Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family (27 page)


LINDSAY’S EXPERIMENT WAS
starting to look like a failure. Nothing she did steered Peter clear of the revolving door for long. Freedman warned her that her brother would continue to get a lot worse over time, and that the better doctors for him were not in Fort Logan, but back at Pueblo.

From Freedman, Lindsay learned that some researchers believed that a genetic predisposition toward schizophrenia—a vulnerability, as articulated by Daniel Weinberger’s developmental hypothesis—could be triggered by an environmental stressor. Maybe there was nothing Lindsay could have done to help Peter deal with his particular stressor, whatever it might have been.

But when she thought about that mixture of nature and nurture, Lindsay decided that, assuming she had the same genetic vulnerability as her brothers, she was living proof that the environment matters: After experiencing her own trauma, she got the proper treatment, and she never got sick the way that they did. Her trauma was sexual abuse, but her brothers each had their own: Donald when his wife left him, Brian when he and his girlfriend broke up, Joe when his fiancée left him, Matt after two significant head injuries (one from hockey, the other from the time his head smashed into the patio during a fight with Joe).

Peter’s trauma had seemed easy enough to spot: At the age of fourteen he had watched his father have a stroke; his first hospitalization had been a matter of weeks after that. But there was something else. Since they were closer now, Lindsay asked Peter if, like she and Margaret, he’d ever been sexually abused by Jim. Peter said yes, though he did not elaborate.

Lindsay was not exactly surprised. It seemed as if Jim had taken liberties with every young child around him. But wasn’t this trauma her trauma, too? Just like that, after years of effort, Lindsay was back to wondering what it was about her—her brain chemistry, her genes, her deep dive into therapy—that kept her from ending up just like Peter.

DON

MIMI

DONALD

JIM

JOHN

MICHAEL

RICHARD

JOE

MARK

MATT

PETER

MARGARET

LINDSAY

 
CHAPTER 31

It never stopped amazing both Lindsay and Margaret how to so many people outside of Hidden Valley Road, their mother, in her advancing years, seemed almost saintly in her devotion to her family. “Despite some physical illness on her part, she does not seem to let this get her down,” one Pueblo doctor wrote in 1987. “Her attitude is that she must keep going and somehow things take care of themselves.”

On visits with doctors at Pueblo or at the outpatient Pikes Peak Mental Health Center, or Penrose Hospital, or the CARES facility where her sons sometimes stayed, Mimi never failed to impress, entertaining the doctors with stories about the opera and Georgia O’Keeffe and her grandfather and Pancho Villa. “She was always very pleasant,” remembered Honie B. Crandall, a psychiatrist who, as the medical director at Pikes Peak, treated nearly all the Galvin brothers at one time or another. “Never saw her out of control, or unpleasant. But she was always saying, ‘You’ve got to drop everything and come do this now. Come take care of this.’ ” Mimi was a happy warrior again. Only the war had changed.

Alone with her sick sons, Mimi’s fuse was a little shorter than outsiders might have thought. She’d snap at Matt’s poor hygiene, and fume about Peter’s insolence, and pick on Joe for putting on so much weight. She had slightly more patience for Donald, still the son with whom she had the closest contact. After many years of trying to live in a group home, Donald had given up and come back to Hidden Valley Road, seemingly for good. “He just couldn’t tolerate being with other ill people,” Mimi would explain—not her exceptional son. Donald’s hands had a tremor now; the doctors diagnosed him with tardive dyskinesia, a common side effect of antipsychotic drugs, causing involuntary stiff, jerky movements. Donald’s explanation for the tremor was that he got it because his father “made us stand at attention because he wanted us to be doctors.”

So much of what Donald said on any given day still was not linked in any understandable way to reality. But with the benefit of the same medications that were slowing him down, Donald had periods of lucidity. On a good day, he and Mimi would go bird-watching, and Donald would get slightly more animated when he saw something—“Oh, there’s a red-tail!” or “There’s an eagle!”—and he would reminisce about flying falcons with his father. Mimi would take him on every visit to see other relatives—her escort for the day, usually sitting quietly by her side until it was time to go. And yet as the years went on, Mimi started to grow weary of Donald’s more obstreperous side. She had to hide the family photo albums to keep Donald from pulling out pages and destroying them. He smashed a large statue of Saint Joseph that had been at her fireplace for years. On one outing with Mimi to the bank, he told a teller he wanted to open an account and change his name. But on most days, Donald would not leave his room. Even at Christmas, he would greet everybody with a hug and then retreat to a hiding place. One of Mimi’s granddaughters found him once, when she was about five: “Mimi”—many of the grandchildren, adorably, called her by her first name, following the lead of Margaret and Lindsay—“Donald is sitting in the closet.”

Even in those moments, Mimi’s heart went out to Donald. “Holidays are extremely hard,” she said. “Everybody’s getting together and discussing where they’re going and what they’re doing and how many children they’re having, and so forth. It’s a very hard time.” Hard for her, too, to be reminded of everything she’d once hoped for him. When she looked at Donald, Mimi often would reference the boy he had been before he was sick. “People would say, ‘Oh, he has such beautiful manners.’ Little did they know.”

In conversation, Mimi started citing a book she’d been given called
Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics,
about communities in Ireland where the mentally ill are cared for, and even treated as people with special insight into an otherwise unnoticed world. Just knowing such a place existed was a comfort to her—the suggestion that there might be something distinctive about Donald and the others, to make up, in some small way, for what was lost.

When the illness first took hold of the family, Mimi’s life had changed, too. It was as if an entire future she’d once counted on like the sun coming up in the morning just never came to pass. She never complained about any of that directly. But sometimes when her two daughters visited, they noticed a new bitterness to Mimi. The stories she told changed: Her monologues weren’t just about Howard Hughes and Jacques d’Amboise. They were about how she had wanted her husband, their father, to be a lawyer, but he insisted on the military; how she had always wanted to live on the East Coast, but Don took her around the country and out to Colorado; how she never thought that she would have twelve children, but Don wanted twelve, and so they had twelve. She did what a wife does, she said, even converting to Catholicism, because that was her role. She had served everyone else, she said, enumerating the great sacrifices she had made to do so.

At her worst, she blamed Don’s side of the family for the illness. The son of one of Don’s brothers seemed to be unbalanced now, perhaps bipolar. It was a matter of time, she would say, before science proved that what happened to her children was an inherited illness from the Galvin side.

This struck both Lindsay and Margaret as petty, even cruel. Their father was a shadow of the man he’d been, spending most of his time in front of the television. When the subject of any of the sick boys came up, he seemed unable to look closely at the situation anymore. And his chin would quiver when anyone talked about what Jim had done to the girls. He stopped short, at least in Margaret’s estimation, of taking responsibility. But he was no longer quite as distant as he once was. He teared up. Why pile on him now?

Something was bothering Mimi—and it had to do with her daughters. She knew that in their eyes, she was both the villain and hero of the family: a mother in denial, heartlessly neglecting her daughters because she was so attached to her sick sons, and a mother who kept her family together, left to care for so many sick sons by herself. Mimi sensed she was being judged. It frustrated Mimi that as much as she took on, the last people to appreciate her seemed to be some of her own children. She could only abide this for so long.


IN THE
1990
S,
a revelation hit Mimi that she never saw coming—something devastating that, the more she thought about it, made dreadful sense. Seemingly out of nowhere, Donald confided in his mother that, as a teenager, he had been a victim of sexual abuse. And when Mimi asked the name of his abuser, the answer was a man whom she had considered a close friend.

In the late 1950s, when he was just a boy, Donald had been the first of the Galvin sons to serve as an altar boy at St. Mary’s for Father Robert Freudenstein—the same priest who had instructed Mimi in Catholicism and baptized her. In the years that Freudy became close to the family, a confidant to both Mimi and Don, young Donald was close to him, too. When Donald was sixteen, he had stayed out on the prairie with Freudy for a week, chauffeuring the priest in his car after he’d lost his license. Now Donald was saying he’d been molested by him.

Mimi had no idea how to react. She was almost seventy now; how many more horrors was she supposed to bear? And Donald always said so much, almost all of it nonsense. She tried to ignore it. But Donald continued to insist, in his flat, deadpan way, that it was true. And the crisis of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was all over the news now. From the publicized cases it seemed that most people were coming forward decades later, just as Donald was, having been silenced by shame and in some cases intimidation.

Father Freudenstein had never made the news in this way. But Mimi could not stop thinking about it. To think that this happened to her son while she was supposed to be protecting him brought her lower than she’d been in years—since, perhaps, the death of her son Brian. The more she thought about Freudy, the more she saw how invasive he’d been, how he’d made himself indispensable to her, how she came to trust him to be alone not just with Donald but with all of her older boys. And the more she learned about priests and young boys, the more Mimi began to wonder how many of her sons might have been victimized.

At first, it seemed like there was nothing to be done. So much time had passed, and Donald was Donald—diagnosed with schizophrenia, heavily medicated for decades. But Donald repeated what he’d said to anyone who asked. He never wavered. The other brothers had varying memories of Freudy. While John remembered being teased by him, Michael and Richard recalled liking him. Richard remembered Freudy taking his older brothers—Donald, Jim, John, and Brian—hiking up in Glenwood Springs for two days at a time. “Mom and Dad were relieved,” Richard said. “They had a trusted priest.”

It was Richard who, entirely by happenstance, learned more about Freudy. A close relative of Richard’s girlfriend Renée, a man named Kent Schnurbusch, told the couple that he had known the priest as a teenage boy in 1966; he’d been groomed by Freudenstein, he said, and had sex with him. Years later, Kent attended a meeting of the Colorado chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and mentioned Freudenstein’s name. Two different men said they had heard of Freudy; he was gay, they said, and suffered from alcoholism, which alone might have explained why he was transferred so often to small parishes and never rose up in the ranks of the Church. Freudy had retired from the priesthood in 1987 and spent his final years in severe decline before his death in 1994.

Kent decided to go to the chancellery and make his claim, to see what else there might be to learn about the priest who had taken advantage of him. The meeting was so brief, it took his breath away. Instead of pushing back against Kent, the priests at the chancellery simply asked him how much he was expecting in damages. He was unprepared for this. He wasn’t there for the money so much as the closure. He asked for $8,000, and the chancellery gave him $10,000.

When Kent told all this to Richard and Renée, he was as astonished as they were that the priest had known all the Galvin boys so well, just a few years before his experience with him. Kent had been eighteen when he knew Freudy—a teenager, like Donald had been when he went out to stay on the prairie as his chauffeur.

When Mimi learned Kent’s story, what was once a possibility became, to her, a certainty. Here was corroboration, and even signs of a modus operandi. It didn’t matter to her that Freudy’s name did not turn up on any of the lists made public by the abuse survivor and advocacy groups, or that he was never named in any public lawsuit. Everything lined up, as far as she was concerned. Who knew what incidents weren’t public, and which disgraced priests had their sins swept under the rug? Mimi came to believe that Freudenstein had been perusing her boys like boxes of cereal at the supermarket until he found the one he liked the best. “He had culled my family,” she said. “He knew it was a big family of boys.”

From there, Mimi seized on Father Freudenstein as a new global explanation for everything—the big reason that things went so wrong in her family. Didn’t it make sense, she’d say, that the priest sexually abused Donald, who in turn physically abused his brothers, at least one of whom, Jim, went on to sexually abuse their sisters? What if Jim, too, had been molested by Father Freudenstein? Wouldn’t that explain why he became a pedophile? Maybe all the schizophrenia in the family—which Mimi had, up until now, believed in her heart had to be genetic—was set into motion by the stress of this chain of abuse? Look at how Donald and Peter both became so hyper-religious in the thick of their illnesses; could that really have been a coincidence, or was the Catholic imagery in the air, ready to be repurposed in the wake of trauma?

Mimi was leaping to several conclusions, of course. Sexual abuse does not cause schizophrenia; that much is certain. Even a torrent of sexual abuse like what Mimi had envisioned still could not answer the bigger question of why there had been so much mental illness in their family. Lindsay understood how Mimi was conflating the two things, the sexual abuse and the mental illness, and she thought she knew why. Blaming Father Freudenstein had, at least for Mimi, the virtue of taking some of the blame away from her—as long as you didn’t linger too long on the question of how often a mother and father would have to be looking away for an ill-intentioned priest to have so much unfettered access to their boys.

Mimi renounced her faith. She told her children she did not want a Catholic burial, and that she wanted to be cremated. She was turning her back on all that now. Time was running out. She wanted the world to know who was responsible.


SOMETIME AFTER DONALD
told her about Father Freudenstein, Mimi decided, in between her usual refrain that they’d been the perfect family before mental illness struck, to become more open about the past, sharing information with her daughters that she’d never before dreamed of discussing. What neither daughter expected was that these disclosures would be about their father.

Mimi began by going into detail about episodes throughout her marriage that, she believed, offered a different perspective on Don. The first happened in 1955, she said, shortly after the family’s transfer from Colorado Springs to Canada, when Don ended up at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., with what Mimi now was saying was a deep, powerful depression. He also had a milder episode later, she said, while they were living in northern California—something like a panic attack. Don had spent so many recent years at home, becoming more and more despondent after a cascade of health problems—they’d all seen that. Now Mimi was saying she believed that Don had a history of clinical depression, through his entire life.

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