I was told in high school by my English teacher, Mrs. Eliason, that writing helps you think. Helps clarify things in your mind. Especially during hard times. Just write about what you’re going through and it will help you make sense of it. I’m gonna give it a shot.
Got here two hours ago and found a motel room. Took 16 hours to drive to Portland from Wolf Point. Right after checking in, I got the guy’s address out of my notebook. It’s in Southeast Portland, on Woodstock St. I found it and drove by twice. He’s no fat cat. I almost wish he was.
Samantha locked the front door, got into her car, and backed out onto Woodstock. As she drove to Safeway, she realized she had come to a decision. For a few years now, she had questioned her marriage. She had finally come to decide it was over. She would divorce her husband. Start a new life.
She thought of the slip of paper with the divorce lawyer’s number that her friend Sonja had given her. She would call the number when she got home and set up an appointment.
It made her sad to think about it. Somehow, she couldn’t remember the intense feelings she had in the early years of their marriage. She wondered if he still had feelings for her. He wasn’t as engaging and funny as he once was. He seemed to have become bored with everything and everyone, including himself. He wasn’t even interested in bars anymore.
She, unlike her husband, was feeling a sense of reawakening. A spark of invigoration had taken hold over the past year. Pondering her life, she wondered – could it be better? This existence I have? This stale life? Could she live like this the rest of her days? She decided no; she wanted out.
But where would she go? She would certainly move out of their home. Maybe leave town. She would love to return to Montana and live in Missoula again, where she grew up.
She finished grocery shopping and returned home. As she carried the bags inside, she felt a sense of being watched and turned to look up and down the street. There was nobody around.
After putting the groceries away, she went into her closet and from the top shelf pulled down a shoebox. Taped on the bottom of the box was a torn piece of paper with a phone number on it. She called the number and set an appointment to meet with a lawyer in two weeks.
I gotta admit I’m really curious about the guy. About his life, his personality, sense of humor, what he does for a living, what he’ll do when I hit him in the mouth. If I do. I have a baseball bat in the backseat, a Louisville Slugger. But I have no idea what I’m going to do. Hopefully, writing this will help me figure it out.
In the morning, she drove to the bank and withdrew $5,000 in cash from her savings account, then returned home and put it in the shoebox on the top shelf of her closet. It didn’t feel good doing it. This subterfuge. Setting the stage for destroying her marriage. She felt shabby. As if she was being unfaithful, hiding her true intentions from her husband. But it had to be done. She resolved to tell him soon that their days together were over. Maybe today.
Okay, today is it. I’m gonna get some revenge on this bastard. I’ll park around the corner and then just go up to the front door, ring the bell, introduce myself, and hit him in the face. Whether it’s with fist or bat, I’ll decide then. They say closure is good. Hope so.
Samantha was in the basement on the elliptical. Her mind was consumed with thoughts about leaving. She made a mental list of things she’d need. An extra phone charger. Some clothes. Pots and pans. Dishes. Books. Sheets. A pillow.
Then, she heard the doorbell. Her husband was upstairs. She stopped the elliptical and listened. Five seconds later the doorbell rang again. She heard footsteps and the door opened. Her husband said something. His voice went from normal to shrill in an instant. Then she heard a thump, right above her head. She jumped off the elliptical and ran upstairs.
Sitting on the living room floor, holding his head with both hands, was her husband. Standing over him was a young man with a bat.
“Sorry to bother ya,” the man said, “but I need to beat the shit outta your husband.”
The husband yelled, “What the fuck! Who the hell are you?” He scooted back against the couch, holding his forearm up to protect himself. “Sam! Sammy! Call 911!”
Samantha put her hands out toward the man, “Please, please, put the bat down. Don’t do this.”
“What the hell do you want?” the husband asked. “Who are you?”
The young man smirked, “Yeah, that’s the big question. Who am I? Don’t ya recognize me? Do I look familiar? Tell me who I am!”
Samantha looked at her husband. “What is he talking about? Do you know him?”
“Yeah, think back,” the man said. “Wolf Point, Montana – high school. Your graduation party. Parker’s farm. Does that ring a bell . . . Ray?
“Oh, shit.” Ray said. “I was afraid this might happen. I know who you are.”
“That’s right! I’m your goddamn son! Here in the flesh! The son of the woman you screwed and left in the dust. You’re the bastard, not me! Nice to meet ya, finally . . . dad! Where ya fuckin’ been all my life?”
Samantha cut in, scowled at Ray. “How does he know your name?”
“Honey, meet Donny Bradford. I haven’t seen him in . . . 28 years. Donny, this is my wife, Samantha.” Sam stared wide-eyed at Ray, then Donny.
Donny spun the bat in his hands, then turned and looked at Sam. “Why’d you marry this son of a bitch? Don’t ya know what he did?”
She sat down on a dining room chair and held one hand up and slowly gathered her breath.
“What did he do?” she said. “Please, tell me. I’d like to know. What did my husband do?” And she definitely did want to know.
“He ran out on me and my mom. He . . . impregnated her. Said he would marry her. Then the scumbag skipped town. Not very gallant, dude!”
Samantha was astounded. “Please, put down the bat,” she said. “Calm down.” She looked down at her husband. “Get up off the floor, Ray.” He got up and sat on the couch. Donny kept the bat but sat in a chair.
“Okay,” Donny said. “Let’s hear what the weasel has to say. I’ve been waiting a long time to hear it.”
Samantha looked at her husband. He cleared his voice, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you got the wrong guy.”
“No, I don’t!” Donny yelled. “I tracked ya down, douche bag! Mom told me your name and all about you, Ray. So I came all the way here from Wolf Point just to ask you one question.”
“What’s the question?” Sam asked, leaning forward.
“Why’d you do it? Why did ya leave my mom and me? I was just a baby!”
“What’s he talking about?” Sam said to her husband.
Ray sat back. “He thinks I’m his father. That I ran out on ‘em. Only part of that is true.”
Samantha put her hands over her face, then lowered them. “My god, Ray. Please tell me. You didn’t . . . rape her did you?”
“Hell yeah he did,” Donny snarled.
“No, I didn’t rape her!” Ray said. “I’m not your father! Look at us, we don’t look anything alike! We’re like opposites, dude!”
“So what?” Donny said. “We’re still blood! As much as I hate it.” He squeezed the bat again with both hands. “You raped her, admit it!”
“Wait! Let me explain!”
“Shut up!” Samantha yelled. She was suddenly furious with her husband. Could it be true? Was he capable of doing what this guy claimed? “I want to hear his story,” she said, nodding at Donny. “Tell me what happened. How are you so sure Ray’s your father?”
Donny heaved a deep sigh and said, “I didn’t find out the whole story until recently. Mom kept it hidden. Wouldn’t tell me who my father was, just that he had forced himself on her, raped her, at her high school graduation party. A bunch of kids were at a keg spending the night out there. He was mom’s boyfriend all senior year and said they’d get married the next year. And she wanted to save herself, not have sex, until they were engaged. But at the party he got her drunk and he . . . took advantage of her. She didn’t want to have sex and tried to fight him off, but he did it, got her pregnant. Said he’d marry her after the baby was born. Me! I was born--”
“February 6, 1993,” Ray said.
“That’s right!” Donny shot back.
Samantha looked at her husband, narrowed her eyes. “How do you know that? Never mind. Go on with the story.”
“Nothing more to say,” Donny said. “The bastard disappeared. Left us both. And never checked back to see if we were even okay!”
She looked at her husband, sitting with a sad face she’d seldom seen.
“Can I talk now?” Ray said.
“What do you have to say?” she said quietly.
“Here’s the truth,” he started.
“Here we go,” Donny said.
Ray went on, “It’s true, your mom was my girlfriend and we did talk about getting married. We never had sex, not that I didn’t try. Then, at the graduation party I got drunk, we all got drunk. I wanted to, you know, go all the way. She refused and I got pissed and got out of the tent and left. There were three guys sitting around the fire and I walked right past them and got in my car and took off. I went into Wolf Point for something to eat. Then I drove back. There were just two guys around the fire then, both passed out. I walked over to the tent and heard a guy in there with your mom. It was one of the guys who had been around the fire. I know who it was. He’s your father, I’m 100% sure. I should have climbed in that tent and beat the shit out of him, but I was madder at her than him. So I left.”
“You’re such a liar,” Donny said.
“No. I was gone most of that summer to work at my uncle’s ranch in Grass Range. When I got back in September, your mom told me she was pregnant. She said I was the father. I said no way. She said it had to be me, because there was no one else. She said I got her drunk. I said it wasn’t me, but I knew who it was. But she kept claiming I was the father.”
Ray looked Donny straight in the eye. “You were born on a Thursday, around 6:30 in the evening, in Great Falls. Your grandma lived there and your mom went to stay with her while you were born.”
“Is that true?” Sam asked Donny.
“How do you know all this?” she asked Ray.
“I was there. I decided at the last minute to drive over there. I was a freshman at UM. One of her friends told me where she’d gone to have the baby. I drove over there to see for myself – to see you, man. I wanted to see your face. And I actually thought about still marrying your mom, even though I wasn’t the father. But once I saw your face I just knew for sure who your father was. I felt bad for you, but I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t marry her and live a lie, as your father. I’m sorry, man. I wish I was your dad. You seem like a good guy.”
“Then, who is it?” Donny asked. “Who’s my father? You say you know?”
“Yeah. I’ll show you.” Ray walked to a bookcase in the hallway and from the bottom shelf took out a hardbound gray book. On the front cover was the title, The Fang, with a red illustration of a wolf’s head. It was the Wolf Point yearbook from 1992. Ray brought it into the living room and sat down and opened it. He turned to a particular page and handed it across to Donny. “Your mom and I are on that page. Your father is two pages after that.”
Donny bent down and looked at the photos. “Wow, that’s you alright. What happened to your hair, Ray? You were a lot darker then.”
“I used to get brown working outside all the time.”
“I’ve seen the photo of mom before.” Donny said. “She was a beauty.”
“She sure was. I might have loved her, but I don’t know. I didn’t know much those days. We were young.”
Donny slowly turned the page, and the next page, and then looked closely at the spread of pictures. His eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped back. “Oh no, no, no, no, no, this can’t be. No! Tell me it’s not him. Not this guy. Fuck, he looks just like me. Jesus. Holy shit.” He jabbed his finger on the face. It was a guy with long blonde hair, bushy eyebrows, and a sharp nose. He looked just like Donny. A spitting image.
“That’s him,” Ray said. “He was the one in the tent. I know it. It wasn’t me. I’ll take any DNA test you want.”
“It figures. Struck out again.”
“I’m really sorry, man.”
“I know about him,” Donny said. “I can’t believe this. I can’t fucking believe it. He’s one bad motherfucker. Killed two people.”
“What?” Sam said. “Killed who?” She looked at the bat in Donny’s hand and wanted to walk over and take it from him.
Donny kept his eye on the yearbook photo. “He shot a man and his wife in their RV at a campground near Sidney. Killed ‘em both for about 300 bucks. Shot ‘em right through the back of the head – execution style. Got caught in Plentywood, trying to get to Canada.”
“Oh, my god,” Sam said. “How awful.”
“You’re not at all like him,” Ray said. “You may look like him but you are nothing like him. You are a decent guy, Donny. You’re smart. You’re not violent like he was. You didn’t want to hurt me with that bat.”
“Yeah, I did,” Donny said.
“Well, you didn’t. You barely grazed me.”
Donny handed the yearbook back to Ray. “I need to go home. Talk to mom.”
He stood up, the bat hanging loosely from his hand, and spoke to Sam. “I guess he’s not as bad as I thought. I’m sorry to intrude.”
He turned as if in a daze and walked out, closing the screen door behind him. They watched him go, bat over his shoulder, staring at the sidewalk in front of him.
Sam looked at Ray. His eyes were watery and a solitary tear fell down his cheek.
Back in my motel room. I did it. Went and confronted the guy. Blasted him in the head with my Louisville Slugger. It felt good to do it, until he told me the truth. It’s not him. Mom was wrong, he’s not my dad. But he could have been. He said he loved mom and wanted to marry her, until she got pregnant by someone else. Someone terrible. But still, he was there when I was born. He’s not a bad dude, Ray. He was just young and foolish, like we all were once.
It’s true what Mrs. Eliason said. Writing helps you figure things out. And the way I figure it is we all walk the line between who we want to be and who we are. It reminds me of what that lady poet, George Eliot, said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I came close to being Ray’s son. I could have grown up in their house, here in Portland. How would I have turned out? I gotta quit thinking about it.
Later that afternoon, Samantha took a walk and thought about her life, her marriage, her future. She tried to get a handle on what she deep down wanted to do. She had to be careful about making a decision. It was the second biggest one of her life. The first being her decision to marry Ray 25 years ago.
It was a long walk and when she finally came back up their block, she saw Ray’s car was gone. She went inside and sat down on the couch. A soft breeze sifted through the screen door. She sat for several minutes, trying to peer through the screen into the future.
Then, she stood up and went into the bedroom closet and took the shoebox down with the number taped to the bottom. She called it and canceled her appointment with the lawyer. She decided to leave the $5,000 cash in the box. In case, someday, she wants to try something new. Maybe move back to Montana. You never know.
Last message. Hangin in my room. Tomorrow morn I’m checking out and heading back to Wolf Point. Gotta work all summer to pay for this little jaunt. After that, I’m not sure. May pick up and move. Try somewhere new – maybe Portland. Get to know my almost dad. You never know.