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Time In A Bottle

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Time In A Bottle

by Nick

Chapter Five

"Grandpa, how come you aren't outside swimming with us?" Theresa asked inquisitively as she propped herself up on the side of the pool and came out of the water. Before I could answer, she was scrambling to the diving board, where she and her cousins were taking turns doing cannon balls and taking dives into the deep end. I sighed deeply, looking down at my tan legs and realized that it had been weeks since I'd jumped in the pool. Which was completely uncharacteristic for me when the temperature was about to break a hundred degrees. I felt Mary's arm around the back of my neck, holding a cold Seven Up against my bare chest as she took a seat next to me, and I turned and smiled at her.

"I think they want us to jump in, Grandma," I said loud enough for Theresa to hear, taking note of the fact that she had just brought herself back out of the water and was making her way past us again to take another plunge into the water. On a whim, she turned and grinned at us, walking backward but never stopping, and she excitedly yelled, "Yeah, come on!"

Before we had a chance to make up our minds, Theresa and Robert Jr. had conspired with the littler ones to crowd up at the edge of the deck in front of us and start splashing us with water, which made Mary jump in herself so she could seek revenge. While she had them preoccupied on the shallow end, I managed to sneak around to the other side and get in un-noticed. That enabled me to exact my own revenge, especially on the biggest ones.

We were having a nice day with our grandkids and great grandkids. Francis had come by and brought Marie and little Kevin with her. He was three, and smart as a whip. I know it's not unheard of for three-year-olds to be good talkers, but this three-year-old was especially articulate, and used words and phrases that a lot of ten year olds didn't use.

I think part of the reason Francis wanted to bring them along was because Marie was going through a messy divorce. Her husband of four years, who also happened to be named Kevin, was fighting hard to get custody of the boy. There were allegations of abuse, mental illness and infidelity flying all over the place, and it was hard to know what the truth was. I knew one thing, though; I loved my granddaughter, and I was willing to do anything I could to protect her and see her happy.

Kevin didn't strike me as abusive. At least not physically. He's always been docile, if nothing else and he seemed to go out of his way to please Marie. But that was what we saw, and there could have very well been a very different reality happening when they went home. I prayed that the accusations weren't true, but I found it hard to doubt Marie. Francis believed her, and even if she hadn't, I was still her grandfather and I had an obligation to stand by her side.

Watching Francis in the pool with little Kevin made me beam on the inside. She was showing him how to do the breaststroke, and he looked so determined to get it right. The floaters he wore on his arms kept him above water, but he still seemed apprehensive about taking the risk of having his grandma let go. Finally, he took the chance and swam in a small circle that was no larger than eight or nine feet in diameter, but he was so proud of himself. When his grandma tried to steady him for another lap, he made it clear that he could do it by himself. By the end of the afternoon, he had shucked his floaters and was dog paddling by himself in the shallow end with his panicking mother watching him closely.

For Mary and I, getting to that point wasn't exactly easy. The prior year had been a nightmare that I wanted to forget about, and the last six months in particular had been trying my resolve. After my confrontation with Andrea, I sunk into a deep depression that had everyone worried. The only problem was, I couldn't tell anyone what was causing it. I was so disappointed in myself.

It was as if I were reliving it all again. Not just the affair, but also the aftermath. Almost as if I was still looking for forgiveness from my wife. Like I had to make it up to her all over again, because now it wasn't our secret anymore. Somehow, Richard knew. I knew it wasn't because his mother told him. She'd have never done something like that to me, or to the kids.

My only guess was that he somehow overheard his mom and I fighting and remembered it all. But he was so little then, and I don't know how it could have been possible. I wanted to put it all in the back of my mind and move on, but this was something I knew would consume me until I faced it. For a little while I blamed Andrea. It was so much easier to place it all on her shoulders, if only in my mind, because she was the one who used it as a weapon to hurt me.

Of course I knew that was a lie. I brought all of the hurt that stemmed from my affair with Charlie on myself, and on Mary. Unfortunately, I learned, we weren't the only ones dealing with that reality. I made a decision to talk about it in counseling, but I knew that the only way to do that would be for Andrea and Mary to be there. I wanted to confess what I did and apologize for the hurt I caused, hopefully once and for all.

As I suspected, Mary refused to go. Andrea wasn't too keen on the idea either, so I decided to take a different approach.

"Richard knew about what happened," I told her out of nowhere as we drove to meet Andrea and Theresa at the park.

"What are you talking about?" Mary demanded.

"Charlie," I said somberly. My wife looked straight ahead and swallowed hard, then she turned to face me with fire in her eyes.

"What do you mean, he knew?" she said coldly.

"I mean, he knew," I said plaintively. "He told Andrea."

"No he didn't," she said with a tone of finality.

"Dear.." I started, but she cut me off.

"God damn it Raymond, he didn't know!" she shouted.

That did it. I pulled over and stopped the car on the side of the road, then I got out and walked around for a moment, cracking my neck and trying to get my emotions in check. I heard Mary's door close, and as soon as I turned to face her, she was right up on me, getting in my face.

"Why are you doing this to me?" she practically screamed.

"You forget that I'm dealing with this too, Mary!" I shouted back, realizing that this was the first time in thirty-nine years of marriage that I'd raised my voice to my wife. "They weren't just your kids, you know. I lost them too!"

Instead of a verbal reply, Mary's response was to turn and walk back to the car. She got in and fastened her seatbelt, looking straight ahead, and I knew she was doing it again. She wanted to ignore the issue again, because it was so much easier than facing what we were up against. I wasn't having it though.

I took a deep, calming breath, then I walked around to the driver side, got in and pulled off. As we picked up speed, I turned to look at Mary, then I said the unthinkable.

"Mary, if you don't come to counseling with me, I want a divorce."

She never said a word to me. In fact, the rest of the trip to the park was silent. Comfortably silent, in fact. When we got there, Theresa ran up to us with her usual excitement and Mary acted as if nothing were wrong. Instead, she took Theresa off by herself to go pick flowers while Andrea and I sat at a picnic table and watched as they got further and further away.

"I told Mary what we talked about," I told her. "We'll be going to counseling together now. I'd like you to come with us so we can put this behind us, Andrea."

"If Mary wants me there, I'll go," she said stoically. "You know something Ray, this is something you all should have done years ago."

My first sessions with Mary were just the two of us. We had a lot to work through, and neither of us knew where to start. The first thing we had to get through was the communication barrier we had. We'd conditioned ourselves over the years to avoid uncomfortable subjects. In fact, the two of us had never actually sat down and discussed the most devastating heartaches we'd suffered together.

When Raymond Jr. died, we coped with it in different ways. Mary's way of coping with it was her way of coping when he was sick. She worked. She worked and she never came home. She didn't want to face his illness, and she didn't want to face his death. It was too much for her, and once the inevitable did happen, she took herself out of the equation again because it was a way to cope with her loss.

I knew where she was coming from. In the weeks, months and years after Raymond's funeral, I searched for coping mechanisms too. The thing was, I had to face my home life and my family because Mary wasn't there most of the time. The kids came to rely on me for the things that they used to get from Mary. That included emotional support, and I guess, looking back, that wasn't always my forte'.

Don't get me wrong. I loved all of my kids, whether they were born to us or not. But there's a certain motherly element that I couldn't provide. It could only come from Mary, but she wasn't there to give it, and I was a poor substitute in her absence.

When Robert started getting in trouble, I did what I thought was best. Mary gave me absolutely no input on the matter, and only reassured me that she was sure I could handle it. That said, I had to make my choices unchecked, and I couldn't help but feel that I failed my boy somehow. Getting the phone call from him that he had been picked up for possession when he was just eighteen was like a shot in the gut, but I managed to convince myself that time in the county jail was good for him, and it would straighten him out.

Looking back, though, I see how it just made him worse.

Then he moved away and we didn't see him for all those years and we had no idea what was going on. If I had known, I swear I would have gone to get him and bring him home. I would have done anything to save his life, but I had no clue that things had come to that point. His homecoming was such a happy event for all of us, and I had a sad feeling in my gut when he left us, but I was so looking forward to going to his wedding.

I can imagine how it must have felt for him to have to call home again and tell us that he was back in prison. If I never forget anything, it'll be his pleas that I not hang up on him. He begged me not to forsake him, and I didn't know what to do. All he wanted was for me to be proud of him, but he knew deep down that he could never accomplish that as long as he stayed on the course he was traveling.

By that point, though, it was too late. He was already a murderer, and nothing could change that. He had taken the ultimate turn in his life, and there was no redemption for him. If he hadn't hung himself in that jail cell, he almost certainly would have been tried, convicted and executed for First Degree Murder, and at least two of them carried special circumstances.

Maybe that's why he did it. Part of me hoped not, but I'd never know. There was a secret part of me that wanted his reasoning to be more noble. I truly believed that somewhere inside of the body of the monster he had become was a good man. One who wouldn't have done the things he had, and who didn't want that monster to rule his body anymore. I held onto hope that the real Robert was able to emerge just long enough to put an end to the madness that had encompassed his life.

I knew that trying to convey all of that to Mary wasn't going to be easy. She had taken the position that Robert made his own choices and that his fate was the one he sealed for himself. I knew that deep down, she was sick with regret over the years we missed with him, but she wasn't going to admit it. She had to find a way to lay the blame of his death somewhere, and it was logical in her mind to put it all on him.

I agreed to a point, but there was a certain time when we could have stepped in as his parents and made a better choice for him. It should have happened the day he showed up in the back of a cop car for shoplifting. I chalked it up to his grief, though, and let it slide. When he set the field on fire, I saw to it that he paid for his actions, but in my opinion, that was more or less an act of negligence and not a crime.

But for all of my reflection, I knew that there was no turning back the clock. That was one thing Mary was right about. Unfortunately, we parted company on everything after that point. We'd bounded through the years with blinders on and blindsided with tragedy, but Mary didn't want to recognize the path we'd been on.

Somehow we made it through those first few sessions without doing any permanent damage to our marriage, but the moment of truth was upon us, and I knew it. We were about to face the kids, all of the kids, and I was to confess my infidelity to them. Mary was opposed to the idea from the beginning, but our counselor agreed with me that they deserved to know everything, and that we'd never heal as a family unless we faced it head on.

When the afternoon came that we were all supposed to meet, I was a nervous wreck. I refused to let it show on the outside, but on the inside, all of the possibilities were making me sick to my stomach. How would the kids react? How much would they be able to handle? What would be too much?

Mary and I agreed that the only part we would leave out was that I slept with a man. That was inconsequential, according to her, and I secretly praised God for that. I wasn't exactly sure just what would come to a confession of infidelity, but I knew that the revelation itself was bad enough. To add to their shock by mentioning that I happened to sleep with a man wouldn't have been helpful at all.

Mary and I were already in the room when the kids all came in. I felt the hair stand up on the back of my head as they all filed in, but when Mary gripped my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, I was able to relax a little. I was going to speak up, but Mary suddenly spoke up in my place.

"Okay, guys," she said in her usual take-charge voice. "Before we do this, I want you all to know something. Your father and I love you all very much, and we'd never do anything to hurt you. But there's something we have to get out into the open, and we'll need your love and your understanding more than ever once we do."

I cleared my throat and straightened up in my seat as Mary's grip on my hand tightened, then I broke the news to my children that there was a moment of infidelity in our marriage.

Francis and Paulette looked knowingly at each other, then somberly at Mary and I. Hank and Jerry had the same exchange, but they looked far more uncomfortable when they turned to face us. Shelly looked down at the floor, then guiltily up at Ronnie, who had a combination of confusion and hurt in his eyes. I turned to look at my wife, who looked as bewildered as I felt by the looks we were getting, then the two of us turned to face our kids for an explanation.

"Dad, we knew already," Hank confessed.

"You knew?" Ronnie exclaimed. I felt so horrible for him as he looked at his brothers and sisters with shock as it became clear to him that he was the only one who didn't know.

"Who told you?" I asked softly, and that was when things got very awkward. I didn't think it was possible, but they really did. Mary and I waited for an answer, and it was obvious that Ronnie wanted to know too. Francis straightened up in her seat and looked around at her siblings, then back at us with a gulp.

"It was Raymond Jr.," she admitted as knots twisted in my stomach.

Mary had tears in her eyes, but before either one of us could speak, Ronnie got up glaring at me and spat, "This is f****** bullshit. I can't believe you!"

With that, he was out the door. Mary released my hand and got up to follow him, and all I could do was lift my hands up to cover my face as I took a deep breath and thought about what my daughter just told me.

I spent the next three days trying to get in touch with my son, but he wasn't returning my calls. How the hell could I blame him, though? Hell, how should I have expected him to take it? Not only had I confessed to running around on his mother, but he had to learn in the same breath that he was the only one of his brothers and sisters who had no idea.

I don't think it was that they knew and he didn't that bothered him. I think it was the fact that they knew and didn't tell him so he could make up his own mind about it. Ronnie was independent enough to want to form his own opinions about people and situations. His entire life had been mired in tragedy, and he had no way of explaining what was happening to his family.

I was sure he'd have at least appreciated the chance to come to terms with it all on his own, without finding out that he's been tricked into thinking that his father was some kind of saint who never did his family wrong. I guess that wasn't too much to ask, but he couldn't even get that. Not from his mom, not from his brothers and sisters, and not from the one person who owed it to him the most; me.

That was just the beginning of my despair, though. The fact that Raymond Jr. knew was a hard pill to swallow. That boy walked around in my shadow, seeming to worship the ground I walked on. My every action was mimicked by him, and I always thought that if nothing else, I could look back on my life and say that I had raised him with a secure feeling about his parents and his family. Now I couldn't even say that anymore.

Instead, I had to wonder what was going through his mind when he found out the truth. Furthermore, I had to wonder how he found out. That wasn't too hard, though. When I asked Francis, she was very forthcoming about the details.

"He told us that he heard you and Mary fighting about it," she admitted. "He heard you apologizing and Mary screaming at you."

Just knowing that our son had to witness something like that at such a young age made me contemplate my worth as a human being. How could I have put him through something so traumatic? I wondered how scared he was that we were going to divorce, or what changed in his worldview. Did he look at me in a diminished light? Even worse, did he look at his mother and women in particular in a disrespectful light? He saw his dad get away with cheating on his mom. Was he growing up to think that was okay? How would I have reinforced that it wasn't okay, given what I did to Mary?

Then I had darker thoughts. Was that what sent Robert down the wrong path? Did he lose his respect for me somewhere along the line because he knew the truth? Is that why he ran out on Samantha and his son in exchange for a life of crime and imprisonment? When he hung himself, was he thinking about what I did to his mother?

If only I could have known what was coming when I made that fateful choice to give in to my desires. How could I have, though? I had an air of immortality about me at the time, and I felt like I was invincible. No one would be able to break through the suit of armor I was wearing, and nothing could take my family away from me.

I was so sure of myself.

I knew logically that my affair with Charlie had nothing to do with Raymond Jr. getting sick. There were probably a lot of other factors that went into that, environmental and biological. I can't change that, and I refuse to dwell on that event. But what I couldn't get over was the idea that starting with him, all three of my lost children took our family's darkest secret to their grave with them.

When I finally got in touch with Ronnie, it was almost by accident. I called him with his mother's cell phone, and he picked up, which was something he had been refusing to do when I called with my cell or the house phone.

"Son, I want you to hear me out," I said.

"About what?" he snapped. "Your sex romp?"

"Ronnie, it wasn't that way," I said. "You need to let me explain."

"Dad, there's nothing to explain," he said. "Just leave it alone."

"I want you to meet me somewhere," I said. "I don't care where, just meet me."

"You've got to be kidding with me," he said incredulously, so I pulled the one card out that I knew he couldn't beat.

"Ronnie, this isn't a request," I said forcefully. "You'll meet me, and you'll meet me here."

"Yes sir," he said quietly, then he hung up the phone.

When he arrived, I was waiting in the front yard for him. He got out of his car and walked up the driveway, looking at me as if he didn't know me anymore, but I knew it was all a front. The way his tone changed when I demanded that he do as I told him, I knew he was still my son. All hope wasn't lost.

I opened the front door and let him in first, then I followed him inside and walked behind him to the living room, where I pointed to the couch. He took a seat on one end and I took a seat on the other, then I spoke up.

"Now you listen to me," I said shortly. "What happened, happened, and there's not a lot I can do to change the past, son. This happened in the sixties, and you weren't even born yet. I'm sorry it happened, son, but I'm not going to just sit back while you judge me for it. If you have something to say to me, get it off your chest now, because after today, it's a dead subject."

"Why?" was his only reply. With that, I found myself at a loss. I had no idea how to explain why to my son, because I still didn't know the answer to that question. Still, I did what I could.

"I don't know why, Ronnie," I admitted. "It just happened. I'm sorry I did it, and I'm sorry for how this is making you feel."

"That's not good enough, dad," he said, his irritation starting to show again. "You can't just call me into a room and tell me that you f***** around on my mother, then expect me to understand. I'll never understand."

"I never said I expected you to understand, Ronnie," I countered. "I don't even get it, son. I don't want you to understand, I want you to forgive me so I can forgive myself."

"I can't do that," he said, then with an icy cold glare, he added, "I don't ever want to see you again."

With that, he got up and walked away from the house he grew up in and didn't come back.

Despite what Ronnie claimed, he did see me again. He was still going to our counseling sessions, and even though he refused to visit the topic of our estrangement, we interacted. I gladly paid for his visits and reached out to him on a regular basis during our meetings. He was still mad at me, I knew, but not so mad that he couldn't stomach the sight of me.

I did a lot of soul searching in the days that fell between our meetings with the counselor. I was able to admit a lot to myself about where I'd messed things up along the way, and ultimately, those admissions always took me back to that fateful moment in time when I begged Charlie Moore to seduce me. My personal counseling sessions were tailored to help me see past that, and to understand that there was more going on than I was letting myself see.

I slowly but surely started to come to more profound realizations about my role in steering our family on its fateful journey, and the more I came to recognize those things, the more I was able to convey my thoughts and feelings at our meetings with the kids. It seemed like Ronnie was opening up more and more to my analysis, and one night, he openly wept with me over the memory of his oldest brother's last birthday.

By June things had almost returned to normal, but not quite. Still, he was happy to start sending Savannah and Trevor over to visit with us, and I took it as progress between us. Then Susan took me to the side one day when she came to pick the kids up and confirmed what Mary and I suspected.

"He really misses you, Ray," she told me. "He's going to come back around again sooner than later. Just keep at it."

That gave me the hope I needed to keep chipping away at the wall we had between us. So as I was floating on a raft in my pool watching little Kevin take his first lap without the help and support of his mother, I was filled with a new sense of hope and encouragement when out of the corner of my eye, Ronnie, Susan, and the kids walked out onto the deck, being flanked by Mary and Paulette.

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