Nick Ripatrazone - Deer Lodge

I slept with Frank’s girlfriend the last night of winter in 1966. Her first name was Sarah, and her last name was a jumble of consonants. I had offered her a ride home from a party at Lionel Kaplan’s. He was a Kappa Chi alum who had bought the house because it was near campus; like many before him and after, he was unable to leave Creighton for good.
At that point I was a full-fledged second-year Kappa Chi, and I vaguely remember Kaplan from pledging. He was one of the old-rule seniors who had evolved from the freshman froth and fisticuffs into something he thought prestigious. We just thought of him as old and the shit he had us do for pledging was rote. His official title was Sergeant-at-Arms, which meant he polished the name-plaque of our letters into a bronzed hue. I have only one communal photograph of him: the lot of us in the basement, hands full of steins and locally-brewed lager bottles, stickers peeling beneath sweaty palms. He wore a cardigan and his glasses rested low on the bridge of his nose.
It was his party, and Frank wasn’t there, so I made the offer, and as we slipped out the back door Kaplan shot me a glare. He must have known that he was being a tight wad because he didn’t pursue it. We left untouched.
We spent the night in the car. We parked near the nook and afterward I suggested a dip. She shot up in the seat and even thought I could barely see her features in the dark I could tell she was not happy. Almost repulsed. She said that the smell would never wash off her skin. Five minutes earlier she was barebacked on Chevy leather.
So we stayed in the car and I held her until she began to snore. I had a roommate who prefaced his snores with a few cackles. He got me ready. But this girl got right into the snoring, as if we were already comfortable with each other. I tried to move her, to hand her over to the other half of the backseat, but I felt like I was shifting the position of a corpse, and I got to thinking about this movie where a guy happens upon a body and turns it over and then realizes he should have never touched it in the first place.
She did not have a pretty sleeping face but she was actually very good looking awake, too good for Frank, who was a beanpole cross country runner. His father had served in the Korean War and allegedly had carried a wounded man on his back for three miles. Frank used that anecdote to claim that his own life was somehow heroic. That was why he didn’t go to Kaplan’s party: he was at his old man’s funeral.

I spent that spring deep in books. Rimbaud, Greene, Voltaire, Mann. I read in the rare book room at the Alumni Library because the mahogany shelves and burgundy-tinted lamps made everything more exciting. For example, I would read something in Mann like . . . Therefore, if it is too much to say that one can tell a tale of time, it is none the less true that a desire to tell a tale about time is not such an absurd idea as it just now seemed . . . and lean back in the upholstered chair and stare at rows of indigo and brown spines behind the bookcase glass and consider the words, the ideas of the words. I would pull my finger across sentences and ponder the typeface. I wanted to attach significance to everything. I enjoyed reading about sex and war and I think I liked Greene the most because he gave me both and a pinch of God to boot.
I had not spoken to Sarah for three months when it happened. The library janitor allowed me to stay a half hour after closing because I had convinced him that I was deep into research on the French thinkers (he was a second-generation Creole). But he did send me off at 11:30, and the night it happened I went out the back, my hands full of books. I still remember the titles: Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “An International Episode,” and a pamphlet-like edition of Yeats’s collected stories.
I shifted the books underneath my arm while I walked. I was looking at the moon when I was tackled to the ground. Bindings stabbed into my abdomen.
It was Frank.
He followed the tackle with a few punches and I tried to slap his swings away but only hit his elbows and wrists. My head clocked against the slate and I nearly passed out. Frank’s face remained in shadow.
The next punch snapped like a thunderclap, only it didn’t come from Frank. It came from Daniel Lonergan, S.J., and it rocked Frank’s jaw.
I had never seen this Father Lonergan before. All the Jesuits looked the same to me: long cassocks draped over wiry frames topped with cropped blond hair. He did not offer to help me up but he did pick up my books.
“Only a fool would read Yeats,” he said.
I shook my head at Frank. “I know.”

The only way to get things done at a Jesuit institution is through writing. When I wanted to request a change of room from the perpetual snorer I had to write an explanation to the dean; when I had to update my contact information because my parents had moved from New Hampshire to Maine I nearly had to craft an epistle.
Likewise, Frank filed a formal complaint. A closed door meeting followed. They decided to send both Frank and Father Lonergan packing, but in opposite directions, of course. I asked the dean where they had sent Lonergan but all he could say was that the priest was on probation.
So I put my request in writing.

Father Lonergan had become the chaplain for the Montana state prison at Deer Lodge. I thought that was an awful name for a town and told Sarah at her graduation. She was still good looking but had started wearing turtlenecks and moccasins.
Frank was doing fine at Syracuse. I don’t know why she told me because I hadn’t asked.
I wrote Father Lonergan a few letters. The first was light-hearted but after no response I offered a more serious second letter. By the time I had actually received something I was in my final year at Creighton. I was living off campus then, and the envelope had been marked and rerouted a thousand times. Inside the card was a preprinted message: Merry Christmas and God Bless. Below it was a message scribbled in pencil:

I should have let him knock you out.
At first I laughed. Senile and celibate, he must have lost it at that prison. Actually, he must have known about what I’d done with Sarah. An ass-kicking was my penance.
I thought about writing Sarah. Or Frank. Instead I stopped writing letters altogether. Too much effort with no reward.


Nick Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations (Gold Wake Press 2011). His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review and Beloit Fiction Journal. He lives in New Jersey with his wife.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .