I could hear the whispers around me and no amount of pride could shield me and let me deny it. People wonder how a mother can hate her child. Let them judge me. I do not, would not, care. I've heard of how, even if unrelated by blood, some women could have just one look at a child and resolve that the child was theirs. But one look at her and I knew. She wasn't mine. She couldn't be.
My Daughter's Mother
I had spent my whole childhood in Kyoto. Grew up in the relative quiet of the country, in a town where everyone knew everybody. Where you could be fairly certain that whatever you did, you would grow up to someday fill your parent's shoes. Where the baker's son became a baker, and the painter's girl grew up to wield a brush of her own.
It was in this environment that they were considered a novelty. There were a large number of foreigners in Kyoto. Tourists mostly. But very rarely do they marry a local and decide to settle in town. The man was American, and typical of his race, he was tall and light-haired, with that roguish smile that came too easily to him. To most, he was what would be called ruggedly handsome, and surprisingly, the man took to the local customs and tastes like fish to water.
His wife, on the other hand, was petite and quite shy. Together, they made quite a pair, like a tableau of opposites. But one just had to see them together to see how destined they were for each other. The man's smile took on a more gentle tone when it was directed at her, and the woman's eyes would bestow a gaze on him so loving and serious at the same time that you could swear she was not looking at him, but instead at a happy and bright future that only she could see.
Nobody objected to their union. You could even say that the man had been adopted by the community and treated as though one of its own.
In no time at all, the couple was blessed with a beautiful son who inherited his father's blonde hair and his mother's dark eyes. It had been a difficult birth, and upon catching a glimpse of the child, the people would exchange knowing glances. The child was certainly not pure Japanese, with its long limbs, and judging by the mother's constitution, it was nothing short of a miracle that both of them had gone through the difficult delivery, healthy and well.
The child from the onset had had a healthy appetite, going through bottles of infant formula at a time (the mother had been too weak to nurse him right after delivery), and seeing this, one of the teenage boys milling around to see the baby had teasingly shouted that they should name him "Kuu". The mother had smiled and said that it actually didn't sound too bad, and so he was named "Kuu Hizuri", the father having married into the family to respect the wishes of his wife's father to have the family name continued.
Of course I couldn't have known all these firsthand, seeing as I was born months after the boy. But I took it upon myself to know everything about him. I was six when I decided that I would spend the rest of my life with him, and nothing, NOTHING, could change that. I would realize so much later how wrong I was.
We went to school together, Kuu and I. We were unusually close, having been together since we were in our nappies. He was popular, what with his good-looks and his irresistible charm, and his numerous endeavors involving school presentations, dramas and whatnot. I, on the other hand, was the straight-laced student council president. The academy's resident snow queen. Pretty and smart, I never associated much with others. Except him. Kuu was always the exception. He was the only one who could make me laugh that deep laugh that comes from deep within my belly, the one that I could feel bubbling up towards my lungs and out my mouth in an embarassing cacophony of giggles and snorts.
Everyone who saw us together would be reminded of his parents, and they would always find a way to tell us this. I would blush and stutter, but deep inside, the words would fan the flames of my fantasies. Kuu, on the other hand, would say that we were just close childhood friends to anyone who would bother to ask. It didn't faze me whenever he did this. I figured he was just in denial, and that given some time, he would warm up to the idea of us being a couple.
Then he got scouted to do a commercial. I should have known then that it would be the beginning of the end. When he came back from Tokyo where they did the shoot, he had an odd glint in his eye. Like he had decided on something big and life-changing. Life-changing alright. When he had told me he wanted to be an actor, I was swept up in the idea, the grandiose of being associated with someone famous. He hadn't even done his first drama yet and I was already his fan.
I supported his decision. I told him that I would watch all his movies and buy all his posters. He just smiled at me, and if I hadn't been so in love with him, I would have seen it as patronizing.
Everything happened kind of fast after that. He and his famiy moved to Tokyo to further his career. He was only sixteen but the moment he decided to be in showbusiness, he threw everything he had into making his dreams come true. I was naïve enough to believe his promises that the lines of communication between us would be kept open and that nothing would change.
But he became popular too fast too soon. He shot to stardom as "Hozu Shuuhei", while I was left in the past. He became very busy, too busy to even call his bestfriend. He would write letters whenever he had time, and this meager act was enough to keep me hoping that somehow, I could be more than just his friend.
Every year for the next three years, he would return to Kyoto. Although the visits were relatively short, lasting for four days at most, he stayed true to one of his promises. For those few days we were back together, it felt like nothing had changed between us. He would be silly old Kuu, and I would be his affectionate Saena. He would be the same old glutton I knew, and I, I would be the loving cook who would prepare feasts fit for a king just for him.
I could pinpoint the exact time when things did change between us. It was just after his trip to his father's homeland. He kept writing in his letters about this model he had met, whom he was positive was the epitome of grace and beauty. He kept going on about her golden tresses and clear blue eyes, and how she would attract everyone's attention wherever her she went. And how she would glide instead of walk and about how her mere presence would reduce him to a clumsy stuttering idiot.
In my anger and jealousy, after his seventh letter about this "Julie", I had written back that she was probably just a blonde bimbo who had nothing but her appearance to show for. I didn't realize until then how spiteful I could be. Kuu did not reply, and due to my extreme pride, I did not even consider apologizing.
Not long after, I heard from the news that Japan's "Hozu Shuuhei" was no more. In his place would be "Kuu Hizuri" who would be the country's answer to Hollywood's biggest stars. He had been offered a career in the States, and without hesitation, he had accepted.
I tried getting in touch with him, going as far as riding the train to Tokyo, but I didn't even catch a glimpse of a single hair of his. He was far too busy preparing for his move to Hollywood and as such, would have no time to spare for an "old friend".
I watched him leave for a new life that fateful Sunday morning, along with probably three quarters of the country's population. I was at the airport, crying and shouting, but he couldn't hear me amidst the noise of all his fans. To other people, I looked like any other girl there, tears streaming down the face, body shaking with sobs.
For the next few years I would pounce on any news about him like a hawk finding its prey. The news would always be about his latest project, or the latest celebrity he'd met. There were never any reports about his private life. To the press, and everyone else for that matter, the "Kuu Hizuru" behind the cameras was a total enigma. I didn't know whether to be happy or sad about it, knowing that he could be living a life that I was completely not privy to.
He showed up suddenly on my doorstep one summer morning. And just like that, I was sixteen again and in love. Like the past five years hadn't happened. All I could think of was that he was back and that he would not leave me all alone again. I couldn't take my eyes away from his handsome face and the smile he wore that reminded me so much of when we were kids. I had cried and laughed at the same time, fists scrunching up the material of his shirt, as he held me in his embrace and lifted my feet off the ground. Then, still smiling, he lowered me back down and told me he had someone he liked me to meet.
It was probably how proud he sounded when he said it. Or how he blushed and shuffled his feet. Or how he had this glazed and distracted look in his eyes that made it seem as though he wasn't looking at me, but instead at somebody else. Whatever it was, the strangeness suddenly made me feel very apprehensive. Like I was heading for a car crash I couldn't avoid. Something was tugging at the corner of my mind, but the rest of me wouldn't even entertain the thought. My heart was pounding painfully against my ribcage. I couldn't breathe and my surroundings were starting to swim.
It was the sudden movement of his fingers that made me look at them. What I saw made me lose all feeling in my legs. A gold band. A simple gold band on his ring finger. He was never one for jewelry and expensive accessories, and seeing as it was the only ring he had on, and by the way he kept on adjusting it on his finger as if he was afraid that it would be loose and fall off, it had felt like a silent confirmation of my deepest fears.
The realization that he was now somebody else's made me tremble and fall on my knees. Worriedly, he hurried to my side, but I swatted the hand that he tried to help me up with. The hand with that damned ring.
We must have made quite a commotion because people had started running towards us. With them, I saw her. The one with the golden tresses and clear blue eyes. The one that attracted everyone's attention wherever she went. The one that glided instead of walked. The one that reduced Kuu, my Kuu, to a clumsy stuttering idiot. Julie.
The mere thought of her being near me had me shaking. I quickly got up and made some flimsy excuse about being sick and locked myself in my room for the rest of his stay in our town. He must have known then how I felt about him because he didn't insist on seeing me, or introducing his wife for that matter.
Yes. His wife. Everyone was talking about her. Even my parents. Everywhere, everyone was talking about the perfect couple. All I wanted at that moment was to hurl myself out the window. But I wouldn't ruin this for Kuu. Eventhough my life, which I painstakingly planned since I was in kindergarten, was now irreparably ruined, I couldn't bear to hate him, let alone cause him pain.
He left a note before they went back to the U.S. Just a piece of paper with the word "Sorry" on it. Not exactly my choice of a parting shot to someone you had known your whole life. No empty promises about keeping in touch and staying friends this time.
After that, I immersed myself in my studies. And after that, work. My parents were worried, and I could see it in their eyes. They've noticed that I wasn't hanging out with others my age, and they've decided that this was not normal. Ha, I almost laughed out loud at this. I've always been by myself whenever Kuu wasn't around. Nobody just realized that I was lonely because I had my dreams to cling to. With him in my mind, I could smile and pretend that everything's okay.
So I wasn't surprised when my mother suddenly introduced her friend's son to me. Apparently, he was born in Kyoto but they moved to Tokyo just before he was two. Again, I was reminded of Kuu. Moving to Tokyo and being an actor had dealt our relationship the biggest blow, and I couldn't help the hate that was starting the brew within me.
My mom had to raise her voice just to get me back into the conversation. Not that there was much talking to begin with. The boy (I refuse to call him a man) had been staring at me the whole time, obviously smitten. I was trying to hold in check the disgust I was feeling and tried to say a few words here in there, just to be polite.
He had asked if it was okay if he could see more of me and I raised my eyebrows at this. Is he trying for a double entendre? If he is, I'm going to slap him into next week. Realizing his error, the guy had clarified and asked if he could maybe "hang out" with me. "Hang out" apparently being the new word for "date" when in the presence of your parents.
Well, what the heck, I thought. He was easy enough on the eyes, and maybe, just maybe, he might prove enough to be a distraction from my pain. I said yes, and I could see my mother trying not to show how glad she was at this turn of events. And failing.
She had giddily gone off with his mother to, in her exact words, "give the young ones some time to know more about each other". Yeah, right. Like I gave a damn about what he liked to do during his spare time, or what he wears when he sleeps. Yeah, even I had to admit I didn't see that one coming. He obviously wanted to liven up the atmosphere a little and make me laugh. I didn't laugh. What an idiot.
I put up with him for a while, just to get my parents off my case. He was trying so very hard to make things work, and if I had actually cared, I would have pitied the guy.
And just when I was starting to settle into this new chapter in my life, he just had to come back. With his wife. And kid. I knew that this was bound to happen sooner or later, but I had desperately wished that it would be later rather than sooner.
They looked so happy. So complete. But it was the sight of the infant in his arms, with those tiny little fingers and tufts of shiny blonde hair, that finally sent me off the edge of despair. I had turned and ran, ran as fast as my legs could carry me, stumbling over fallen branches, oxygen burning in my lungs. I was already tasting iron in my mouth but still, I couldn't stop. I ran as if my life depended on it, and in my haste, I had unknowingly found myself by the stream behind the inn next door.
Only then did I stop, and I felt the reality of my crumbled dreams sink in. I slid down to my knees and cried. Cried for the man I loved for almost two decades. For the life we couldn't spend together. And for the child we could never have.
I wept until I didn't have any more tears to shed. And even then I wanted to howl and make my pain tangible. I wanted it to be something I could see and touch, instead of this horrible feeling that was slowly killing me from the inside. The pain was real only to me, and the intensity of it was driving me mad.
He was there when I stood up and decided that I had grieved enough, patiently waiting under the trees for me to calm down. For a moment I thought that Kuu had come for me, but with a sinking feeling, I realized that it was just the boy. I glared at him, as if daring him to tell me how pathetic I was. He had walked towards me then and took my hand. I tried pulling back but he held on. With a voice that surprisingly didn't waver even once, he had told me that he would take away my pain.
That night, we announced our engagement to our families. To say that my parents were overjoyed would be an understatement. I had agreed, not because I believed his words, but because I was too tired. I've just had about enough of not having anything in my life that didn't revolve around Kuu.
Word traveled fast, and soon enough, Kuu and his family were offering their congratulations and best wishes. The sincerity in his smile was like a sharp jab to the gut. I had to make a conscious effort to breathe and stay on my feet. I smiled back and accepted the kiss he gave me. The first and last one he ever gave me, and if it had been under other circumstances, I would have been the happiest woman alive.
I acted like an excited bride-to-be, and nobody could see beyond my pretensions, not even a great actor like Kuu. He wasn't the only one who knew how to deceive people, after all, I've had years of practice.
Well, nobody, except perhaps my "fiancé". To his credit, he went along with my actions and he never demanded that I return his feelings. He had known exactly what he was getting into.
Eight months after Kuu and his family left to return to the States, we got married in a small ceremony attended only by close family members. It was how I wanted it. I had told everyone that I had wanted the wedding to be intimate, but in truth, I just did not want people to see me getting married to a man I did not love. I almost felt ashamed of being his wife. If it had been to Kuu, I would have wanted the whole world to see.
To nobody's surprise, we settled in Kyoto. My husband found work in my father's company, while I became a housewife. Life was peaceful, but far from happy. I couldn't force myself to care for my husband, and to be perfectly frank, I was getting tired of him acting so considerate towards me. It made feel a little guilty, and guilt wasn't an emotion I was used to.
I was three months pregnant when the accident happened. The police report said it was caused by a drunk driver whose truck collided with the company car. Four died, including my husband.
I didn't cry when I found out. Not even once until he was buried. Not even after. I had been shocked, yes, but other than that, I didn't feel anything else.
People were voicing their admiration for me for what they perceived as my strength. I'd call it apathy.
What I did feel for my late husband was resentment. For leaving me to deal with this, this thing, in my belly. I hadn't wanted any children, but he was persistent. In our three years of marriage, it was the only thing he had asked for, so I gave in.
After the funeral, I gave our house a thorough cleaning. I put all his belongings away and after I was finished, there wasn't any evidence that he had ever lived in that house. My mother dismissed it as my own unique way of expressing grief. That I was probably too pained to look at anything that reminded me of him. What a load of bull.
I had always been sure that when I became a mother, my children would either have light hair or blue eyes, or both. Instead, fate had toyed with me and gave me a Japanese husband, and unless he secretly had foreign blood, following the laws of genetics, I was destined to have a child with dark hair and equally dark eyes.
When she was born, I had been beyond disappointed. I had hoped that she at least would take after me in looks, but she looked every inch like her father. I couldn't bear to look at her for long, much less hold her.
My mother had suggested the name "Kyouko". I would have been perfectly content not to give her a name, but it would have been impractical. I wouldn't have been able to live it down if I had to list a "Baby Girl Mogami" as one of my dependents.
I had sincerely hoped that I would outgrow my unhappiness with the child, but it was not meant to be. Everytime I looked at her, I was reminded of everything that had gone wrong with my life.
My parents had helped me with raising the child, but they died, one after the other, while she was still a toddler. Once again, I felt like I was being pushed into a role that I was not yet ready to accept alone, not for lack of any trying.
I did everything to make myself care for the child. I couldn't do anything about her appearance, but she could at least be as smart as I had been. So I pushed her to excel in her academics. She was good, but never good enough. She wasn't perfect.
She had played with the boy from next door since they had been able to crawl, and when she turned six, I noticed how she would dote on the boy, as if he was the only person that mattered in the world. Together, the picture they painted was so achingly familiar that I felt my chest constrict. Of all the things to inherit from me, this is what she got?
If anything, the realization that my daughter maybe building herself up for heartbreak in the future like her mother only made me resent her even more. I became even more critical of her, as if to offset this perceived weakness. I could see the hurt in her eyes every time I refused to attend a school function, or every time I would slap her hand away when she tried to reach for me. I told myself that she had better learn to be dependent on herself in preparation for the painful road she had chosen, just as I had years before her.
Perhaps she would have a better chance than I did. The boy's parents had liked Kyouko, and she was no stranger to their home. Aside from providing her basic necessities, I honestly haven't been much of a mother to her. She would be better off with a family that could provide her with the affection that I know she desperately craves. And so, I came to a decision. Admittedly, it wasn't an easy one, but it had to be done, for both our sakes. I couldn't keep up the charade of being a good mother any longer and there was no way she could continue staying with me and not be emotionally scarred.
I had talked to the boy's parents who were the proprietors of the inn next door, and arranged for Kyouko to stay with them. I had explained that I had somewhere to go where I couldn't bring a child. I assured them that I would be sending monthly monetary support for my daughter's living expenses. I had implied that I had no plans of coming back and they had understood. They had lived around us long enough to know that I wasn't going to win any Mother of the Year awards in my lifetime.
In no time at all, I had my bags packed and ready to seek out a new life for myself. I didn't say any farewells to my daughter. It would have been inappropriate considering I was practically abandoning her. She and her new "family" had seen me out the door, and as I lifted my bags to my shoulders, I was quite surprised that she did not make a scene. No tantrums, no crying, no begging for me not to leave her. I guess it should have been expected since she had never been an unmanageable kid, unlike the brat she spent so much time with. I stared at her for a while, debating whether I should apologize or give even a brief explanation for what I was about to do, but the look in her eyes gave me pause. It was as if she expected this, me leaving her. In her eyes I saw reluctant acceptance and quiet resignation. In that case, no words are needed. Without looking back, I walked out the door and out of her life.
As I sat on the bus that afternoon, contemplating the consequences of all the decisions I've ever made and how my life had turned out, I realized that I've been dealt the short end of the stick. My life had been filled with twists and ironies, that, had they not been so painful, would have otherwise been laughable. What other cosmic joke would Fate decide to play on us? And for the first time in my life, I prayed with all my heart for the child I couldn't love.
So there it goes. My take on what Kyouko's mother's reasons are for hating her own daughter. When I read in the manga that Kuu had lived in Kyoto, I entertained the possibility that he and Saena may have known each other. The more I thought about it, the more I thought "Why not?"
Skip Beat ain't mine, and if you're reading this, chances are, neither is it yours.
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