my tears, they fell like rain.
For nine long months she carried you but in the end she died.
She chose to go so you might live, long, long before your time . . .
The boy looked on the brink of tears. “Did I kill mama?” He suddenly found himself in a tight embrace as his father hugged him fiercely.
“Never. Don’t you ever say that.”
Blinking, tears rolled down the child’s cheeks. “I’m sorry, papa. I won’t say it again.”
“Your mother loved you very much, and do you know what? She still does.”
The boy hugged his father with his small arms and murmured, “Is she watching us from Heaven?”
“Up there with all the angels, where the sun always shines and it’s never cold.”
The boy smiled, thinking about the mother he would never know in a happy place like Heaven. But she would never tuck him into bed at night, never kiss his cheek or hold him close when he cut his knee climbing a tree, would never rock him gently or keep him from crying . . .
“Do you still love mama?”
“But . . . how can you love something you can’t touch?”
His father pulled away, gazed into those eyes so much like his lost love’s, and put a hand over his own heart. “Can you touch your heart, Ryo?”
The boy with the dark hair puzzled. “I . . . no, I can’t.”
“But you know it’s there, don’t you?”
Young Ryo Sanada nodded. “Yeah, I can feel it.”
His father smiled and Ryo, realizing the meaning of his words, smiled back and curled up against his chest.
It’s just you seem a lot like her, when your eyes look into mine
And you smile so much like she did long, long before your time.