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Time In A Bottle

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Time In A Bottle

Chapter Two

by Nick

I couldn't concentrate. Every time I tried to focus on what I was doing, my mind would take me back to a place that I could never return to, no matter what I did. I would've given my life to see him take his first steps all over again. Or maybe to hear his voice again. Just to feel his warm tummy while he slept, to listen to his light snoring and watch his chest heave up and down.

It was a cruel irony that the morning of Raymond Jr.'s funeral, I awoke to the sound of crunching coming from the dining room. I sat up and looked around my room. My wife, who had to take sedatives to sleep, was next to me and the house was otherwise still. I slowly pulled back the covers and listened as the sound of Cornflakes being eaten filled my ears and I held out hope that maybe, just maybe, it was all just a terrible dream.

When I made it out to the kitchen, though, that hope was dashed. Ronnie, my youngest, was sitting at the table in front of a bowl of Raymond Jr.'s cereal that he'd poured for himself because his brother wasn't there to do it for him.

"Good morning daddy," he said, his eyes focused on the back of the box of cereal.

"Good morning son," I said quietly, taking a seat at the table to watch him eat. "I see you got your cereal all by yourself this morning."

"I know how," he told me almost defensively, and all I could do was chuckle. "Are you hungry?"

"Not right now son," I said, not wanting to let my youngest know that I was actually sick to my stomach. "When you finish your breakfast I want you to get ready, okay?"

"Okay daddy," he said with a smile, and I had to blink back tears. What would this boy see today? How would what we were going to do impact the rest of his life? What about his brothers and sisters? I was having a hard enough time trying to minimize the impact on Mary and I, let alone on my children.

I honestly don't know how I would have done it that day if it hadn't been for Francis. She showed up early and took over the task of making sure her brothers and sisters were in their outfits and on their best behavior. With her there to handle the kids, I was free to take care of my wife.

Mary was silent all morning. In fact, she didn't say a word to me. She didn't say a word to anyone that morning. I tried to get her to talk, but there was no reaching her. I knew it was because she was on the verge of falling apart, but her silence was scary. I came out of my room and asked Francis to go see her while I talked to the kids, who I felt needed to hear from us that morning.

Richard and Robert looked like perfect little gentlemen and Ronnie was fidgeting, but he was still handsome in his suit. I looked over at Hank, who was teary eyed as he sat between his two sisters, who were obviously taking the death of their brother hard. I wasn't too sure what to say, so I just knelt and motioned them all to me one at a time for a hug.

"I love you all," I said as I stood back up. "And we're going to be fine. Your brother fought hard, and I think he'd want us all to be happy that his struggle's over now. He's not suffering anymore."

They all seemed to understand what I was saying, and even though there were quite a few more tears, they managed to collect themselves and we got on with our morning.

Francis drove the kids to the funeral so Mary and I could have a little privacy that morning. The first thing we noticed when we arrived was just how many cars were in the parking lot. Raymond Jr. had a lot of friends, and so did we, but the support we received was overwhelming. I started to get a little emotional as soon as I parked the car, but Mary reached over, took my hand in hers, and gave it a firm squeeze.

"I love you Raymond," she said with a sob, and all I could think to do was to collect her in my arms while she grieved for the son we were about to bury.

"I love you too dear," I said, trying to be as strong as I could. "We need to get inside."

Being at your own child's funeral is like stepping into an alternate reality, because nothing seems real. It feels like it can't be, like there's no way for that much pain to exist anywhere in the world. I watched from the front pew as my son's casket lay open, and all I could think was that there had to be some sort of mistake. How could that be my boy laying there? How was that possible?

Toward the end of the service, family and friends filed past the casket one last time to pay their final respects, then came the moment for the kids, my wife and I to say goodbye. We all gave him one last kiss, but I made sure I let Mary go first and last. The funeral director came over to close the casket, and Mary let out a loud gasp and collapsed at my feet. I helped her up and with tears streaming down her cheeks: she looked up and whaled, "Oh God, Thank you for taking my baby. Thank you for taking my baby."

There are certain moments in life that we hold on to. Sometimes because the moments are happy, and other times, because they're tragic. But this moment was different. Yes, we were facing a profound loss that we couldn't even begin to grasp. But this was something different and I wouldn't even have been able to put a finger on it at that moment. The truth was, though, that what I was reveling in was the unbreakable faith she had that Raymond Jr. was in God's care.

I was married to an amazing woman.

________________________________________________________________________

I'd like to be able to say that from there we managed to bounce back, but I'd be lying. In fact, not two months after Raymond Jr.'s funeral we were facing a serious crisis.

One of the twins, Robert, found himself in trouble for shoplifting. I was shocked when a police car pulled up and my son was sitting in the back seat with his head lowered in shame, but I just knew we'd be able to overcome it. I explained to the officer that he'd just lost his brother and was having a hard time. In reply, the officer suggested that I go to Safeway, which was where he was caught stealing, and explain to the store manager. I did, and the charges went away.

Unfortunately, at the same time all of this was happening, Paulette had a boyfriend that we didn't know about. She came home and told us she was pregnant, and what were we to do? We had no choice but to tell her that we'd be there for her, and Mary practically begged her not to abort the baby. Later that year she gave birth to a little boy she named Mark, and once again, we were grandparents.

Mary was working more than ever. I know it was because she was looking for a way to cope with losing Raymond Jr., and maybe as a way to escape her home life. The boys were getting older, and they all resembled their brother so much it was painful. Even worse, she refused to talk about Raymond Jr. It was as if he never existed, and I was having a real problem with that.

One weekend I was at home alone. Mary was at work, as usual, and the kids were all scattered around the neighborhood playing. All of the sudden I heard a screaming siren. I worriedly went out front to see what was going on, and I almost had to blink. Robert was running as fast as he could toward me, shaking his head and speaking incoherently.

"It wasn't me, dad, it wasn't me," he said over and over. Behind him was a large plume of smoke coming from a nearby field. I looked back down at my son, who looked as guilty as anyone I knew, and I marched him back down to the field. As it turned out, the fire was easily contained but the fire marshal was hot. Robert finally confessed to us that he had been smoking one of his mom's cigarettes and thought he saw me coming, so he tossed it off to the side.

I didn't wait to get him home. Instead, I pulled his pants down in front of the fire marshal and the rest of our neighbors, who had all gathered to see what was happening, and I blistered his bottom.

"I hate you!" he cried, but that only made me whip him harder. When I was done, I dragged him down the road by his arm to our house, where I threw him in his room and told him to stay out of my site.

When his court date arrived, I made sure the judge was hard on him. He was sentenced to six months of community service on the weekends, which meant they would span well past his fourteenth birthday. I knew he blamed me, and he was right to. I influenced the judge's decision, but I did it for his own good. I just wished he could have seen things that way.

When our twins turned sixteen they both dropped out of school. I was disappointed, but there wasn't a lot I could do. If they didn't want to try, I wasn't going to torture them. Mary had left the antique shop, selling her half to her sister, and had taken a job in sales. I was worried that it wouldn't be a good fit for her, but she proved me wrong. Unfortunately, she also picked up her work schedule, and was spending upwards of seventy-five hours at work.

Richard found a job at a local gas station and was able to learn a trade. I tried to get through to him that he needed to get back to school, but he wouldn't budge. Robert was another story. He had so many dreams, and no way to make them come true. I begged him to go back to school but he didn't think he could catch back up to his classmates, and he wasn't interested in graduating late.

Little Ronnie, on the other hand, seemed to be doing alright. His schoolwork was coming along, and I kept him busy at home with chores and various activities. I tried to set an example with him for the other boys that if he worked hard, I would reward him. When he brought home a report card with straight A's, I got him a Mongoose, the most expensive bike of that era.

Hank, meanwhile, turned eighteen and joined the Navy. We missed having him around, but we knew that he had always dreamed of seeing the world, and this was his opportunity. He would later go back to school while he was serving and after he received two degree's, he became a commissioned officer.

It seemed like only a few days had passed that Hank had moved out that Paulette followed suit. She had been working for a local drug store over the previous year, saving her money and taking good care of Mark. The good news in my opinion was that she was only moving to the next town, which meant Mary and I could be there for her if she needed us. The house she moved to was a little run down, but she was in love with it and wanted desperately to buy it one day. That was enough of a driving factor for me to buy a few gallons of paint, some wood and a rotor tiller and make her run down place a palace.

Ronnie and I would go there each Saturday and spend the day working on the house with her while Mark played in his newly fenced in yard. My son Richard, who had a knack for wiring and plumbing, came over and installed all new ceiling fans, lighting fixtures and faucets and Robert shocked us all by showing up one day to install new doors for all of the rooms, which was something I was planning on doing myself, but I was pressed for time.

Mark was in Kindergarten and still coming over to our house everyday after school. He'd taken a real shine to his uncles, as well as his Aunt Shelly, who came to us with a revelation of her own.

"I'm pregnant," she admitted tearfully to Mary, Paulette and I one evening. Mary took the news better than Paulette, who didn't judge her sister but worried out loud what she would do.

"It's hard to raise a baby when you're young, sis," Paulette warned Shelly. "But we're going to be there for you. I promise."

I found myself almost numb to the process by that point. Francis had been a teenage mom, Paulette followed her example and now it seemed almost natural that Shelly was going to take her turn. I suspected that at some point along the way, in the middle of all of the physical abuse the kids had suffered at the hands of their dad, that there might have been some sexual abuse too.

I brought the possibility up to Mary, but she dismissed the idea as nonsense and reminded me that we knew the Van Kemp's for years.

"How could you even think such a thing, Raymond," she admonished me.

"Did you suspect that he was beating his kids?" I countered pointedly, but her reply was to drop it. That told me she thought I was right but wasn't going to acknowledge the reality, and in a way, I found myself thinking that the idea was easier to ignore than to face.

In April of 1983, Shelly gave birth to a baby girl she named Ann, then she dropped out of school. She wanted to get a job like her sister, but it's hard for a seventeen-year-old mother to find work anywhere, so Mary and I encouraged her to concentrate on raising her daughter and not worrying about working just yet.

We were more than a little disappointed when she decided to move in with her sister a few months after the baby came, but we understood. Mary was always at work and she probably felt like the only girl in a house full of men. We helped her move her things, but we told her that no matter what, she had a home if she needed it.

Unfortunately, shortly after Shelly's eighteenth birthday, we lost track of her. She had a nasty fight with Paulette and moved out in a rage, and we later learned that it was because she was caught smoking speed out of a glass pipe in the bedroom she shared with her daughter. Paulette was in tears as she gave Mary and I the details of the fight, which included a lot of slapping and hair pulling, not to mention the name-calling.

My wife and I held out hope that she would call us up and ask to come home. We would have driven a thousand miles to get her and bring her back if she would have just called, but we didn't hear from her. We had no idea if she and the baby were okay, or if they were stranded somewhere, cold and hungry. The thought of them being destitute somewhere made me sick to my stomach, but Mary coped with it the way she coped with everything; she dove into her job, piling on more hours and isolating herself from the problem.

When the twins turned eighteen, they took decidedly separate paths. Richard got a second job and started packing his money away. I was so impressed with his attitude and work ethic that I bought him a car that he was supposed to pay me back for. I never accepted the money, though. I didn't feel like it was right.

Robert never seemed to get motivated enough to find work. Instead, he resented that I got a car for his brother and not him, so I relented and bought him a car too. Fair was fair, I reasoned, and there was no way for me to reconcile doing for one what I wasn't doing for the other. Six months after I bought him the car, Robert was picked up on a traffic stop for possession of a controlled substance. His car was impounded and he was sentenced to a year in prison.

"I'm not going," Mary said decidedly when I tried to prod her to come with me to visit him. "I didn't raise my boys to end up in prison. No. I'll see him when he gets out."

Robert never forgave his mother for that. When he was released, he made it a point to move as far away as he could go with what money he had. He kept in touch with me by phone and mail, but it was obvious that he wanted to come home. We wanted him to come home too, but he was a grown man and there was no way we could force him to.

By the time Ronnie graduated from high school, it was 1987 and we hadn't seen Robert in five years. Richard was doing great, though. He was working hard and had met a beautiful girl, Andrea. He was twenty-three and ready to conquer the world. He got married and moved away, and a few months later, Andrea gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl named Theresa.

We'd go and visit frequently, and it was then that Mary decided that she was finished working.

"I'm ready to stay home now and be a grandma," she said. "I have five precious grandchildren, and I've been at work through all of it. Not anymore."

For the next six years things seemed like they couldn't get any better. Sure, we missed Robert, but he was calling more and more and he finally agreed to come home for a visit. When we went to the airport to pick him up, I felt a sense of pride course through me that I never could have imagined. My boy was all grown up, and he looked like he'd been taking good care of himself. He spoke eloquently and stood up straight all the time. He seemed to be doing fine money wise and didn't ask us for a dime. In fact, he had good news for us.

"I'm getting married," he said with a smile. "Of course you're all invited."

"I'm so proud of you, son," I said, wrapping my arms around him tightly. I felt a trickle on my shoulder, and I realized he was crying.

"That's all I wanted to hear," he said. "That's what I've been working for."

We were sad when he left, but I had a warm feeling in my chest instead of the sick one I had when he moved away after getting out of prison. We were sure that he had a firm grasp on his life, but sometimes what we think we see isn't what's there.

Six months after his visit we got a phone call from Robert. He was in tears, and he begged me not to hang up on him. He then proceeded to tell me that he was back in prison, and that he'd be in for at least three years. The look on my wife's face told the story better than I ever could, but she summed it up in two sentences.

"He can't help it, Ray," she said. "He's a criminal."

That same year Richard was back home, in the process of a divorce. He was drinking a lot, and he hadn't worked in months. He came home to get his life back on track, then he was supposed to move on, but that didn't seem to be happening. Instead, his drinking only got worse, and he went into a deep depression. He got job offer after job offer but he wasn't biting.

I was ready to put him out but Mary wouldn't have it. She said that he'd get his act together soon enough, and that in the meantime, we had to be understanding. It was hard for me to be understanding, though, when my granddaughter would come to visit her dad and he was drunk. He never had money to take her anywhere and ultimately, it was my wife and I who had to keep her entertained while he wallowed in his own troubles.

I was just about to snap and give Mary an ultimatum about Richard when something diverted our attention. A visit, actually, from the sheriff.

"Mr. Moore, Mrs. Moore?" he asked, trying to confirm our identities.

"Yes," I answered, not sure what they wanted.

"Are you the parent's of Robert Moore?" he asked, and I nodded to confirm.

"I'm sorry to inform you that he was found dead in his cell this morning," he said solemnly and a jolt of shock ran from my stomach all the way through my legs that turned them to rubber. "He apparently hanged himself. I'm very sorry."

"Thank you," I said, taking a deep breath before I closed the door.

My wife closed her eyes, taking a breath of her own, then she reopened them and said, "I've got to get some fresh air."

Without another word, she grabbed her purse and walked out the door. I listened as her car started, backed out of the driveway, and pulled away, then I walked through the house to find my son to tell him that his twin brother was gone.

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