Authors: Robert Kolker
One bright Monday in June 1971, a jet plane landed at Sardy airfield in Aspen, Colorado, carrying seventy members of the Ballet West dance company. Each summer, the Salt Lake City troupe came to Aspen for a residency, performing to a friendly audience of well-off owners of beautiful second homes. This summer was different: Ballet West would be rehearsing and performing six new productions in advance of a late-summer European tour featuring a few guest stars: Linda Meyer of the San Francisco Ballet; Karel Shimoff of the London Festival Ballet; and, from the New York City Ballet, one of the finest male dancers of his generation, Jacques d’Amboise.
The airplane door opened. Out came the three guest dancers, glamorous and smiling. And up the metal staircase climbed a little girl wearing white knee socks and clogs and a gossamer dress, handmade by her mother. Margaret Galvin—just nine years old, with long dark hair parted down the middle and an impish smile—was carrying a bouquet of flowers for Jacques d’Amboise. She was part of the welcoming committee, happy to be chosen to hand over the bouquet on behalf of the group that had sustained Ballet West for years—an organization run by her father.
Don and Mimi’s trips to Aspen with the Federation of Rocky Mountain States were heaven for Margaret. She dreamed of nothing but dancing, of joining Ballet West when she was older; she even wore the same plain blue clogs preferred by the members of the company. She took classes in Aspen during the summer months—three a day, plus pantomime and tap—wearing an outfit her mother bought for her at an Aspen boutique. By the age of twelve, Margaret was being fast-tracked as a dancer, practicing from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day in Aspen, and then going straight to rehearsals, then home for a quick bite before attending performances at night. When Margaret’s sister, Mary, was old enough, she joined her on adventures in Aspen, taking walks up and down Morin Creek, looking for mushrooms, and riding the chairlift together to Aspen Highlands. They both noticed how people sought out their father for conversation and counsel, and how relaxed and comfortable he was with everyone, rarely without a martini in his hand. Their mother seemed to enjoy it, too, even if, on many evenings, as Mimi dabbed on her Estée Lauder perfume, she’d fret to the girls that the family didn’t have the money for her to have what she needed to wear.
And what about the boys? In the years before Donald went to Pueblo, he had been out of the picture, married in Fort Collins, at least two hours by car from Hidden Valley Road. Once he got sick, he was sometimes home, sometimes at the hospital, and sometimes attempting to live independently, finding jobs in stores or selling items door-to-door. As long as Donald was well enough to try living somewhere else, these trips to Aspen and Santa Fe could continue.
Jim was married, living with Kathy and Jimmy in downtown Colorado Springs. The next boys in line, John and Brian, were in college—and the next after them, Michael and Richard, were high school age and only came to Aspen and Santa Fe sometimes. The rest of the time, they stayed home and looked after the four youngest boys—Joe, Mark, Matt, and Peter—taking them to team practices, making sure they ate meals. They could take or leave these Federation excursions; they’d rather be on the ice or the ball field.
But for the girls, these trips away from home were everything. Margaret could pretend that she belonged there all the time. The spell would break whenever the brothers would come along with them.
You need to be away from here,
Margaret would think, watching Joe or Mark or Matt or Peter snapping towels or doing cannonballs in the pool.
This is my place.
The last place she wanted to be was with any of her brothers—not on Hidden Valley Road or anywhere else.
MARGARET HAD BARELY
been a toddler in 1963 when the family first moved to Hidden Valley Road, and in those earlier, happier years, she existed mainly as a prop for her brothers. Each boy before her had gone through a version of this, too. “We were the football,” her brother Richard once said, remembering being tossed around their old living room when he was the littlest. In the girls’ case, first Margaret and then Mary became everyone’s toy.
In close quarters, all ten boys tickled and teased her and hurled her through their spanking machine, for no reason other than it seemed to pass the time. This had thrilled Margaret at first. She had worshipped her brothers; she was two years younger than the youngest boy, Peter, and seventeen years younger than Donald, the oldest. Once she was big enough, Margaret would scramble through the scrub oak in their backyard and climb the pines to spy on the boys as they built a three-story tree fort at the top of the hill, overlooking the entire valley. When the boys finished the fort, Margaret was afraid to climb it, but when her brothers called her a sissy, she did it, anyway.
Margaret was too sensitive not to internalize the conflict between the brothers—all that wrestling and punching and brawling—even when it wasn’t about her. And soon enough, it became about her. As she got older, Margaret became less of a mascot and more of a target, a sitting duck. On her way home from school, her brothers threw pinecones or water balloons at her from the top of the hill. Once she was home, the spanking machine remained fully operational—only now there would be obvious sexual undertones. Mark once was told by his older brothers that he had to run over and “do” Margaret. She would be groped and handled strangely, bullied harshly in a way that some of the boys might have considered innocent and fun.
Was this abuse? Or was it a bunch of wound-up athletic boys with no sense of limits, no internal regulators, getting physical with one another and her? Margaret would spend years wondering about that. In any case, she was too powerless to engage in open combat with them. She wanted to be comforted and protected. On Hidden Valley Road, home of the twenty-four-hour wrestling tournament, that never seemed to be an option.
A generous portion of Margaret’s, and later Mary’s, formative years took place in the spectator section of the Broadmoor World Ice Arena, watching practices and games. The youngest four brothers formed their own little unit within the larger family, playing every sport together, with hockey their finest. Joe was mild-mannered and introspective. Mark was a chess prodigy, sensitive and, by Galvin standards at least, preternaturally well-behaved. Matt was prone to mischief, but also had a flair for making pottery. Peter, the youngest, was the family’s great insurgent—more rebellious than any of the others ever had been, unable to tell Mimi and Don anything but “no.” But barely a week went by without one of the four hockey brothers making it into the Colorado Springs
for their performance in hockey games—culminating in one glorious moment, when three of them were all in high school together, all on the same team, and all on the ice together, and Joe and Mark both assisted on a goal scored by Matt, and the announcer cried, “Galvin to Galvin to Galvin!”
At home, the boys fired off sports trivia at one another between practices, and watched whatever game was on, and wrestled and fought. Even when Matt shattered his jaw and occipital lobe during one hockey game, and had to be rushed to the emergency room, and spent weeks with a constellation of pins and stitches keeping his head together, that, too, was typical Galvin fare, nothing out of the ordinary. Margaret sought shelter with her mother in the kitchen, helping her out as she listened to Mimi go on about the annoyances of the day. She would go to the market with her mother, controlling the second shopping cart that was necessary for holding enough groceries for a family of their size. And she would submit, obediently, to her mother’s constant corrections of her behavior, her school performance, and her attempts at painting and drawing.
In sixth grade, a teacher complimented Margaret’s artwork, and something registered inside her. Only when she was dancing had she felt anything like this—the sense that she might be able to create something out of nothing, to matter, to be more than just a piece of furniture in her brothers’ playhouse. She had watched her mother with her watercolors, painting mushrooms and birds. Now she wondered if that was something she could do one day, too.
But Margaret was a little too cowed by Mimi to compete with her that way. She always wanted more reassurances and support and approval than her mother was willing to give. So she put those feelings on a shelf, for the time being.
DONALD HAD BEEN
off at college when they’d moved to Hidden Valley Road, and had only come home for visits. After his release from Pueblo, his stay at home seemed open-ended—until he got better, maybe, or at least could be trusted to hold a job and live alone. That day seemed far off to everyone, and for Margaret, who was eight when Donald moved home, each day with him there brought the fear of something new. Donald would lead masses for a parish of one—himself—shouting the Beatitudes, the Hail Mary, and biblical passages. He would go to the art store and buy some cheap picture frames and mount them to the wall, framing one-word quotes like
all around the house. Too contained by the house, he would walk hundreds of miles around the neighborhood, county, and state.
At mass every Sunday, Mimi told the children to pray for Donald. But in public, she would titter and smile and say that their family of twelve children was a little daffy or eccentric or adorable—like the family in
You Can’t Take It with You
. The most she would say about Donald was that he had not been the same since his wife left him. That woman had not been a good choice for Donald. The marriage was all wrong to begin with. Now he couldn’t seem to get over her. “She was
” Mimi would say, shaking her head—implying, without exactly saying, that her son’s problems were the result of a broken heart.
As Mimi doubled down on her perfectionism, the girls became her most trusted deputies. Both girls tried to help their mother—taking out the trash, mopping the floor, washing the dishes, setting the table, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms—as if there wasn’t a sick twenty-five-year-old man stalking the yard or writhing on the floor. Six o’clock remained the dinner hour, and whoever was home was expected to sit down and eat—even if, in the case of Donald, he had spent much of the day dressed in a monk’s robe. Mimi also tried to include Donald in family outings, but the results were mixed. When she brought him to a hockey game, he got down on his knees in the middle of the crowd and started praying. That evening, as he chewed on a mouthful of steak, he announced to everyone at the table that he was eating his father’s heart.
Hoping things might turn around for Donald did not seem to work in the slightest. Margaret turned nine, ten, and eleven on Hidden Valley Road with Donald dominating everything about their home life. Margaret and Mary got used to him exchanging blows with the brothers still at home—Joe, Mark, Matt, and Peter. Once, Donald thought one brother had made off with his medicine and tried to choke him. Another time, Donald took an entire bottle of pills and an ambulance came for him, again. The only person willing to break the silence around the problem of Donald was Jim, the maverick second son, who took pleasure in dropping by and saying what he was sure everyone else was thinking.
Shut the fuck up. Get out. Why don’t you leave? Why don’t you get out of here? What are you doing living here at your age?
Jim came up with a nickname for Donald: Gookoid. That name stuck. Most of the younger siblings invoked the name more than once a day. Teasing Donald felt better than avoiding him, which drained them of all agency. Making Donald the brunt of their jokes gave them a sense of power over a situation they had no explanation for—and reassured them that whatever Donald was, he was not them.
ONE AFTERNOON, DONALD
pulled a knife on Mimi. Margaret dashed to the phone in the kitchen and tried to call the police again—but this time, Donald lurched around and yanked the phone out of the wall. Margaret started wailing, sobbing. The wire from the phone had given her an electric shock.
Margaret watched her mother take control—ordering her daughter, one more time, to go into the master bedroom and lock the door behind her. Margaret did what she was told, but put her ear to the door. After what seemed like forever, she heard a scuffle in the kitchen, some shouting—voices of other people.
Joe and Mark had come home from hockey practice. They were confronting Donald, protecting Mimi—possibly, Margaret thought at the time, saving her life.
Donald stomped out of the house, vowing he would never go back to the hospital. Margaret heard nothing after that, except for the sound of her mother crying.