Author's suggestion: Please listen to 'Say Something' by A Great Big World feat. Christina Aguilera whilst reading this for best reading experience
A father's pain
I love him.
I love my son. I loved him since the moment he was born; this wrinkled, pink little thing that came into this world kicking and crying, heralding his own arrival with resounding wails. I would pick him up and cradle him in the crook of my arm, rocking him from side to side until his tears would stop rolling and his cries would stop sounding. He was so calm. My boy never was all that vocal, but I liked it that way. Other dads would complain about how their infants' cries would wake them up in the middle of the night. But not Kyle. Not my little boy; he was so still sometimes I would worry whether he still breathed.
Sometimes, I would wake up in the middle of the night myself, when my mind was somehow restless and sleep would not come. I would make my way towards Kyle's crib, where he lay, resting with the peaceful face of an angel. I'd just stand there, and admire his curly brown hair and smooth skin, his chubby little hands and his cute button nose. The hours would pass, but I would pay no heed. I could have watched over him like that forever. To me, my son was the beautiful thing in the world. He was perfect, but at the same time he was flawed.
The first time I noticed that something was wrong was when Kyle turned three. It was at his birthday party. The parents all gathered around to talk about how their children would often utter babbles of nonsensical, but utterly adorable words. It was then I realised. Kyle had never uttered a single word before. No first words, no 'daddy', or 'mummy'. He would only utter 'ahs' and 'ohs' at times, as if he wanted to say something but could not make out the words. My boy was mute.
Every day, I would try and get him to say something. We'd sit on the couch for hours on end, and I'd put my face up close to his, making the most exaggerated of sounds for the most simplistic of words. 'Cat'. I'd open my mouth and end my t's with more stress than necessary. 'Dog'. I'd prolong the 'o' sound, and then look at him expectantly. There was always no answer. Kyle would always look at me with confused brown eyes, expression as if he knew what I wanted but could not meet my request. 'Daddy'. I would say that word quieter than all the others, and in that moment Kyle's eyes would look so heart-wrenchingly sad, as if he wanted to cry. Yet, it was as if his tears would not surface properly, just like his words. So he'd just look at me.
Every day as I left for work, I would say goodbye to him. I'd wave, and he'd wave back with a tentative smile lighting up his features.
"Kyle, be good." I'd say.
Then his smile would disappear, and his eyes would fill up with more emotion than a five-year old was supposed to hold. He'd knit his brows together, opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish. He wanted to return my words, I knew. I knew how frustrating it was for him to not be able to express his thoughts like that. It frustrated me to no end, too.
A parent's love is supposed to be eternal. It's supposed to be unconditional; no matter what happens, no matter what their kid does do or doesn't do. I must be a bad parent; a horrible father. Because as each day passed, as the weeks and the months and the years passed, as Kyle still never uttered a single, intelligible word, I felt it flicker. For brief moments throughout a day, my love for him would flicker, like the flame of a weak-willed candle. My love for him had wavered.
It's a hot day today. The sweat sticking my shirt to my skin makes me feel like I'm melting, as if I am one of those strawberry-flavoured popsicles Kyle loves so much. They never lasted all that long in the sun. But it's worth it, I tell myself silently. Today marks a big milestone for Kyle. Today is the first day he's been invited to some other kid's birthday party; normally no one ever talks to him, as if he's invisible.
Today my little boy is not invisible.
The lucky child today is a girl; six or seven years old perhaps, not that different from Kyle. She flutters around with sparkly pink fairy wings sprouting from her back, twirling around in a poufy dress that shines with the same baby pink as her wings. She's very loud; bossy even. She runs around 'knighting' people with her fairy wand, telling them what they should or should not do, screaming and kicking and throwing a terrible tantrum when her conditions are not met. She's so completely opposite from Kyle. But for a brief moment I think about what it would have been like to have a child like that, if my child was not Kyle. For a long time I hate myself for that brief thought.
They're all sitting in a circle now, playing party games. I glimpse a radiant smile on Kyle's face; one that reflects joy and immense happiness, one that I rarely see him with. I can't help but smile myself. I wave at him from where I stand under a particularly shady tree, and he waves back at me. Seeing him so happy makes my heart soar.
I walk in closer, to see what they're playing. Children lean over to whisper into each other's ears; this goes on in a circle, like some sort of chain effect. I chuckle when I realise what it is. Chinese whispers, huh? I haven't played game that since I was a young boy myself. I always used to laugh at that one kid who couldn't pass the message on right, and the original sentence would end up to become something ridiculous. Like how 'I think I'm funny' would turn into 'I killed my bunny.'
At that moment, my heart freezes over.
Kyle. How can he play this when he can't talk? I walk towards the circle, to go over and drag him away, to save him the embarrassment I know he will eventually come to when the other children find out he can't pass on the message. But I can't. I can't bring myself to do it. Just the very thought of shattering that beautiful smile shatters my own heart.
The message comes over to Kyle, and the instant it does I realise how wrong it was for me to not drag Kyle away. He listens to the words carefully, intently, the way he always does. My Kyle is a listener; he soaks up everyone's words like a sponge. He understands, yet he cannot show others that he understands. He can't pass the message on, and I see the birthday girl's sky blue eyes cloud over with rage.
"Pass my message on!" She squeals, and I see the tantrum behind that small figure, threatening to materialise. "What are you waiting for!" Her squeal becomes an angry shout, full of urgency, as if passing on her useless little Chinese-whisper message means more than the world.
Kyle shakes his head slowly; eyes filling with emotion, brows furrowing together, mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. His smile is gone. His beautiful, joyous expression is gone. I go over to take him away from all this.
But before I can even react, the little girl gets up from her cross-legged position in the grass. She walks right up to Kyle, not too far away, and hits him across the face. Hard. Kyle's face whips to the side from the impact from the blow, and almost immediately a red welt on the left of his face begins to form. He doesn't even cry.
"I said, pass on my message!" Instead, the little girl is crying; hot, angry tears spilling uncontrollably. They mingle with the face-paint on her cheeks, and I watch, stunned, as a heart painted on the left side of her face begins to blur and run down. It melts like one of those strawberry-flavoured popsicles Kyle loves so much.
I snap back to my senses. Without missing a heartbeat, I wedge myself between my boy and the girl, anger swirling inside my chest. I have never felt so angry before. This type of anger is almost paralysing; it bubbles up somewhere deep inside me and rises to my throat, rendering me unable to even breathe. It rises up to my brain too, leaving me unable to think clearly. This type of anger is not really anger; it is rage.
"What did you do!" I roar at the little girl, and instantly her form begins to shrink. But I don't care. I am so livid my rational mind exists no more. All of a sudden, I feel the strong urge to hit the girl, to slap her across her face with the same force she did to Kyle. I want her to feel so hurt she can't even cry.
A small hand grasps mine, but I ignore it, shaking it off. It tries again, but I just raise my arm, away from that urging hand and preparing to hit that annoying little brat. Then I hear it. Three, hesitant words, not even strung together fluidly and so soft I could have almost missed it.
I turn. My eyes are wide, my mind is screaming at my ears for being such liars. But they're not. My ears didn't lie. There, Kyle stood, clasping my hand with both of his, looking up at me with those sorrowful brown eyes of his.
"Daddy, be good." He says again; this time his words are still cut up and almost discernible, but it's more fluid than the last. He only said three words. But those three words made my skies bluer and the sun brighter. Who knew simple speech could sound so much more beautiful than song.
But looking at my beautiful boy, trying so hard, I felt everything tumble and fall. I'm such a horrible father. I can't believe I have ever doubted him, doubted my love for him. Because, I realise; it doesn't matter. So what if he can't talk? So what if he can't say the words dog or cat or daddy, so what if he can't say goodbye to me when I go to work? It was ironic, in that I had only realised that talking didn't matter so much, when he had said his first three words. But it really doesn't matter; I could love Kyle even if he were ugly or blind or deaf or disabled.
"I'm so sorry Kyle," I say as I bend down to wrap him up in an embrace. For the first time ever, he looks as if he doesn't get the meaning behind my words.
Today, I realise, is not only a milestone for Kyle, but a milestone for me. Today is the day I realised something important. Today is the day I started to believe in my feelings with more conviction than ever before; I love him. I love my son.
I loved him from the moment he was born.
Credits: Inspiration from a cctv advertisement I saw in china, which really moved me. Inspiration also from the song 'Say Something'.
A/N: This is a creative writing piece I wrote for my English class on the topic 'journeys'.