"DANCING ON HIS GRAVE"
I tried to write this story twenty years ago, in third person,
complete with an amateur psychoanalysis of my father, making
him the central figure of the story. I had found a mentor,
Dr. Jess Ferris from Great Falls, and he gave me his strong
opinion. “I’m the psychologist for the Paton in Deer Lodge,”
he said, “and I meet inmates with stories like yours all
the time. What makes your story unique is the outcome. This
story is not about him. This is about five little girls who
literally survived him, excelled in school, married and raised
families of normal, productive, contributing citizens.”
is a degree of accuracy in that statement, but recovery from
eighteen years in a virtual concentration camp has not come
easy and is never perfected, even when all opportunities
for facing the past and changing its consequences are exhausted.
As adults the five of us have made a good imitation of
normalcy. My youngest sister received a bachelor’s degree
in mathematics after her family was raised, and the rest
of us have owned businesses or held positions of significant
importance and responsibility. The divorce rate among us
is no higher than the national average, and several marriages
have lasted thirty-five to fifty years. Among our sixteen
children are numerous college degrees – including one PhD
– no jail time, drug abuse or other significant transgressions.
I interviewed my mother at length in 1982 during my beginning
research for this story. Information from the interviews
and her extensive diaries and journals written during the
worst years show her downward spiral into denial and the
“battered wife syndrome,” and her partial recovery after
fifteen years away from him. The contributions by my sisters
were also written in 1982, soon after our father’s death,
when emotions and euphoria were running high.
This has been a difficult story to write. I have tried
to stay true to my sisters’ and mother’s own words with as
little editorializing as possible, except to avoid duplication
or conflicting accounts of the same incident. The names of
my sisters and any other family members who might be affected
by the publication of this story have been changed, to give
them a chance to choose whether they want to step forward
and participate in the “outing” of the despot that dominated
our lives for nearly forty years, or retain their privacy.
Writing this story has also been cathartic. My terror at
“telling” the family secret and the accompanying nightmares,
depression and some of the guilt have gradually faded as
the story developed. My hope is that readers will find in
this story testimony and affirmation that the human spirit
can survive, even when its vessels are five little girls
and a brutalized woman whose life is horror and minute to
minute survival. B.R.
The second book of the proposed trilogy, “Walking Wounded,”
is a sequel to “Dancing on His Grave. I use Part I of the
book to recap the story thus far. This was the suggestion
of my coach/editor, Judy Blunt, who said, “You can’t assume
that everyone who picks up ‘Walking’ has already read ‘Dancing.’”
I also re-introduce my sisters, mother and the villain of
the story, my father. Although Part I covers a time frame
and incidents discussed in Dancing, the majority of the material
The major change in the presentation of “Walking Wounded”
is that my sisters’ first person voices have for the most
part disappeared from the text, and the story is told in
my voice, and from my mother’s journals. In this sequel,
we five girls one by one escape our father’s psychopathic
abuse, only to find ourselves cast into the world drastically
ill-equipped to cope with the demands of adulthood, especially
marriage and motherhood. It is very difficult to explain
to reasonable people the denial that we continued for many,
many years, causing ourselves untold pain and anguish.
Mom chose to stay with Dad for seven years after Norma,
my youngest sister, left home in 1960. With her classic denial,
she hid the fact that his psychotic behavior was increasing
in intensity. He started carrying a concealed weapon, a .38
revolver in a shoulder holster, without a permit, and on
at least one occasion stalked one of the neighbors with murderous
intent. This behavior might have been what caused her to
finally begin fearing he was becoming dangerous.
Finally, during the summer of 1967, he inflicted a concussion
that had her in bed for more than a week. Two months later,
when she had barely recovered, he again flew into a rage
and threw her on the floor with a threat to kill her. After
thirty three years of such abuse, in a moment of clarity
she realized he would eventually kill her if she stayed.
She fled to Kathleen’s house on a blistering hot August afternoon
with three dollars in her pocket. The miracle at this point
was that he allowed her to load a few items in an old car,
watching and taunting her the whole time, and leave.
Fortunately my mother had another obsession besides him—higher
education. We girls persuaded her to go to Seattle and enroll
in college, at age fifty-four. For the next three years,
she went through the long, painful process of de-programming.
Her journals reveal that at any given time during her stay
in Seattle, she would have gone back to him in a heartbeat.
The distance of over 1,000 miles kept that from happening.
By the time she returned to Billings, two years after leaving
him, she had begun to recover. She finished school, graduating
with honors, received her degree in English from Eastern
Montana College, and divorced Dad in 1971.
Meanwhile, Dad pursued the path of an alcoholic; two years
after Mom divorced him, he remarried. The story of his second
wife and the story she told about how she very nearly lost
her life is almost incredible. The skillful detective work
by my sister Pat to find her after her mysterious disappearance,
which had us speculating that she might have been a casualty,
is also spellbinding.