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Time In A Bottle

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Time In A Bottle

Chapter One

by Nick

In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years___Unknown

Touché.

He tried to tell me, but I wouldn't hear it. I was too stubborn, too set in my ways. I had my mind made up, and there was no going back on my convictions. Not for me.

My stubbornness has been called my most damning quality, but I've always dismissed that notion. As a man, I felt like I had to go with my gut because in the end, I was the only person I could count on. I wasn't going to let anyone tell me who I was or how to be that person. I was my own man, and if I wanted to be an island, dammit, I was going to be an island.

He happens to be Charlie Gordon, the man who hired me in 1960 to work for the park district. I was a strapping eighteen year old with all of the answers. I was recently married, and my wife was expecting the first of our four sons. Going home every night from work and seeing my wife's protruding belly made my head swell with pride. The pride that my own father tried to take from me as a child. The pride I always longed to posses in myself.

What I didn't know yet was that pride can also be of the foolish persuasion.

My name is Raymond Moore, and as I look back over my life, I understand now what Charlie was trying to tell me. Mary, my wife of forty-six years, and I are facing a crisis of epic proportion. The sad thing is that this crisis has been building right under our noses, but we were too blind to prevent it.

We couldn't stop something that we refused to recognize.

Now it's too late. The losses we've endured have taken a tremendous toll on our lives and on the lives of everyone we love. There was a perfect moment in time when we could have made a simple phone call and ended the madness, but we were both too set in our ways. The price we've paid has been overwhelming, and we've unwittingly taken a little bit from everyone around us to help cover the cost of our mistakes.

I really love my wife. I always have, even if I couldn't always show it. She bore four precious sons for me, and she was unwavering in her love and support of me. I promised her that I would do everything in my power to make her dreams come true if she would give me her hand in marriage, and from the moment we said, "I do," I've worked to keep that promise.

In 1961 she gave birth to Raymond Jr., and I knew at that moment that I had a purpose in this life. That purpose reached beyond getting up, going to work, doing my job, coming home and doing it all again the next day. It was more than paying the bills and having money to take my wife out to dinner. It was more than the bags Mary would bring home from the grocery store or from Woolworth's on a Saturday.

It was about this perfect little person who was living and breathing. It was about his thin, soft hair and his brown eyes. The perfect little button nose that his mom gave him, or the chin he sported that told me he was a Moore. He was the light of my life, and I felt like I couldn't have loved anyone as much as I loved him.

In 1965, though, she would prove me wrong. Mary got pregnant in the beginning of the year, and that same year, she gave birth to twin boys we named Richard and Robert. It was as if I fell in love all over again, and my dedication to my family was stronger than it had ever been. I needed to work more hours to maintain our lifestyle, so I went straight to my boss, Charlie Gordon, and told him about my situation.

Charlie had always been a fair man, as I knew it. When Mary was in the hospital giving birth, he ordered me to take time off to be with her. I was a little worried about finances, but when I got my check, I realized that he had paid me for the time I missed. Tucked in the envelope with my paycheck was a note thanking me for my service to the park district and telling me not to worry about a thing.

"Charlie, this is too much," I said at the time. "I'll pay you back."

"You'll do no such thing, Moore," he practically barked. "You're going to keep that money. It's not a request. It's an order. Do you understand me?"

From that moment on, I had taken a liking to the man I called my boss. I was never intimidated by him before, but I felt a bit of a detachment from him. After the twins were born, though, all of that changed. It seemed like he had taken a real interest in my family, too. I even went so far as to invite him over for Sunday dinner with my wife and kids a few times, and he was happy to accept the invitation.

Charlie was a single man, but he was a man's man. He worked harder than he had to, and he didn't take back talk from anyone. I once saw him put a shovel to the side of a man's head, which was something I never would have thought I'd see out of him. He was ashamed of his actions after that, too, and he made it a point to apologize to his whole crew for his actions.

The man had it coming, though. He was ranting and raving about how Charlie played favorites, which wasn't true, and he challenged Charlie to take him on. I can distinctly remember Charlie telling him to back off before he regretted it, but the man was full of himself, and he wound up paying a heavy price for his actions. Not only was he out of a job, but he had a nasty cut on the side of his face to boot.

It seemed like 1965 blew by me, and 1966 was almost over. The twins were walking and even talking a little, and Raymond Jr. was in Kindergarten. He was getting so big, and I couldn't get over how smart he was. It seemed like he was in his highchair one minute, and we were seeing him off to school the next. He was a little jealous of the attention that the twins required, but when he acted out, I was quick to correct his behavior.

As much as I hated to do it, I realized that there were going to be times when I had to discipline my son. My wife was quick with her shoe or a belt, but I was always too scared to do that because I saw myself as I was. The boy was a third of my size in height, and about a fifth of my size in weight, and I was afraid that the force of my hand would be too much for him.

"He knows you won't spank him," Mary would admonish me privately. "If you don't start now, he'll be impossible, Ray."

"Dear, I hate to do it," I argued. "Look at the size difference."

"It'll happen one day," she said knowingly with a smile. "You'll do fine when it does."

"Never," I said mockingly, as if I were resisting spilling over information during an interrogation before I leaned down to give her a playful peck on the lips.

When he was six, though, I had no choice. He took it upon himself to stir dish soap into his brother Richard's cream of wheat, then he proceeded to try to force it into his mouth.

"Raymond no!" I said as my meaty palm wrapped around his wrist.

I think he was more startled than anything when I grabbed him by the arm with enough force to make him drop the spoon he was holding, but when I actually did the deed of spanking him, he had a look on his face that said his feelings were more hurt than his bottom.

I admit that from that point on, I made it a point to spank my kids when I felt like it was warranted. Of course I tried to avoid it when I could, but there are times when three boys can get themselves into a lot of mischief, and Mary wasn't always able to put a stop to it. I found that the harder I was on my boys, the better they behaved for my wife when I wasn't there.

As soon as I got home from work I knew what kind of day Mary had, because the boys rushed me in the front yard and smothered me in hugs, or they were waiting with trepidation for my arrival, knowing full well that I was bringing their swift but painful punishment with me.

In the middle of 1968 we learned that Mary was pregnant again. To be honest, I was elated for the two of us. I knew how badly she wanted a daughter, and I was ready to have a little girl, too. There's something about a houseful of rowdy boys, even if they're relatively small boys, that can make someone long for the tranquility of a little girl. Sure, they have their own quirks and annoying ways, but for the most part, there's no comparison. I was looking forward to a dollhouse to replace the cap guns and a canopy to replace the bunk beds.

That same year Charlie invited me to go camping with him. We didn't live too far from where he wanted to camp, and he encouraged me to bring Mary and the boys, but I resisted. Mary thought that a camping trip would be good for me, and that I needed some male bonding time, so I told Charlie I'd be joining him alone.

We got to the campsite on a Friday night, and we had a rather easy time getting things set up. I brought a tent of my own, and Charlie help me get it pitched, then we built a fire and drank a few beers. We turned in late that night, but I didn't have a hard time waking up early the next morning to go fishing with Charlie. We'd made plans to be at the stream at six in the morning, but we actually got there at about five thirty.

For the next two hours we talked about things I had never considered before. They weren't inappropriate things, either. They were deep topics about things I hadn't pondered in my life, and I wondered to myself how Charlie had come to the conclusions he had. We talked about the war in Viet Nam, and about women's rights. We talked about the meaning of manhood, and the importance of being true to oneself.

By the end of our weekend, I felt like I had been to Harvard, Yale and Oxford for years. I went home with a different outlook on life and decided that I needed to spend more time with Charlie Gordon.

As it turned out, I did spend more time with Charlie. I found myself helping him around his house, working on his deep sea fishing boat and even going on long rides with him in the company truck along the trails we maintained. The relationship we were forging was one I couldn't have imagined having with another man, but Charlie was so wise and thoughtful that I found myself drawn to him in more ways than one.

I remember the look on Mary's face when I confessed my infidelity to her. It was bad enough that I had cheated on my wife, but to add to the burden, I had to confess that I had cheated on her with another man. I had never seen a more hurt look in my life, and I swore at that moment that I never wanted to cause that kind of pain again.

"Why Raymond?" she asked hysterically. "What have I done but be faithful to you? Did I tie you down? Did I not let you out of the house? Did I nag too much? Tell me!"

"I'm sorry," was all I could say to her, practically pleading on my knees. "I don't know why, Mary, but I promise you it won't happen again. I love you and I need you and the boys. I told you because I need you to forgive me."

"Stay out of my sight," she said coldly. "Just don't touch me anymore. You don't have to leave, but don't touch me."

That night I slept in my bed, next to my wife, but we faced away from each other for the first time in our marriage. I was so used to holding her in my arms at night that I had to clutch my pillow for security. I knew life in our home wasn't going to be the same for a long time, if ever, but I had to try for the sake of my wife and my boys.

Charlie made no effort to cover up his feelings for me after I came clean with Mary. He let me know that my job wasn't at stake, but that I was lying to myself about who I was and what I wanted. I told him to stay away from me, then I asked him to let me transfer to a different office. Without another word, he granted my transfer and I moved on with my life.

In an effort to make things right with my wife, I devoted more time to my family than ever before. Mary gave birth to Ronnie, and we moved on. I tried to tell Mary how sorry I was shortly after Ronnie came home from the hospital, but she told me not to bring it up again. As far as she was concerned, it hadn't happened, and that's how she wanted things to stay.

About a week after we brought Ronnie home from the hospital our fortunes took a peculiar turn. One of our neighbors came over to wish us well and bring a casserole so Mary wouldn't have to cook dinner that evening. We'd known the Van Kemp's for about a year, and my wife and I considered them to be pretty close friends. I suspected that there was some abuse going on in their home, but I had no idea how severe it really was.

Rudolf and Eva Van Kemp brought five children to the United Stated from the Netherlands about six years before Ronnie was born. Rudolf worked for a local refinery and Eva stayed home. They seemed to have plenty, but there was something wrong. The children had odd bruises here and there, and the oldest, Frances, had a nasty scar on her arm that looked like an untreated stab wound. We accepted their generosity, of course, but I decided privately to keep a close eye on the situation at the Van Kemp's.

Things came to a head one evening during supper one July evening. We were sitting out on the patio, enjoying our meal in the warm summer air when we heard a horrible screaming and some rambled Dutch. I got up, moved to the front yard through the side gate, and realized that there was serious trouble.

Rudolf snapped and was out of control. I hurried down the block to restrain him, and it was a good thing. He had murder in his eyes, and as I struggled to keep him under my control, he made it clear that sixteen-year-old Frances was pregnant and he was going to kill her. While I was busy restraining her father, she was wise enough to run straight to the police station. They removed all five children from the home. As a result, the parents wound up divorced and Eva moved back to the Netherlands, where the family originated from.

Suddenly, We went from having four sons of our own to being the foster parents of five other children. They were all badly beaten by their father, we learned, and the emotional scars ran much deeper than the physical ones ever could have. The two boys, Jerry, 15 and Hank, 11, were withdrawn and in denial about what they had gone through. In fact, they hated Frances for telling the police what their home life was like, and refused to speak to her.

The three girls, Francis, Paulette and Shelly, the littlest one, were a joy to have around. Mary loved having three girls to take shopping, and I made sure that I went to great lengths to spend more time with the boys so she could. There were endless trips to the salon and the boutique, and we had Barbie's everywhere. For the first time in a long time, Mary was happy.

In the spring of 1970 Mary put on a huge baby shower for Francis, and in May of that same year, she gave birth to a precious baby girl she named Marie.

The first time I held her in my arms I gazed into her eyes and my heart melted. I swore at the time that she smiled at me, but Mary and Francis said I was being silly.

"She can't smile yet, Ray," Mary said with a smile as she watched me sit on the bricks of our fireplace and cradle baby Marie in my arms. "You're just imagining things."

"Did you smile for Grandpa?" Francis asked playfully as she cooed at her daughter, who was looking up at us in wonder. I couldn't help but smile when I realized that we'd moved beyond the role of being foster parents to these kids. Neither of their parents had bothered to call and see how they were. Not even once. I was a little more shocked at Eva than at Rudolf, who I equated with dirt. Still, the girls and at least Hank were getting along fine. Jerry was a different story altogether. On his sixteenth birthday he came to us with tears in his eyes, and I knew what he wanted.

"I want to move out," he said bravely. "I'm a man now, and I want to earn my own way."

"Jerry, sweetheart, what do you plan to do?" Mary asked softly.

"I have a job lined up," he said confidently. "I can stay with a friend until I get on my feet."

"You know, this is your home," I said quietly. "You can work if that's what you want, and you can stay here."

"I can't do that anymore," he said, turning his attention to a picture of his sister Francis that sat on our mantle. We didn't argue with him. Instead, I took a hundred dollars out of my wallet and handed it to him, then I wished him well. Mary and I reminded him that he always had a home with us, and after a long, tearful round of hugs, he was gone.

Over the next year and a half, Francis married the father of her baby girl and moved to a town not far from us. She kept in touch, and we were honored to be the little girl's maternal grandparents. We took to raising our newly extended family quite nicely. Having foster kids gave Mary the chance to raise the daughters she always dreamed of having, and it gave me a small sense of redemption for my crimes. I felt like this was a way to make up for the infidelity that could have easily ruined my marriage, and that I owed it to my family to do this right.

Later that year, though, Raymond Jr. got sick. At first we thought he had the flu, but it never went away. We took him to the hospital one night when his fever spiked, and much to our horror, they told us that he had cancer. I'd always heard of children having cancer, but I never thought it was possible for my beautiful ten-year-old son to have it.

Three days after his diagnosis, his left leg was amputated. There is no way I could describe in accurate terms the feeling of desperation I felt when I had to tell my little boy that the doctors were going to have to take his leg off. He begged me not to let them do it, and I felt helpless.

"Daddy, please," he begged tearfully as if he were being dealt some type of punishment that I could stop, and my heart broke. "I don't want them to cut my leg off."

He was scared, and I couldn't protect him. I couldn't make things better and I couldn't stop the operation. The treatments were much worse for him, though. There's no way to prepare a child for something as traumatic as chemotherapy and its side effects.

Little Raymond lost so much weight and all of his hair in the process, but his cancer was gone. They were afraid it had spread to a major organ in his body such as his liver or kidney, but we were lucky enough to have caught it on time. There was no telling Raymond that, though.

It was as if a light had stopped shining in my life. He got to come home and he didn't want to do anything. He didn't feel like eating, he didn't feel like talking, he didn't want company and he didn't want to live anymore. He turned his face to the wall every time someone tried to talk to him, and I was honestly scared for his future. The cancer was gone, but so was my Raymond, it seemed.

About six months later he started to come around. He was fitted for a prosthetic leg and eventually, he was up and about. That summer we had a swimming pool installed and he shocked us all by taking his fake leg off and diving in first. By his twelfth birthday there was no sign of the withdrawn, depressed little boy that came home without his left leg.

Things really started looking up in 1975. Francis had another baby, this time a boy she named Nathaniel, and suddenly, we had our second grandchild. We spoiled both of our grandchildren rotten, too. We made sure they had the best of everything, and Mary loved every minute of being a grandma. That same year, she opened an antique store in our neighborhood with her eldest sister Jean and it was an instant success.

By then Ronnie was in Kindergarten, the twins were just shy of their tenth birthdays and Raymond Jr. was obsessed with Farah Faucet. He had all of her sexy posters, even over his mother's loudest objections, and he was hooked on Charlie's Angels. He had posters of her on every wall, and even on his ceiling. It got to the point where Mary refused to walk into his room, which suited Raymond Jr. just fine.

One weekend, though, Raymond Jr. didn't come out of his room for breakfast, which was a bit odd for him. He was typically the first one up every morning, and it was the crunching of his Corn Flakes that woke the rest of the family up. I went in to check on him, and I found him doubled over on his floor. I helped him up and as soon as I had some help, we were in the car and on the way to the hospital.

We were crushed to find out that his cancer was back, and it had spread to his lungs. My wife and I had always been heavy smokers, but not our children. Raymond was 14, and he hadn't touched a cigarette in his life. In fact, he was always the one to tell us how much he hated it because it made him sneeze. It wasn't fair, especially when his doctor told us that his only hope was to have a lung removed.

This time around there was no sign of the depressed, withdrawn boy of years past. I watched with pride and in awe as my son faced his treatments head on, even in the face of such overwhelming odds. While he was still recovering from a round of chemotherapy he called my wife and I to his bed and held our hands for a prayer that shook me to the core. He didn't speak of if he got better, it was when he got better. His faith in The Lord was so inspiring that I was able to find a glimmer of hope where I thought there was none.

He came home from the hospital a few days before his fifteenth birthday. I was amazed at his spirit, too. He still wanted a pool party, and he never let on that he was in pain, even though I knew he was. He jumped in the pool, and my first instinct was to panic, but I changed my mind because I knew he was doing what he needed to do. He needed to be a fifteen year old, and cancer or no cancer, he was determined to do it. I watched the water glistening off of his back as he laughed, splashed, and dunked his brothers and sisters under the water, and I sat in awe of the boy I loved more than life itself.

Two days later, he was in the hospital, and the doctors told us that the cancer had spread to his other lung. They went in and removed half of it, but there was no more to do. My wife and I sat at his bedside and held his hands as we helplessly watched our son slip away from us. I closed my eyes in one last-ditch effort to save him, and I asked God to take my life in exchange for his, but it was not to be.

At 10:36 that evening, Raymond Jr. sat up in his bed, squeezed my hand so hard I thought it was going to break, then he lay back down peacefully. Life had left his young body, and I let out a sob of anguish as I watched my wife crawl into the bed with our son and gather his lifeless body into her arms one last time.

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