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The Talon House

Time In A Bottle


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Time In A Bottle

by Nick

Chapter Four

There was a time in my life when I knew I couldn't take any more heartache. I honestly reached that point sometime after Raymond Jr. passed away, but I had no idea yet what the future held in store for my family and I. I can remember lonely drives to work at four thirty in the morning, where I'd reflect on everything and swear to myself that I was at my breaking point. Things had to get better, I reasoned, because I had been to the depths of despair.

Somehow, in my mind, I tied my affair with Charlie Gordon into the misery that I felt mired in for years after Little Raymond died. I couldn't quite make the connection, but what I knew for sure was that it meant something. Maybe it was the fact that I nearly destroyed my marriage. Surely things would have gone differently in so many ways had Mary decided to leave me the day I made my confession to her, and a lot of lives would have been affected.

The most immediate consequence that came to my mind would have been that the boys would have grown up in a broken home. I don't think I could have lived with that, and I think that was part of the reason Mary forgave me and eventually put it behind us. Life had enough storms in store for our children, and my infidelity would have only made the seas rougher for them to travel had they known.

Raymond Jr. would have certainly been devastated, I know, if for nothing else, because he was my namesake. As a little boy, he followed me around and tried his damnedest to be just like me. When I was working in the yard, it wasn't a question that he'd be there too. He loved me so much, and I know how proud he was of our family.

The fate of our foster children would have been even more perilous. If I hadn't been there that summer evening, eating dinner with my young family on the patio, who would have intervened on Francis's behalf? There seemed to be no one else willing to involve themselves in the business of the Van Kemps, and even though the abuse was obvious, most of the older folks in our neighborhood considered it to be a family matter to be handled in the home of the Van Kemps. To this day, my stomach still gets uneasy when I think of the possible outcome of that doomed family.

Then again, maybe the kids would have been better off with another family. They certainly rode out the lion's share of our family's heartache, and maybe they didn't have to. Perhaps if they'd wound up in another home with a different family, they'd have had a more stable upbringing. Mary and I were so young when we started our family, and looking back, it's easy to see that we weren't ready for the responsibility of five more kids.

Darker, more ominous thoughts would lurk into my mind as well during those early morning commutes. Maybe Mary and I did something wrong. Maybe it was our fault that Raymond Jr., my perfect little treasure, was taken away. Maybe it was the candy we gave him as a little kid, or the lack of fruits and vegetables in our home. We lived near a refinery. Perhaps we should have looked elsewhere for affordable housing and cleaner, less polluted surroundings. Of course, there was an even more troubling possibility that always drifted in and out of my thoughts that I always tried to dismiss, but never seemed able to.

God was punishing me.

The fact of the matter was, I was the one who strayed. I didn't just stray, but I did so in the most abominable fashion. I didn't just cheat. I cheated with a man. I cheated on my female wife, and by extension, my young children, with another male. I knew it was a sin before I went through with it, but I was so driven by my lust and confused by my feelings that I gave in to my demons and disobeyed the word of God.

The moment those thoughts would start to creep in my head, I would blink and shake my head, trying to clear them out. There was no sense in dwelling on the past, I figured. I did what I did, and I begged my wife and God for forgiveness. If nothing else, I had Mary's forgiveness, and I could only hope that I also had the forgiveness of the Lord. We were so fortunate in so many other ways that I couldn't see how he hadn't forgiven me for my transgression.

But all of this was before.

After Robert hung himself, I started to doubt myself again. I felt like there had to be something we could have done differently, but I couldn't point to it. Maybe I was too rough with him, or maybe, just maybe, I wasn't tough enough. There were certain points where my kids knew I wouldn't budge, but others where they knew how to get their way. I knew it, they knew it, and I knew they knew it, but I did nothing to change things.

As the details of his sordid life became known to us, I felt a certain degree of guilt that I knew deep down was silly. He was a grown man, and he chose the path he was on, not me and certainly not his mother. I always tried to be there for him as he was growing into a young man, but his struggles with school turned into his struggles with life, and he couldn't cope with it all. If I did anything wrong, it was that I had no concept of how deeply troubled he was, and I didn't seek the right kind of help for him.

But that's where a new bitterness would creep in for me, and I had to work hard to suppress it. Because for years after Raymond Jr. died, I essentially became a single dad. On occasion, Mary would be home, but her presence always seemed to be just that. A presence. She was making herself seen, and not actually being at home. She needed to be away from home to cope with the death of our first son, but in doing so, she left me holding the ball.

Now, that doesn't take away my responsibility to my kids and for the choices I made. I was their father, and a duty to make the best choices for all of them. Whether Mary was in the loop or not when it came to those decisions was irrelevant. But I didn't think it was unreasonable to expect her to be there to give the children and I a little support from time to time.

But that was a blame game, and I knew better than to play that at such a late time. Robert made his choices in life, and there was no amount of blaming or reflection that would bring him back. He had his own blessings, in the form of Robert Jr. and Samantha. If anything, the two of them should have given him a reason to make the best decisions he could and give them the world. That was the least they deserved from him.

Losing Richard was something entirely different for me to endure. In the back of my mind, I couldn't sum up what went wrong. Sure, he had to absorb the same losses as the rest of us, but his life held so much promise. He had a sweet little girl and a brand new nephew from his twin brother that he loved more than life itself. When he was interacting with them, I swore I could see the light of a child in his eyes. He didn't have a care in the world at those moments, because he was in a perfect moment that no one could take away. That made his passing so much harder for Mary and I to take, especially when we got the results of his autopsy.

We knew that Richard was on medication for his drinking, and as far as we knew, it was working. The trouble was, we found out, he was still indulging every now and then in a drink. What they found in his system was his medication, combined with a blood alcohol level of .12. It was ruled an accidental over dose, but that didn't make things easier. If anything, it made me ask once again what I could have done to prevent it.



"Nothing, Raymond," Mary sobbed dejectedly. "There's nothing we can get from a counselor that we can't get right here from our family. We need each other. That's all."

"That's not true dear," I said quietly. "If you don't go with me, I'll go alone."

"Go then," she said resignedly, and that was it. I knew there was no reaching her at that moment, so I decided to let the issue go for the time being. In the meanwhile, I called Ronnie, Francis and Paulette to ask them to come with me. I figured that if I was going to do this, it was going to be for my family. If Mary didn't understand, so be it. This wasn't about her and I, it was about all of us.

I made the appointment for five anyway, knowing that Mary might still come around. Shelly was too far away to make it, and even if she could, I doubted very much that she would have felt comfortable in our midst. She didn't even make it for Richard's funeral, saying that she had too much to do and couldn't afford to be away from work. I was hurt by her shun, but I shrugged it off and moved forward with my plans to get help for my family.

One person I wasn't expecting to see at Richard's funeral was Eva Van Kemp. It's kind of ironic, because I thought I spotted her as we were going into the church, but I thought my eyes were fooling me. The woman I saw looked exactly the way I remembered Eva to be all those years before, and I figured that she might have been a coworker of Richards.

When she and Mary locked tortured eyes, though, we both knew who she was. She immediately stood from her pew and held her arms out for the two of us.

"Mary, Raymond, I'm so sorry for your loss," she wept.

"Thank you for coming, Eva," Mary said, as gracious as always. "The kids will be happy to see you."

I leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek and said, "It's been too long."

She gave us both a sympathetic smile that I understood, then she let go and let us continue to the front row, where we'd been twice before to bury one of our young. After the funeral she kept her distance from Francis, Paulette and her boys, but Mary was having none of it. She took the four of them to the side and urged them to reach out to their mother.

"She's making an attempt," Mary reasoned. "I'd like you two to do the same. If you can't do it for her, do it for yourselves."

I knew at that point that Eva's reunion with her children, our children, was how she was going to be able to cope with our tragedy. After the services, we gathered again at Paulette's house, and I was almost reduced to tears as she and Francis showed Eva around the house, bragging about all of the work the boys and I did on it. It's amazing how something as simple as a lighting fixture and some doors can bring back so many good memories, yet, that's what walking through Paulette's house did to me. My mind was flooded with memories of working on that house with my boys when they were just that; boys.

The day before we were to have out first appointment with our counselor, Mary was more distant than usual. I knew it was because she wanted me to cancel, but she didn't dare say so. She was too proud, just like I was. Instead, she went through the motions of cooking dinner, cleaning and taking care of the grandkids and great grandkids as if everything were normal.

What she didn't dare object to was Theresa going into counseling. Andrea didn't even bother to ask what we thought, and that was how I thought it should be. She made sure that we got to see her often, even going so far as to try to make plans for us to meet up at amusement parks so we could spend the day with Theresa, but I sensed a coldness toward us, and especially me, where there was once a lot of warmth, even after she and Richard divorced. I was a little hurt by it, to be sure, but I didn't want to press the subject just yet because I thought that maybe she was mourning Richard's death in her own way.

Our first session was filled with a lot of tears and memories that were nice to talk about. They were mainly about Richard, but the kids all had a special memory of Robert and Raymond Jr. to share as well. Paulette's memory of Robert made me laugh through my constant stream of tears.

"When he was eleven, he mailed a letter to President Nixon," she said with a small chuckle. "The only problem was, he put the names and addresses in the opposite places. About three days later, he got his letter back, postmarked and everything."

A week later we were back, and for the next six weeks, the four of us went. It was hard, but at the same time, it was so nice to spend time with my kids in a place where we had no choice but to talk about the little things that made up our family dynamic. Mary still wasn't budging, but I continued to pay for a group of five to attend on the off chance that she'd change her mind and decide to join us. I could see her getting more and more depressed, and I knew that she resented the fact that we were talking about things that had gone on in the walls of our home with a counselor.

After the seventh visit, we met up with Andrea and Theresa at a skating rink on a Saturday. I was pleasantly surprised to see Mary lace up a pair of inline skates and get out onto the floor. I'd have never dared to try anything like that, so I sat at a table with Andrea and watched as my wife, who seemed dead to the world for the last two months, smiled and laughed with our granddaughter.

As usual, Andrea was being cool toward me, but she smiled and waved each time Mary and Theresa would roll by us. I finally decided that I was going to try to break the ice and find out exactly what had her being so distant toward me.

"I haven't seen her smile in two months," I said somewhat forlornly, knowing that I was being forward.

"Well I don't suppose she's had a lot to smile about, Ray," Andrea answered back a little tersely, eliciting a sharp retort from me.

"Andrea, if there's something you feel like telling me, then by all means, get it out," I said, a little shocked and disappointed in my sudden irritation with my ex-daughter-in–law.

"You don't really want that, Raymond," she said, almost as if she were threatening me. I admit that I was a little shaken, but I quickly rebounded.

"Actually, yes, I do want that," I said, holding my ground. I was more than taken aback when she rolled her eyes with a sarcastic laugh.

"Well, well, well, " she said through her chuckle, "if it isn't Mr. Self Righteous."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I demanded.

"I'm talking about the way you walk around blameless," she spat. "Do you know what Richard used to call you? I'll tell you what he used to call you… the fraud."

"What are you talking about?" I asked, my knees feeling weak at this cruel revelation, making me glad I was sitting.

"I'm talking about how you cheated on Mary!" she said angrily, shaking her head in disgust. "Richard knew, and I know. Don't you think Mary and the kids deserved better?"

I couldn't answer her. I was frozen with shock, paralyzed with fear. My darkest secret was out, but the question I had no answer for was, who else knew and how much did they know? I turned to address Andrea, but she had gotten up from the table and stormed off, too angry and emotional to look at me.

How could I blame her?

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