Summary: Ben reflects on the son he should have had.
Rating: K WC 768
My Little Boy Who Never Was
Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone. Not a single drop of my blood in your veins. But you could have been—should have been—mine. My son . . . my boy . . . my little boy who never was. My life, but, more markedly, yours would have been so different, if only. . . .
If only what? If only I had known you existed? If only I had realized the perfidy that woman—that witch—was capable of? But I first heard of you from the lips of an angel . . . a dear, deluded, disillusioned angel . . . an angel with a bleeding heart. Don’t blame her for the way your life turned out, my little boy who never was. She never knew you’d been ripped from her arms, not by death, but by something much colder . . . by the calculated hatred of one woman, your grandmother.
But for the web of lies that spider so skillfully spun, you would have been ours. We would have raised you together, here on the Ponderosa. We would have watched you grow from baby to boy, from stripling to man and applauded each step of your journey. I would have taught you to ride and rope, to respect the land and, more importantly—oh, how much more importantly!—yourself. You’d never have had to wander from home to discover who you were, if you’d been my little boy. All those lonely years need not have been. You’d have known, from your earliest days, that you were loved, that you had immeasurable worth, that the gift of life was not a thing to recklessly squander.
You wouldn’t have had your mother’s love long. None of my boys knew a mother’s love for long, but you’d have had mine. I would have loved you like my own, as she loved my Adam and Hoss as if she had given them life. I would have poured myself into you as I did into them, and you would have had the guidance of the two finest big brothers there ever were, in addition to my own. You’d have grown straight and tall, inside and out, like the trees that surround us. You’d have breathed in our values along with the clean, pungent fragrance of pine.
And like Hoss and Adam, you’d have grown up knowing that you had to give guidance, as well as receive it. You’d have had a little brother looking up to you, adoring you, longing to be just like you, and you, like them, would have learned responsibility, if only you had grown up in this home as brother to Adam and Hoss and Little Joe. Oh, how I could have used your help with that little handful! But he’d have helped you, too. You’d have learned much more than responsibility if my Joseph had been part of your life from the day of his birth. You wouldn’t be the sober young man with a heart full of secrets and a past best forgotten that we finally met. You would have learned laughter from Little Joe and zest for life. Maybe you’d have picked up his penchant for mischief, too, and a double dose of that might have been more than I could handle! But, at least, you’d have known the joy that is Joseph, as well as the perception that personifies Adam and the loving heart of Hoss. Strength of body, mind and soul—that’s what your brothers could have given you. What a difference it might have made!
I think we could still have made a difference in your life, Clay, if only you’d given us the chance. You didn’t have to run from trouble, even though I know you did it out of love and concern for your brother. Cartwrights face trouble together. Oh, I know you weren’t a Cartwright, but you could have been. I’d have gladly given you my name, my home, a place in my heart. You could have been—should have been—my third son. But that you never were. That place belongs to another.
I hold him now in my arms: flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, heart of my heart . . . my little boy who is—well, was. Joseph is a man now, no longer a boy, but heartbroken as a child, he weeps in my embrace. He weeps for the brother he has lost, and though my eyes are dry, my heart weeps, too, for all the wasted years, for the love I might have shown, for you . . . my little boy who never was.
© July, 2005