No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder Read Online (FREE)
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I drive my rental car from downtown Billings to a four-story house far outside of town, perched up on a hill, where the man inside can view anything that might come at him. Telescopic observation of the world outside: mountains, plains, escape routes to everywhere in Montana and beyond. The man I’m here to see has avoided me for a long time. Passive avoidance. I’ve come to Billings from my home in Washington, D.C., talked to his daughters, his ex-wife, caseworkers. Returned again. I know the town now. Some of the police, some of the prosecutors, advocates, hotel workers, and even the printer whose wife runs a basement museum dedicated to women. And now, finally, on this maybe my third visit, he has agreed to see me.
I talk to a lot of people who don’t want to talk to me. People who’ve murdered their families, people who’ve nearly been murdered, people who’ve arrested those murderers, people who’ve grown up with people who nearly murdered them. Men like Paul Monson are always reluctant to talk, reluctant to voice the magnitude of what they’ve lost, because what they’ve lost skirts the very limit of their imaginations.
When I arrive I hear shuffling inside the house, and think for a moment that Paul won’t answer, that he’s changed his mind about the interview. I’ve been in Billings for several days already; he knew I was coming. His ex-wife, Sally Sjaastad, has spent many hours with me, but could not get him to agree to meet me the first time she asked. Or the second or the third. I’m surprised, frankly, that he agreed at all. The windowless front door is gray and full of dents.
Finally, the door opens. Paul barely looks at me. He’s a little hunched over, white hair receding, face drawn. He looks his age, early sixties. Paul opens the door wider, gestures me inside without meeting my gaze. He wears a blue shirt, buttoned up, jeans. Looks like he’s clenching his jaw.
The house, which Paul built himself, has a just-moved-in feel to it. Not much decoration, opened boxes here and there in a couple of corners. A telescope points toward the carpet, like it’s resigned its mission. Mountains dominate the view outside. Paul is reserved, quiet, meticulous. We sit at his dining room table and he runs his fingers along the smooth edge, watching his own hands. The table is covered in piles of paper. I make an off-handed comment about my rental car, and it sets us on a safe course.
My father taught me about cars, how to change oil and tires, instructions on measuring fluids and swapping air filters. The mechanics of a piston. Basic stuff, but it’s enough. Paul is an electrical design technician—an engineer type—and so cars are a comfortable topic for him, the familiarity of the machine. An equation that adds up—wires atop plugs create a spark, which fires an engine. They’re predictable. Fixable. Something goes wrong, it’s a mystery that can be solved. I let him talk. He tells me he bought all of his daughters their first cars. Alyssa’s was a Honda Civic. Michelle’s a white Subaru. He says Melanie is “kind of a car eater,” so he’s bought her several. He knows we’re not yet talking of the thing I came to talk about, and I can feel the tension in the room, palpable as humidity.