TO MY WRITING WORLD
My name is Barbara Richard. I’m a survivor of domestic violence.
Since I escaped my father’s house nearly fifty years ago, I’ve
lived what most people might call a normal, productive life.
But there have been secrets - masses of terrible secrets - hidden
in my family history and my childhood memories.
I started writing my family’s story nearly twenty five years
ago, a few months after my dad died. It was during the breakup
of my second marriage, while I was going through that terrible
period of self-recrimination and disillusionment that accompanies
a dying relationship. I hoped that writing my story might help
me make sense of my life and discover why I had a history of
bad choices, bad relationships and bad decisions. When I first
started the project I asked each of my four sisters and my mother
to give me their thoughts by writing or taping a “chapter” for
me. They all worked through and around their pain and contributed
to the story. My mother typed (and taped) about forty pages of
her recollections from the perspective of a recovering battered
wife. She had been away from my dad for about fifteen years by
then. She also gave me access to forty years of her personal
I worked on the manuscript for about a year, but with the final
divorce it became necessary for me to earn a living. So I put
the story away and taught myself to write grants. For the next
twenty years, in addition to grant and loan applications for
all kinds of public projects, I wrote community and economic
development, land use, and other plans and documents for state
and local governments. The experience taught me a lot about writing:
How to do research and conduct studies, to collect and organize
material, to draw defendable conclusions, to present my research
and conclusions in public, and the business end of writing.
When I retired in 2002, the idea of taking up the memoir surfaced
again. This time, I told myself, I would write more about our
family’s daily way of life and leave out all reference to the
abuse and deprivation. This time I’d write for my grandkids -
about the way we lived, funny incidents, our favorite recipes,
and so forth. I guess I thought it would be easier to leave out
the incidents that disturbed me, and I would be more likely to
Fortuitously, at about that same time, I received inspiration
by learning that a woman I had known when she was in high school,
Judy Blunt, had written a wonderful best-selling memoir. She
was now a university professor and would be holding a summer
class. I was lucky enough to obtain a seat in the class.
One of our first exercises in that class was drawing a sketch
of our story setting, and describing it verbally. I need to comment
here that I have spoken in public for more than thirty years,
and I’ve even run for county commissioner, with all the speeches
and public appearances that requires. But in Judy’s class, when
it was my turn to discuss my story, I opened my mouth to speak,
and experienced a complete melt down - the worst panic attack
I’ve ever had. I had no warning that trying to talk about my
childhood would bring me to my knees. It later occurred to me
that I had never before discussed my childhood in a group larger
than two or three people, and that was usually my sisters and
me. I realized that when I tried to discuss specific incidents,
I was no longer sixty, I was six, and my mother’s voice was saying:
“He’s your dad, and you don’t tell!” And the panic would begin.
Over the next three years, the story began to come to life.
I could no more have followed my original plan and left out the
scenes of abuse and terror, than I could have written in a foreign
language. The story took over. As I deliberately brought the
memories back, I suffered nightmares, sleeplessness, crying jags,
and depression, all the symptoms of stress. These started to
fade as the story developed.
What first emerged was a 700 page epic that covered nearly 150
years, starting with the Civil War and ended in the current era.
It included my mother’s journals, transcriptions of my sisters’
tapes and written contributions, my mother’s narrative fifteen
years after she got away from my dad, and a great deal of information
on family history that my two oldest sisters discovered when
they took up genealogy as a hobby. I practically needed a wheelbarrow
for the manuscript. So I split it into three parts.
The first book, that with Judy’s help I titled “Dancing on His
Grave,” is the middle part of the 700 pages, and covers my sisters’
and my childhood. Judy has worked hand in hand with me, graciously
serving as my editor, through this entire process. A New York
agent is now searching for a mainstream publisher for “Dancing”
and “Walking” and I am completing the third and final book of
the trilogy, titled “Chasing Ghosts.”
However, last year my oldest sister, a key player in this story,
turned seventy, and I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer.
I wanted my sisters to see their story in print before we all
got too old to derive benefit from the catharsis of telling the
story. So I contacted a company that offers “print on demand”
services, contracted with a graphic artist for the layout, cover
and other elements, and self-published “Dancing on His Grave
and then “Walking Wounded.” They are available for purchase from
Trafford Publishing. The website are www.trafford.com/06-0409 (Dancing)
and www.Trafford.com/06-3339 (Walking).
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE STORY
In my years of research, I’ve come to believe that my father
was not mentally ill, in the moral or legal sense. I’m convinced
that he was a narcissistic sociopath, a personality disorder
that is untreatable, but is not considered mental illness. He
knew right from wrong, but believed that the world revolved around
him, and therefore the rules of decency that other people live
by did not apply. In other words, in my estimation, he was born
without a conscience. Studies have indicated that as many as
one person in twenty five - four percent - of the population
fit into this category. That means that when you sit in a room
with one hundred people, as many as four may have no conscience,
and therefore, no constraints on how they treat other people.
Their only objective is to get what they want - to serve their
own needs. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a scary
These abusers are so alike that they perform as if they have
access to a manual or textbook on abuse. They isolate, indoctrinate,
and manipulate their victims, and administer abuse with impunity.
And most often, (with the exception of the occasional serial
killer) they are not caught or held accountable.
There was never any alcohol or drugs involved in my father’s
behavior. I never saw him take a drink until after I was grown,
and aside from his copious non-prescription pill-popping for
real or imagined headaches and other ailments, no mood altering
drugs. All his abuse was administered cold sober.
The isolation and the deprivation we experienced are important
factors in this story. Unlike most of our contemporaries, we
never had a flush toilet or bathtub, a furnace or heated bedrooms,
in eastern Montana where winter temperatures frequently dipped
to twenty degrees below zero or lower. We had a well for only
four years, and for at least six of the first twenty years of
this story, we did not even an outdoor toilet - just a shovel
and a lot of cleanup in the spring. These were lifestyle choices
made by my dad, and were part of the set of tools he used in
his indoctrination and manipulation, to keep us from resisting
I invite you to walk with me, through these three books, holding
hands with five little girls and a battered, delusional woman,
whose every day experience is terror and minute to minute survival.