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Time In A Bottle

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Time In A Bottle

Chapter Three

by Nick

The days following Robert's funeral were surreal. It was almost as if everyone around us had the same thing on their minds, something important, but no one wanted to be the one to say so. All the kids were home, and unlike the days after Raymond Jr.'s funeral, there was a sense of shock but not surprise.

Even Shelly came home. She looked a lot older than her older sisters, and I privately chocked that up to her years of drug abuse. Her daughter, Ann, looked just like she did when she was the timid little girl that came to live with us all those years before. As concerned as I was about how the years had treated her, though, I was just happy to have my daughter home.

Ronnie seemed to be taking it the hardest. He spent a lot of time out in the garage by himself, sniffling but not wanting to be seen. I made my way out to see him a few times, but I felt like I couldn't reach him. That was hard for me to deal with by itself, though, because I felt like out of all of my kids, I had the closest relationship with him.

Paulette and Francis stayed by Mary's side for days after the funeral. We didn't want to let her out of our sights because she looked like a nervous wreck, but she wouldn't communicate with anyone but the girls. Unfortunately, the news that poured in to our home about Robert's life away from home got more and more disturbing as the days wore on.

We learned he was a suspect in at least three murders, and that while he was in prison, he was caught distributing drugs. I didn't even want to know what kind of drugs they were, but Mary asked and we were given an unflattering list of what he had a hand in doing. The murders were drug related, too, and we were told that the cases would probably be closed within a few months.

That might have been the most crushing detail of it all. Just knowing that the evidence was so great against him that his death meant an end to the investigations made me sick to my stomach. What could have driven our boy to kill? Didn't he remember the anguish of his brother's funeral? How could he inflict that kind of pain on another family? I was having a hard time digesting all of the information we were getting about his criminal record, but Mary seemed numb to it all. I guess there comes a point for some people when enough is enough, and Lord knows we'd had enough heartache to last us a lifetime. Just when we thought things couldn't have gotten anymore shocking, though, we got another phone call that changed our lives.

It turned out that in 1990, Robert had a child he hadn't bothered to tell us about. A son that carried his first and last name. A son that was now four years old and fatherless, but not for the first time. We learned from the boy's mother, whose name was Samantha, that Robert hadn't seen his son since before his first birthday, at her request.

"He was in and out of jail," she said tearfully over the phone. "I just couldn't have that for my son. I hope you understand."

Mary was furious, but not with Samantha. Her anger was focused directly on Robert, and if he had been there for her to project it, he would have certainly paid a dear price.

"What did we do wrong, Ray?" she pleaded with me in a moment of weakness. "We raised our kid's right, didn't we? We've worked hard and took kids in that didn't even belong to us and we made them ours. Why?"

I found out that I was angry too, but there's only so much grieving a man can do in his life. I had to bury two children and miss out on the life of another because she was addicted to drugs. I thought Shelly had done us wrong because she took her baby and ran without giving us a chance to help her. We missed out on watching Shelly turn into a young woman, and we missed out on watching Ann go from an infant to a little girl.

But we found out that what Shelly did paled in comparison to what Robert did. He didn't just kill himself and force us back to the same funeral home where we had held his brother's services, but he deprived us of his seed. He could have at least told us about the baby, but he didn't do it because, we learned, he didn't put a value on human life. How could he? There's no way a person can take three lives and have any sense of what a life is worth.

Richard, in the meanwhile, took another turn for the worst. His drinking got heavier, and his mother and I confronted him about it. He promised us he'd quit, but we had our doubts. He still hadn't found work, but I decided to give him time to sort things out.

He had a rough time at the funeral, but after it was over, he seemed to bounce back with the rest of the kids. He was social and gracious to his brothers and sisters, as always, but he seemed to avoid talking about his brother. Maybe he knew something was wrong, or maybe it was just too painful for him to cope with.

One night Mary and I were sitting on the deck of the pool, enjoying the coolness of a breeze that was flowing through the summer air, when Richard walked out to join us. I thought it was rather odd, because he had become somewhat of a recluse, but we were happy to have his company. He lit a cigarette and settled back in his lawn chair, and then he addressed the two of us in the most serious tone I had ever heard him use in my life.

"That's not going to be me," he said flatly, and I knew he was talking about his brother. "I have too much to live for. My life isn't over. I just wanted you guys to know that I'm checking into rehab tomorrow morning."

I had tears in my eyes when I dropped my son off at the hospital the next day. Mary was with us, and she seemed a little emotional too, but for some reason, I couldn't seem to pull it together. The last hug I gave him before he walked into the large facility he was committing to being at for the next sixty days was hard to release, but I knew I'd have to if he was going to move on.

"He's going to be okay, isn't he?" Mary asked, and I nodded and took her hand as I drove off.

_________________________________________________________________________

Three months later, we met our grandson, Robert Moore Jr., and his mother for the first time. We picked them up at the airport and went to dinner. The resemblance to Robert was striking, and I for one was awestruck at the beauty of the child and his mother. Not so much the outer beauty, either. That was apparent without having to say so. It was the inner beauty they had.

Samantha was one of the nicest, most caring people we had never met, and it showed right away. I was a little guarded at first. There was no way for us to know what we were getting into when we agreed to pick her up at the airport, but I felt like we had to take a chance. If the boy was our flesh and blood, and just from the pictures we had of him, we knew he was, and we had an obligation to him as his grandparents.

We learned that when she first met Robert, he was working as a plumber for her father, a successful contractor where they lived. He was living in a house with four other guys his age, but he seemed to be the most responsible of the bunch. He was able to sweep her off of her feet right away, and it wasn't long before she was pregnant.

"The problem was that he couldn't keep himself out of trouble," she said. "He had so many plans for our future. He wanted Robert Jr. to have the best of everything. He just couldn't make himself do it."

"Well, we want Robert Jr. to have the best of everything, too," Mary declared. "We want both of you to be okay, and we'll do anything you need us to."

Having Robert Jr. around the house for a week was an absolute joy. The first time he climbed into my lap he had me hooked, and I couldn't believe that this beautiful boy had been alive for four years and my wife and I never knew. I felt even more robbed than I had before, especially when I watched him interact with his Uncle Richard. They had a natural connection that I admit to being jealous of.

We grew so close to that kid and his mom that it was hard to say goodbye when it was time for them to fly home, but Samantha promised us they'd be back. We were all in tears as she boarded the plane with Robert Jr., but I resolved myself to stay strong and keep my focus on their next visit, which we had planned for early September. In the meanwhile, I had business at home to tend too.

Less than a month after Samantha brought our grandson out to see us for the first time, Ronnie gave us the news that he was getting married. Mary and I were so happy for him that we immediately went to the bank, took ten thousand dollars out of our savings account, and gave it to him as a gift for a down payment on a house. Four months later, with his brother Richard as his best man and all of his other brothers and sisters in attendance, my youngest son was married to the love of his life, his high school sweetheart, Susan.

On Christmas morning they gave us the best present we could have asked for; the news that they were expecting a child. Susan was three months pregnant. Over the next six months Mary was at her side everyday, taking her shopping and to all of her doctor's appointments. When she gave birth, Mary was at her side, along with Ronnie, and helped welcome our newest grandchild, a little girl named Savanna.

While my wife was spending her time with our granddaughter, I was winding up my service with the park district after thirty-five years. I couldn't believe I was about to retire, but it was true, and I found myself a little nervous. I was too young to cash in on my pension, but I had enough in savings to live quite comfortably. Over the years Mary and I made good choices with our money, and that, with a few smart investments, made the day I was about to see possible.

Richard found a job, too. He went to work for the Iron Workers Union and was making really good money, even as an apprentice. Ultimately, he was able to save up enough money to get a place of his own and share custody of his daughter. It seemed like he was possessed with work when his little girl wasn't there, and I found myself feeling more and more secure about his future.

In July of 1995 I came home from my last day at the job. I was almost in a daze as I drove along the interstate, thinking about everything I had seen in my years. There were so many good times to speak of, but still, so many dark days when I didn't know what was next. As I took the same freeway exit that I had taken for the last thirty-five years, I took a deep breath and smiled, rejuvenated and ready to face my future, no matter what it held.

I parked my truck in the driveway and walked up to my house. Before I went inside I took a seat on the front porch and looked out into the front yard. In my mind, I could picture Little Raymond out there, all by himself, riding his tricycle, and I started to feel a little emotional. Then I thought back to the day that Robert set the field at the end of our block on fire, and once again, I pictured him running up the sidewalk to tell me that he didn't do it.

The sounds of children screaming in the front and back yards filled my ears for a moment, but then it was gone. I couldn't help but wonder what went wrong for Robert. Was it because he couldn't cope with his brother's death? Maybe we should have gotten him some counseling. Heck, maybe we should have gotten everyone some counseling.

And what about Francis, Hank, Jerry, Paulette and Shelly? They probably could have used some type of counseling as soon as they were placed with us, but Mary and I never thought about that. We had so much happening in our lives at the time that we just wanted to stabilize things for them and move on. But maybe we failed at that. Certainly we should have done better by Jerry, but he seemed to be doing well.

My eyes were starting to moisten with the pain of the years we'd all endured, and I couldn't help but let my mind drift back to the night that I went to Mary and confessed my infidelity to her. At the time I thought my marriage was over, but she was more forgiving than that. I begged her to trust me, and she did, but was it worth it to her? Maybe someone else could have given her more.

I wiped my eyes and stood up just in time for the front door to open. Mary was waiting for me with a smile. I sighed and cocked my head to one side, then I accepted her hand and walked through the door, hungry for dinner.

"What were you thinking about out there?" she asked knowingly, reaching for my free hand as I used the other to unlace my work boots for the last time.

"Just everything and everyone," I said with a smile. "I'm sorry I didn't do more for us, dear."

"Honey are you serious?" she asked. "What more could we want?"

"A bigger house?" I suggested, but I knew that wasn't what I meant.

"If you think for a minute that there was ever another man I could have loved, you're wrong Raymond Moore," she said pointedly.

"What about the kids?" I asked her, and her reply was to look down.

"We can't change anything, Ray," she said. "It's pointless to look back. We have to look forward because that's what's waiting for us. Not what's back there."

__________________________________________________________________________

It turns out that I settled into my retirement quite nicely. I was surrounded by my grand kids and all of the kids seemed to be coming around more often than ever. The sounds of kids screaming in the front and back yards filled my ears again, but this time, it was because the yard was full of grand children, and Mary and I were eating it up.

Francis's kids, Marie and Nathaniel, both had children and now we were great-grandparents. Marie had a little boy named Kevin and Nathaniel and his fiancée had a set of twins they named Nathan and Alexandra. We didn't have a lot of time to revel in that experience, though, because Ronnie and Susan had another baby, this time a boy named Trevor, and our days were soon happily filled with trying to split time up between our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

By the time 1997 rolled around Mary and I had settled into a routine of walking, swimming and fulfilling our duties as grandparents by acting as full time babysitters. Usually, we had the kids from around 11 in the morning to as late as 4:30 in the afternoon, but there were times when it could have been later, which was fine with us.

One Friday, after Ronnie picked up Savanna and Trevor, I was laying on the couch when a sharp pain shot down my left arm. I called out for Mary, but she couldn't hear me, so I managed to make my way to the phone and dial 911. When I sat back in a chair and waited for the ambulance to arrive, Mary walked into the living room and spotted me holding my arm.

"I think I'm having a heart attack," I told her calmly. To be honest, I don't know how I was able to remain so calm when the truth was, I was consciously aware of what was happening. Mary thought quickly and got me two aspirin to take while we waited, then she cursed them for taking so long.

Having open-heart surgery doesn't hurt when they're actually performing the operation, but once you're sewn back up, it hurts like hell. Once I was released from the hospital, I was ordered to carry a pillow around with me and hug it to my chest.

I know the little ones didn't understand at first why they couldn't climb on Grandpa's lap and all over his body, but we had to keep them at bay. It was hard for me, too, because all I wanted to do was pick them up and play with them, but I knew better. Unfortunately, my diet also had to change. Mary wasn't budging with that, either. I tried to convince her that I could still indulge every now and then in some morning bacon, but she just cut her eyes at me in a silent warning not to press my luck.

When my chest finally healed enough for me to try to resume some of my normal activities, I didn't hold back. I wanted to spend as much time playing with my grand kids as I could. The way I saw it, I had a lot of time to make up for, and I planned on doing just that. It didn't take very long for the yard to fill up again, and as the Summer of 1998 approached, our pool filled up too. Samantha brought Robert back out to see us, this time for a month, and I was shocked to see how much the boy had grown. He was eight years old, but he was as tall as an eleven or twelve year old, and he seemed to be as mature as he was tall.

Of course he followed his Uncle Richard around as much as possible, and Richard made a point of taking a week of vacation to spend with his daughter and his nephew, who looked more and more like his father and his Uncle every day. Samantha was doing well, too. She had just graduated from college with her four year teaching degree, and was about to start her internship in September.

It seemed like the month blew by us and before we knew it, we were driving them back to the airport for another tearful goodbye. I hated to see them leave again, but I understood they were living their lives and that Samantha and Robert were surrounded by her family. Still, I wished there was a way we could have extended the stay.

At the end of the summer I got a panicked phone call from my granddaughter, Theresa, that something was wrong with her dad. I told her to hang up the phone and call 911 and that I was on my way. I jumped in my truck and tore out of the driveway as fast as I could to make the five minute drive to Richard's house. When I got there, Theresa met me at the door, and she was hysterical. I ran inside as fast as I could and no sooner had I made it to the front hallway did I see my son, laying on his back with spit so thick it looked like foam coming from his mouth.

He was motionless and he didn't appear to be breathing, so I frantically gave him CPR. A few moments later an ambulance and fire truck arrived, so I got out of their way while they worked on him. The whole time they were treating him, I kept promising Theresa that everything would be alright. It had to be, I thought.

I watched with alarm when they loaded my son onto a stretcher and rolled him out to the rescue unit, administering CPR the entire time. As chaotic as the scene was, I felt a strange calm come over me as the ambulance pulled away. I knelt down with Theresa and wrapped my arm around her eleven-year-old body and gave her the most comforting hug I could before I locked the door to Richard's house and drove to the hospital.

___________________________________________________________________________

Losing one child is hard. Losing two is unthinkable. But there are no words in my vocabulary that would do justice to the feeling of losing a third son. Especially one so full of promise and love. That's what my son Richard was. He had the ability to do anything he wanted with his life. He was so smart, and I always felt like he had shortchanged himself when he dropped out of high school.

Breaking the news to my wife was unbelievable. We'd already buried two of our kids, and now death had come for another.

I had no explanation for what happened. My wife was put Valium and almost admitted to the hospital herself. At the last minute she managed to get herself together and breathe deeply for a few minutes before she composed herself enough to grab my arm and let me help her out to my truck.

Paulette was the first to arrive, and it was obvious that she was grief stricken. When Ronnie arrived, he had no idea what happened. The look on his face when we told him Richard was gone is too painful to remember, so I tried to put it out of my mind. He actually dropped to his knees and hysterically cursed The Lord, but Mary was having none of that. She helped him to his feet and told him, then took him in her arms, holding his head and shushing him until he calmed down enough to come to grips, even if it was only somewhat, with Richard's passing.

Francis and Paulette took the responsibility of calling and informing people, and I didn't envy them. I knew that Mary or I should have been the ones to call Samantha and let her know so she could tell Robert Jr., but I didn't have the nerve or the will, so I let Paulette do it. While the two of them were busy making calls, Mary and I had to go make funeral arrangements for our son.

Driving up to that same damn funeral parlor was like a nightmare. The first time we did it, we knew it was coming. The second time we did it, we swore that we'd never go there again. But somehow, as if it reached out and grabbed us, we were back, walking through that same set of doors and sitting in the same damn office.

"This has to stop, Ray," Mary almost pleaded with me as she tearfully clutched my arm for support even though we were both seated. "I can't do this anymore. Why didn't God take me instead?"

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