Alone
Home Up Terry

   

Book One:

A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS

 


PART ONE: CHILDHOOD


CHAPTER TWO:
ALONE

Written by Rick Archer

  2015, Richard Archer

   


SUBCHAPTER 05
- MY MOTHER STRUGGLES TO COPE

 

Following the divorce, my mother was ill-prepared to take care of herself, much less me. 

Mom had serious trouble supporting the two of us.  Like many wives of the post-World War II era, she had dropped out of college to support my father while he got his degree in electrical engineering.  My father was something of a genius, so his career came first. 

The decision to support my father was a good idea at the time, but backfired badly after the divorce.  Although Mom possessed some serious smarts of her own, now she had no college degree.  Consequently my mother was forced to accept secretarial jobs for which she was intellectually overqualified. 

Compounding her difficulties, Mom didn't play politics very well.  My mother was rather headstrong and outspoken, especially for that era.   She insisted on doing things her way, an attitude that rubbed some of her less-talented male bosses the wrong way.  Whenever the friction mounted, Mom would be shown the door.

My mother was quite the gypsy.  She wandered endlessly.  Following the divorce, during the nine year span from 4th grade till college, my mother drifted from job to job, home to home, man to man.  Nine years, nine different jobs and eleven different homes.  I lost count of the men.  As one can imagine, this helps explain the importance of St. John's as the only constant in my life. 

Let me say that my mother was never mean to me.  Not at all.  Mom was a good person with a kind spirit.  I admire her for being extremely open-minded for her era.  She embraced Blacks, Hispanics, Jews and Gays in an era when that simply wasn't accepted.  I give her high marks for raising me without the many prejudices of the day.

Sad to say, Mary was not cut out to be a mother.  Nurturing was simply not her strength.  Her major fault was that she tended to worry about her own needs first. 

That meant I was forced at an early age to fend for myself. 

   


SUBCHAPTER 06
- ALONE

 

Following the divorce in 1959, I began to raise myself. 

During the week, my mother would be home in the evening three or four nights out of five.  On the weekends, Mom frequently left the house at night to pursue activities and new boyfriends.  Every now and then she would say no time for supper tonight.  No matter.  I would heat up my hot dog, do my homework, play with my dog Terry, then watch TV or read a book. 

I was extremely self-reliant for my age.  I learned to get my homework done without ever being told.  Depending on where we lived at the time, I got myself to and from school by bike or by bus.  Since my mother wasn't big on cooking, I learned to feed myself when I was hungry.  Oddly enough, I have never had the slightest interest in learning how to cook.  So I became the master of the simple meal - Wheaties for breakfast, peanut butter after school, hot dogs and hard-boiled eggs for dinner.  Since my best meal of the day came at the St. John's cafeteria, I learned early on not to be too fussy about my food.  The simplest meal was good enough for me. 

My favorite TV show was The Fugitive.  Constantly running from the law, the Fugitive had to be the loneliest man on earth. 

Boy, could I relate to him!

I wasn't the only person who was lonely.  I remember how lonely Mom was after the divorce.  Within months after the divorce, Mom married some bum named Tom Cook.  What was she thinking?  This guy was a total loser! 

I disliked this man with a passion.  I remember Tom was the guy who tried to teach me to smoke.  After gagging and nearly throwing up, I said no thanks the next time he offered.

Mom had a smart mouth, so Tom took to beating her periodically.  Mom learned to lock the bathroom door to avoid his drunken beatings.  Or she would crawl into bed with me for protection.  Now that I think about it, more likely she crawled into bed with me so the dog would protect her.  Tom never came near Terry.  He may have been a drunken lout, but he knew better than to take on the extremely loyal dog.

I remember Tom well because he was the first in a long line of men who made me feel protective towards my mother.  I would see her cry and feel miserable because these men treated her so poorly.  It upset me no end that I had no way to stick up for her. 

As for Tom, he lasted six months.  Tom left thanks to a series of hot checks he had written.  The police did us a real favor by knocking on the door one night.  Tom was out getting drunk, but when Mom told him about the visit, he turned ghost white. 

Tom left the next day.  Good riddance.

We were always poor.  This was due largely to my mother's inability to play politics.  Mom didn't have any trouble getting jobs, but she sure had trouble keeping them.

Mom had one very bad habit.  She had a big mouth.  Mom had grown up as Daddy's girl.  Her father had always taught her to speak her mind.  Unfortunately, the early Sixties were not very kind to women who dared to open their mouth on the job.  My mother did not take orders well.  She would often suggest a better way to do something.  Needless to say, that rankled her bosses.  Another trick was to agree with her boss, then do it her way anyway.  Hmm.  Nor did my mother handle criticism very well.  She would often respond with some sarcastic comment.  Or she might disagree with the criticism and argue with her boss. 

Not surprisingly, my mother got fired a lot.  Sad to say, I am afraid I inherited my mother's big mouth. When I was 23, I was thrown out of graduate school for some of the same behavior.  This led to my second life crisis.  Let's just say neither of us had a clue how to play politics.  At the time, I think I learned my lesson, but I doubt my mother ever quite figured out how to keep her mouth shut.

I don't think any of my mother's jobs lasted much more than a year at a time.  Either she got bored and quit or she wore out her welcome.  Since my mother received no alimony and her unimpressive pay grade did not lend itself to savings, money was a constant problem.  We were ridiculously dependent on my father's $100 a month child support.  The hardest times came during Mom's occasional stretches of unemployment.  I would come home at least a couple times a year to discover the electricity had been turned off.  Or sometimes it was the water.  The next time it was the gas.  In a day or two, Mom would receive my father's child support money and service would be restored, but now she didn't have enough money to pay the rent.  Sooner or later the landlord would tire of her excuses and tell her to hit the road.  My mother's inability to pay her bills meant that we were moving all the time... eleven times in nine years. 

Growing up, I never had a single neighborhood friend.  Why even bother trying?  We never stayed in a neighborhood long enough for it to matter.

   


SUBCHAPTER 07
- GYPSIES, TRAMPS, AND THIEVES

 

The worst part of my childhood had to be the men.  With only one exception, I detested every single one of them.

The first was definitively the worst.  Tom Cook was an actual criminal.  I still can't believe she married this guy.

One afternoon I realized my prized silver dollar collection was missing.  Tom had stolen twenty silver dollars to buy booze.  How utterly pathetic.  However, I was only 10 and there wasn't much I could do about it.  I went and told the man to return my money.  He just laughed.  I could see all his missing teeth and was so disgusted I just went to my room and seethed.  I hated feeling so helpless. 

After Tom Cook left, Mom got involved in the theater as a stage hand.  She volunteered to help with the Alley Theater production of Guys and Dolls.  I was too young to be left at home, so she packed me into the car. 

I would do my homework backstage, watch the rehearsals for a while, then get sleepy and fall asleep in a chair.  However, the noise kept waking me up, so I complained.  She said go sleep in the car.  That didn't work because I was scared.  Mom's next solution was to bring the dog with us.  Poor Terry would be left behind in the car while we went inside.  However, this solution worked.  As long as I had Terry with me, I could fall asleep in the car. 

One night I noticed a car following right behind us as we drove home.  Mom said don't worry about it.

It turned out to be some guy from the play.  They went into the bedroom.  I heard the guy leave a couple hours later. 

I was too young to understand the dynamics, but Mom couldn't go to their place because of me.  So she brought them home instead.

A week or so later, this happened again.  Mom had begun working her way through the cast members.

To this day, I still hate Guys and Dolls with a purple passion. 

When Mom decided to volunteer for the next play, I put my foot down and told her to just leave me at home.  I would rather spend my evenings home alone with Terry and my books than watch Mom spend the night shuffling props around and flirting with the actors.  At least I could go to sleep in my own bed. 

Mom didn't mind a bit.  Now she could come home when she felt like it.  I didn't mind either.  I was relieved that I did not have to listen to Mom moaning in the bedroom. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 08
- THE ATHENS BAR AND GRILL

 

Unfortunately, this new arrangement did not last very long.   Mom eventually worked her way through the men at the Alley Theater, so now it was time to switch tactics. 

When I was 11, Mom began to hang out at the Athens Bar and Grill down at the Houston ship channel.  This was a favorite hangout for Greek sailors to let loose during their brief stay in port. I never saw the place, but from what I gather, the Athens Bar was a lively nightspot.  It featured good food, good wine, and plenty of Greek dancing.

My mother said she loved Greek dancing, but I think her real fondness was for Greek sailors.  Although my mother was rather plain, she didn't seem to have any trouble picking up men. The Athens Bar became her happy hunting ground.  She liked the fact that they would be shipping out.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  Mom would bring them back to our house at night and then ferry them back to their ship in the morning. 

Mom typically reserved her adventures for the weekend.  However, when she was out of work, she usually added a weeknight visit as well. 

One morning I got up, put on my St. John's uniform, ate breakfast, then headed to the bathroom to brush my teeth.  I was shocked to find some strange man in there using the facilities.  I was embarrassed because I had walked right in on him sitting on the pot.

He stared at me wide-eyed and cursed me in Greek.  I apologized profusely, but the guy didn't speak a word of English.  Mom heard me and walked in as well.  Right there in bathroom she proceeded to introduce me to Kristos, so we awkwardly shook hands. 

After each new tryst Mom would play music from Zorba the Greek on the phonograph for the next week.  I think it helped get her in the mood for her next conquest.

Mom eventually got tired of Europeans so she switched to Americans.  After her Greek Sailor period, Mom dated a black guy named Fred.   Fred lasted about two months.

Then it was Jewish guys for a while.  I must have listened to Exodus more times than any non-Jewish kid in history.  The music must have rubbed off... I like Jewish people.

One poor Jewish guy was Murray the dentist.  He was recovering from electroshock therapy in the mental hospital.  I actually liked Murray.  He was a kind man, but his mind was completely gone.  He was so frail and helpless that I felt sorry for him.

Mom liked Murray, so she let him live with us for a while.  I liked Murray too, but not enough to have him live with us.  Like Fred, he lasted about two months.

After Murray, Mom continued her latest strategy of dating white men with problems. 

Too bad Looking for Love (in all the wrong places) hadn't been recorded yet, or I would have bought it for her.  After playing that song for a week maybe she would have gotten the message.  Or maybe not... with my luck, she would have moved on to cowboys.

Most of these men came and went within a month, but some of them like Fred and Murray needed a home so they stuck around longer.  The worst was Neal, the drunken taxi driver.  We will get to him shortly.

Personally I wish my mother had stuck to one-night stands. I absolutely loathed my mother's ill-considered attempts to force her men into my life. I estimate there were eight or nine live-in boyfriends, however there might have been more.   To cope, I spent a lot of time in my room with Terry doing my homework.

Fortunately these men didn't last very long.  A couple months of sheer misery on my part and usually they were gone. 

I assumed my mother's taste in men couldn't get worse, but it did.

Mom switched to Mexicans.  She found these guys at a place called The Last Concert.  She took this place very seriously.  Not only did she learn to dance to Mexican ranchero music, she learned to speak Spanish.

Mom would date Mexicans exclusively for the rest of her life.  Miguel.  Ramon.  Lupe.  Nemescio.  Pasqual.  She married three of them.  The worst was Pasqual, the alcoholic who beat her and helped Mom squander away the entire $30,000 she had inherited from her father's estate.  I was in college at this point.  The one time in her life my mother had any money and she blew every last cent of it.

Just when I was developing a serious dislike for Mexicans, there was one very good man, Miguel.  A gentle, caring man, Miguel made me realize that not all Mexicans are bad.  Miguel was a decent guy, the only one among the nine live-ins that I would grow to care about. Miguel lived with us for two years until Mom discovered he had a wife and children back in Mexico.  With her pride hurt, Mom threw him out. 

What a dumb move.  We both missed Miguel.  So did the dog.

Greeks, Jews, Blacks, Hispanics...

As one can see, Mom was a veritable United Nations in her choice of lovers.  I told you she was open-minded. 

I cannot begin to convey the limitless depths of my disgust towards my mother on this issue.  Most of all I didn't want them living with us.  I complained no end, but Mom told me it was none of my business. 

Throughout my childhood, the loneliness, the constant moves to new homes, the insecurity and the occasional loss of electricity were nothing compared to the men I was forced to live with.  That is what I objected to the most. 

I told her I could live with the one night stands, but please stop letting these jerks live with us.  After all, when it was just Mom and me and the dog, life was fairly peaceful. 

Mom would reply she was lonely.  Sure enough, Mom would go to a bar, pick up some guy like a stray dog, and bring him home.  The next thing I knew, he was living with us.  Unbelievable. Without any say-so in the matter, I was forced to watch with disgust as the revolving door of losers came and went. 

If my mother had just kept her romantic forays out of sight, I think my childhood would have been a lot easier to cope with. 

   


SUBCHAPTER 09
- BLUE CHRISTMAS

 

My mother was very prone to depression.  There were times when Mom would be in the bedroom crying uncontrollably and I would be terrified with insecurity.  I had no idea how to console her. 

I had virtually no one to turn to.  I knew my mother was a mess, but she was all I had.  There were no nearby relatives, no close friends and no neighbors to call for help when Mom had one of her crying jags.  All I had was the dog.

Consequently I spent much of my childhood in the days following the divorce in constant fear she would go off the deep end and then I would be forced to go live with my father.  Since I had begun to figure out my father didn't have a nurturing bone in his body, I prayed my mother would find a way to keep it together. 

I have detailed how my mother fell to pieces following the 1959 divorce.  Two years later in 1961, Mom hit absolute rock bottom.  Although she did not confide in me, I have to assume the issues were either loneliness or lack of money.

Lately Mom had been crying all the time.  One day it was raining hard and my mother had been crying.  Suddenly she got up and inexplicably left the apartment without reason.  I stared in shock as she walked out of her room, crossed the living room and walked out into the rain.  She didn't say a word to me.

I was scared out of my wits.  Something was wrong here, badly wrong.  Mom had no umbrella and no rain coat.  The rain outside was no drizzle either.  It was pouring! 

I knew my mother would be drenched in seconds and I was right.  How did I know?  Because I followed her. 

And why did I follow her?  Because I was terrified of losing her.

I was eleven years old.  I was trying very hard to be a big boy, but it was really tough sometimes.  My support system was about as thin as it could be.  I had a wonderful aunt and uncle who lived near Washington, DC, but DC was a long way away.  Allen and Polly Clark and their three children was a Houston family who had been kind enough to take me on a trip to Colorado last summer, but they lived on the other side of town.  I had a father who had turned his back on me to attend to his new family.  I had no friends at school and no friends nearby since I was new to this neighborhood. 

That left Mom, Terry, and St. John's to keep me glued together.  Right now Mom wasn't inspiring any sense of security.  If I lost her, I had no idea what would become of me.  I was deeply afraid someone would make me live with my father.  I hated his new wife, so the thought of being placed with him make me sick with fear.  As bad as things were in my home, I still preferred to be with my mother.  She wasn't much of a mother, but at least I knew she cared about me.  I had no similar illusions about my father.

As I secretly followed Mom in the rain, I could tell something was terribly wrong.  She was crying uncontrollably about something.  I did not know what it was, but it had to be bad.  Right in the middle of that miserable rain storm, I watched in horror as she collapsed on the wet grass near Braes Bayou.  She just sat down in the soaking wet grass and sobbed her head off.  Hiding behind a tree, I didn't know what to do.  Should I go to her and try to comfort her?  Or should I just monitor the situation?  I opted to stay hidden and keep watching.  But the moment she made a move to jump in the swollen bayou nearby, I was prepared to intercede.

I would say a good ten minutes passed.  Now my mother sat up.  Then she slowly rose to her feet.  Mom was so muddy she resembled a Swamp Monster.  Fortunately she seemed a little stronger.  I was gratified to see her begin to trudge back to our apartment.  Slowly her face became more recognizable as the rain washed most of the mud off.  However her clothes were ruined.  Once Mom entered the apartment project, I figured she was committed to coming home.  I took a different route and raced back to our apartment ahead of her. I was in the shower when I heard the front door shut.  Mom never knew I had been spying on her.  I preferred to allow her to keep her dignity.  I knew she would not have wanted me to see how forlorn she was. 

I never found out what the issue was.  However, years later she did tell me she had once considered suicide and that the thought of me being forced to live with my father was the only thing that changed her mind.  I have to believe she was referring to this incident.  It bothered me that I had guessed right.  There was a real strong chance she had considered jumping into that bayou.  

After the crying spell, a couple months passed.  Mom did not seem to snap out of it.  She was just going through the motions.  Three days before Christmas, Mom made a startling announcement.  Get packed; we are driving to Dick and Lynn's house in Northern Virginia.

My eyes bulged.  I seriously did not want to do this.  It was freezing cold outside and we had the worst car imaginable for winter driving.  It was a giant convertible nearly the size of a tank.  The canvas roof was hardly going to be able to keep us warm.  Even worse, the floor board in the back was so rusted out that I could see the street pavement through some of the cracks.  The cold air blowing up from below was sure to make us miserable.  Didn't Mom want to rethink us? 

No.  We are going.  Get packed.

Does Uncle Dick know we are coming? 

No.  It's a surprise.

Reluctantly I gathered every blanket in the house and stuffed them into the car.  We left at 1 am.  Mom said driving at night was the best way to make good time.  Mom had a choice between going through southern Louisiana or northern Louisiana.  She chose the northern route.  We did indeed make good time, but that changed dramatically at 9 am.  That is when the snow began to fall.

Snow doesn't fall in Louisiana very often, but as we would discover, we had run smack dab into the worst winter storm in the past twenty years.  As the snowfall increased, I begged my mother to stop and ride out the storm at some roadside diner.  She disagreed.  Mom was determined to continue, even when the car began to skid badly on the snow and sleet covering the highway. 

That giant car kept weaving back and forth.  This went on for an hour and I was terrified.  My eyes ached from straining to see through the thick snowfall to spot oncoming traffic.  I complained bitterly, but Mom would not listen to reason.  Finally I couldn't take it anymore.  I was afraid for my life, so I got in the back seat and wrapped myself in every blanket we had for safety in case there was a collision.  Despite all those blankets I was still cold; Mom said the heater had stopped working. I clung hard to Terry and shivered terribly with cold and fear.  Even the poor dog was cold; Terry clung to me too!

Huge snow drifts accumulated on the side of the road.  The car got harder and harder to control.  Even though Mom was barely driving over 20 miles per hour, one time we skidded far into the next lane.  Mom was barely able to get us back on our side before a truck whizzed past us.  The driver beeped as loud as he could to signal his anger at the near head-on collision.  

Now I begged Mom again to pull over and wait out the storm until the roads could be cleared.  Nothing doing.

Mom would not explain, but I had to believe her life was in crisis.  Out of options, Mom must have felt she had no choice but to continue forward.  Mom was determined to follow her dangerous path even if it meant risking our lives.  She was completely out of control. 

The snowfall continued unmercifully.  The road conditions were the worst imaginable.  Our tires could not seem to grip the road for long. As the car constantly weaved back and forth on the snowy highway, I experienced more fear than any 11-year old kid should ever have to face.  I felt so helpless stuck there with this insane mother and this weaving car.  I was certain we would be killed at any moment.

And then it happened.  The car skidded badly across the road.

With an oncoming truck, I was certain death was imminent.  I screamed bloody murder and squeezed my dog to my chest.

There was no time to allow Mom to regain control.  She never even tried.  Instead she just kept driving in a straight line across the road and plowed into a giant ditch.

Fortunately the snow accumulation softened the blow of the crash.  Now the car was face down in a snow drift.  Mom tried to back out, but nothing doing.

Mom broke down in another one of those miserable crying jags.  I was crying myself.  I was so scared.  I didn't know how we were ever going to get out of this mess.  I just sat there in quiet desperation.  Thank God I had my dog for comfort.

Mom never quite snapped out of it.  She just kept sobbing.  However, after ten minutes of crying, she stopped long enough to tell me I needed to do something. 

What??  Surely she wasn't serious... but she was.

"Mom, I am eleven years old.  I am just a kid.  What do you expect me to do?"

"I expect you to get out of the car and go get us a tow truck."

"How am I supposed to do that?"

"Well, go stand on the side of the road and hitch a ride into that town we just passed.  Get to a station and ask a tow truck to bring you back. Terry and I will wait here till you return."

"Why can't all three of us go?"

"Because no one will pick up two people and a dog.  However, they might take pity on a kid."

I stared at my mother as if she was out of her mind.  And then I realized she was out of her mind.  Mom had been out of her mind ever since we had left Houston.

I could not believe she was sending me out on my own like this, but maybe she was right.  I couldn't think of a better solution, so on the spot I decided to grow up fast and do this.  I got out of the car and went to the road.  Mom was right.  Someone saw our car in the ditch and stopped to offer to help.  The person seemed safe enough, so I asked for a ride to town. 

Ten miles later I was in the nearest town and bringing back a tow truck.

The tow truck was able to get our tank out of the snow drifts.  The truck took us back into town whereupon the station manager checked out the car.  Amazingly, there was no damage.  However the manager insisted Mom get some snow chains for the tires.

After what we had been through, Mom wasn't going to argue.  Her defiance was gone now.  It had turned to fear.  She was completely broken and just hanging on by a thread.

Mom looked at the man and told him the truth.  She did not have enough money with her to pay either the towing fee or for the chains.  What little money she had left was for gas and meals.  But if he would trust us, she would write him a check.  She said if he could wait a week before cashing it, once we got to Virginia, her brother would give her enough money to cover the check.  The man thought long and hard, then he eventually smiled and said okay.  Thank goodness it was Christmas time. 

Why the man agreed to take my mother's word, I will never know.  Actually, now that I think about it, I know one possible reason.  He told me he had been impressed by my courage.  He said he had a son my age and he couldn't imagine a boy my age doing what I did.  He asked if I had been scared.

I told him he had no idea.  I was still shaking.  This experience had scarred me in unimaginable ways.

Nevertheless, I thanked him for his kindness.  I said we were in great debt to him for his incredible kindness and trust.

That night we ate a warm meal of spaghetti at a diner next to an inexpensive motel in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  I think that meal tasted better than any meal I have ever had in my life.  I was so grateful to still be alive.

Fortunately, the road conditions were better in the morning.  The highways had been cleared and the snowfall was more flurries than anything else.  We no longer had to drive in abject terror.  Soon enough Mom stopped at a gas station and had them take the chains off. 

We stopped at another motel in Georgia that night.  From there, Mom drove straight through to Virginia.  We pulled into Dick and Lynn's neighborhood at 4 am on Christmas Day, but to Mom's dismay, her car couldn't make it up the steep hill thanks to the icy street.  She tried and tried, but the car kept sliding back down.  Disgusted, she told me to get out of the car.  Now we walked up the snowy hill. 

When we got to their house, Mom didn't want to wake the family.  I found an unlocked door to the basement, so we walked in and plopped down on a sofa in the basement den.  Beauty, their Lassie-lookalike dog, came down the stairs and greeted us with her tail wagging.  Terry fell instantly in love.  As for me, I rolled my eyes.  Not even a bark!  Beauty had to be the worst watchdog in history.

Dick and Lynn never even knew we were there.  Surprise Surprise.  Look what Santa brought.  Merry Christmas!

It had been Mom's plan to throw herself on her brother's mercy.  As Mom hoped and prayed, Uncle Dick was incredibly generous to her.  He bailed her out of what had to be a serious financial jam.  I never learned the details, but I believe that Dick and Lynn saved her life that Christmas.  They restored her will to carry on.

I will always love Dick and Lynn from the bottom of my heart.

As for my mother, I never forgave her for what she put me through.  I just added it to the ever-growing list of resentments.

 


SUBCHAPTER 10
- THE BOOKWORM AND HIS DOG

 

Terry was such a wonderful dog. He was my closest companion for the nine long years stretching from Mom's divorce till college.  We had an inseparable bond.  We went everywhere together, especially to the neighborhood park where I constantly practiced basketball.  No matter what I did, Terry always wanted to be by my side. 

When I say 'everywhere', I mean it.  The summer after my 6th grade, I joined a book club at the public library downtown.  I was 11.  Since I lived in the Montrose area, downtown was only a twenty minute bike ride. I would ride my bike down Bagby, a semi-busy city street.   Seeing how Terry pouted whenever I left him behind, I decided to put him at the end of a long rope so he could run alongside me on my bike.  That probably wasn't the safest thing to do for the dog or for me, but I did it anyway.  I made sure to keep him on the side away from traffic.  Then I would tie Terry up outside the Library until I was ready to head home with my new set of books. 

One day on the way home, a passing truck clipped my handlebar.  The accident wasn't my fault in any way.  The truck driver swerved out of his lane and hit me. 

I went flying out of control and hit the concrete pavement hard.  The truck was pulling an empty U-Haul trailer behind it.  The heavy wheels of the U-Haul went right over my right ankle, cutting it to shreds.  My ankle wasn't broken, but it wasn't working either.  I could see the bone exposed.  Something was wrong with my hip too. 

I was in tremendous pain.  As I writhed in agony on the street, Terry came over and stood guard beside me.  Now I crawled on my hands and knees to the curb.

Some kind lady called an ambulance.  Then I gave her my mother's number at work.

When the ambulance showed up, the men were very aggressive.   Without any explanation, they tried to grab me and put me on a cart. 

I said, "Hold on, guys!!  Wait just a minute!  What about my dog?" 

The moment I protested, Terry stepped in.  It was amazing to watch him in action. 

Duke was Mom's dog and Terry's father.
I am 8 in this picture
 

They took one look at Terry who had begun to tense. 

Now they practically fell over in their haste to step back.  I smiled grimly.  That dog would protect me with his life.

I was badly hurt and in a lot of pain, but I wasn't in any immediate danger.  I needed take care of my dog first and foremost. 

Terry had instinctively moved between those men and me.  My dog wouldn't let the emergency personnel anywhere near me. 

Now the men asked me to tie the dog up.  Despite my pitiful condition, I actually laughed.

Here I was lying on a hot city street with my hip so numb I couldn't move and my badly damaged ankle bleeding profusely, but these guys were asking for my help with the dog.  How absurd.   

I asked the men if we could take the dog with us. 

"No way!!  You're gonna have to leave the dog here."  

My laughter disappeared.  Are you guys crazy?  There was no way I was going to tie up my dog and leave him behind. 

These men were frowning and had their arms crossed.  They meant what they said.

When I realized how serious they were, I was suddenly panic-stricken.  I was worried they would use force to put me in the ambulance.  Then I realized as long as Terry was next to me, that wasn't going to happen.  So I focused on protecting my dog.

These men clearly did not understand my fierce loyalty.  They would first have to knock me unconscious before I would leave my dog.  This dog was the most important person in the entire world to me.   Losing Terry would be unbearable.  I would rather lie here bleeding in the street till my mother showed up than take any chance of losing my dog.

This dog was my best friend, my only friend, in the whole world.  I had my life wrapped around him.

"Why can't we put Terry in the ambulance with us?"

"We can't put a dog in our ambulance!  We will lose our job!"

"Then I am not leaving.  You can go, I don't care.  I will just lay here till my mother comes.  And you better not touch me.  You will have to fight my dog to get to me." 

The two men looked at each other.  There was a silent agreement that neither wanted anything to do my dog.

Terry was not a dangerous dog.  Not once did Terry ever bite someone or even snap at someone.  I don't even recall him growling.  But Terry had a way of staring right at those men that paralyzed them with fear.  I was so proud of him!

Terry was protective of me.  Oh yes, for sure he was protective.  Trust me, no one would dare touch me if Terry thought I was in danger.  Terry was the reincarnation of Old Yeller.  As I said, I firmly believed Terry would give up his life to protect me.

Well, that made two of us.  This loyalty went both ways.  I was willing to risk losing my leg to stand up for him.

I became scared that I might lose control of the situation.  The pain was terrible.  What if I passed out?  Then they might be able to gang up from behind on my dog and subdue him.

The thought of losing Terry was too much to bear.  So now I cracked.  No more tough kid... I began crying.  Talk about crocodile tears!   I cried my eyes out at the thought of losing my dog.  I could recover from my injuries, but this dog was the only friend I had in the whole world.

Those tears turned out to be my saving grace.  Thanks to all the drama, the place had turned into a carnival.  Cars had stopped to see what was going on plus an entire crowd of pedestrians had gathered to witness the spectacle.  I guess there were at least twenty people watching.  What a sight this was... a wounded kid laying helplessly on the ground and a fiercely loyal dog trying to resist two big men who were behaving like insensitive bullies.  

Suddenly the people lining the perimeter came to my aid.  Some man hollered, "C'mon, you guys, let the damn dog ride with the kid in the ambulance!!  Can't you see the kid is crying?" 

With that, everyone cheered.  All the onlookers concurred with similar comments.  I had an entire cheering section rooting for me.  Now one ambulance guy looked at the other in frustration.  They threatened again to leave me laying there.  That didn't work.  Despite my pain, that was fine with me.  Here I was hurt, crippled and bleeding, but I was defiant.

Choking back tears, I said, "You men don't understand!!  I would rather take the chance of losing my leg than lose my dog!  This dog means everything to me!"

The crowd loved my speech.  Now they really cheered for me.  Seeing how upset I was at leaving Terry, the crowd stepped up the pressure.  They raised quite a racket.  Finally the men relented.  They said Terry could ride with me in the ambulance to the hospital.  Now all the onlookers cheered and clapped their approval.  Even the two ambulance drivers grinned a little.  What a scene. 

I told Terry it was okay to let the men touch me.  Then I allowed that nice lady who had phoned my mother to hold Terry's rope. I said, "Sit."  Terry was so unbelievably intelligent; he did exactly what I asked.  Terry somehow understood that these men were now my friends and he immediately backed off.  Once the men had me in the ambulance, I said, "Terry, come here" and gestured to him. With that, Terry jumped in the ambulance and the lady handed me the rope.

The people all laughed.  Such a spectacle!  People began to nod their appreciation.  They could see why I had stood up for my dog.  That was one heck of a smart dog!  They were proud of themselves for the part they had played in resolving this odd standoff.

Now that I was in the ambulance, the nice lady came up to me and handed me the library books that she had collected off the street.  I was glad to get those books back; I had wondered what had happened to them.

Then she grabbed my hand in an affectionate way and said, "Well, young man, it looks like you'll need these books this summer.  You take care of yourself and that great dog of yours."  I smiled wanly and thanked her.

The ride to Jefferson Davis Hospital didn't take long.  It was only a mile away from my accident.  Before entering the hospital, I asked the men to wheel the gurney to a shade tree next to the entrance.  They lowered my stretcher to a level where I could tie Terry to the tree.  Crying profusely due to my fear of losing my dog and knowing how worried Terry was for me, I kissed Terry on the nose and told him to wait for my mother.  It broke my heart to see him tugging at the rope trying to follow me into the hospital.  The poor dog was so worried about me... he had his life wrapped around me too.  The separation broke both of our hearts.

Once inside the hospital, I broke down badly again.  Now that I was separated from my dog, I wasn't brave any more.  Not at all.  I had lost all courage.  I was worried sick about my dog outside.  My helplessness to protect my dog was too much for me to bear.  I absolutely could not stand the fear of leaving him out there alone.  That dog was my only friend in the world.

A nurse heard me crying.  She thought I was in serious pain and came over to me.  She was surprised to find I was crying for my dog, not my injury.  Between sobs, I begged the sympathetic nurse to please give him some water and tell him I was okay.  I was frightened to death someone would steal him or he would get loose.  Terry was the original escape artist; I was terrified he would chew through that rope.  I also made the nurse promise to tell my mother where to find him in case I passed out from my considerable pain. 

After she left, I just laid there in a constant state of worry for my dog.  I had no idea whether the nurse had done what I asked her.

Fortunately, the nurse did indeed leave to take a look.  She came back ten minutes later and said Terry had water now and was doing fine.  The nurse took a shine to me and kept me company.  She said she had never seen a more caring dog in her life, but don't worry, things were going to be okay.

As the nurse was talking to me, Mom showed up.  Mom reassured me she had found Terry just where I left him and put him in the car for safety.  She added that she had found a tree to put the car under so the car wouldn't get too hot. 

Once Mom found me inside, she was incredibly relieved.  Now my mother started crying too.  You know, my mother wasn't a bad person.  She may have been an emotional cripple, but there is no doubt she did love me.  I regret so much that we constantly butted heads throughout my childhood.  Sad to say, things would get even worse during my rebellious teenage years.

This story had a happy ending.  Together Terry and I would spend June and July in bed while I recovered.  I read every book under the sun.  Since I could hop on one foot well enough to fetch peanut butter sandwiches, I wasn't in any danger of starving.  Nor was Terry... he got a big corner of every sandwich.  That was our deal.  I made sure to put extra peanut butter on Terry's slice just to torment him.  I would laugh as Terry went nuts twisting his tongue to lick the sticky peanut butter off the roof of his mouth.

With Terry keeping me company, I read book after book.  I easily won the library's summer book club reading contest.  It took two months, but my ankle healed just fine.  The companionship of my dog made my suffering bearable.  As long as I had Terry beside me, I would be okay.  Peanut butter, Terry, and books... hey, that turned out to be a pretty good summer!  

 


SUBCHAPTER 11
- HOW I BECAME A CHESS EXPERT

 

Of all the men who lived with us during my childhood, Neal the taxi cab driver was the absolute bottom of the barrel.  I shudder just typing the name.  I have never met a more repulsive man.

When I was 13, my mother invited Neal to live with us.  Neal smoked.  Neal drank.  He never shaved nor bathed.  Neal considered himself an intellectual, a real deep-thinker, and loved telling me how smart he was. 

Neal, 40, was a heavily-bearded, dark-haired man of Jewish descent with the thickest eyebrows I have ever seen.  He was six feet tall, seriously overweight, and slovenly.  However, Neal was bright, I'll grant him that much.  He bragged loudly about what a great chess player he was.  Of all the men... and there was a long list... Neal is the only one who lived with us besides Tom Cook that I flat-out detested.  The rest I just ignored.  But not Neal.  Not only did he irritate me no end with his lofty opinion of himself, Neal had a big mouth.  In addition, he was something of a bully.  He liked to taunt me and had an unfailing ability to get my goat. 

Despite my animosity, I need to thank Neal for two major contributions to my life.  Neal was the guy who showed me the cheap trick of slapping ears that helped me conquer Harold, my shower room nemesis.  Thank you, Neal, wherever you are, for teaching me how to fight dirty.

And what about the other contribution?   Neal inadvertently helped me become the unofficial chess champion of St. John's. 

I say 'unofficial' because we didn't have a chess club.  That said, I still have reason to assume I was the best.

St. John's students were given a lengthy fifty-five minute lunch break.  This allowed me plenty of time to play chess matches with Walter, David and Frank, three of my friends throughout high school.  Periodically other students would see us play and challenge the winner.  Seeing as how I took on all challengers and never lost a game, let's just say I was better than average and leave it at that.  

Repulsive as the man was, I definitely owed my chess skills to Neal.

I was first introduced to chess when I was 10.  My mother gave me a chess set for Christmas and showed me the rules.  She would play with me from time to time, but when I started beating her, Mom lost interest.

One memory of chess goes back to age 11.  Mom met some sailor at the Athens Bar and Grill and brought him home to spend the night.  The next morning she introduced him to me.  He was from Yugoslavia and spoke no English.  But he did notice I had a chess board, so he beckoned to it.  While my mother cooked breakfast, the sailor proceeded to advance his pawns one space at a time until I was completely pinned back. 

This sailor didn't even bother taking my pieces.  His moves forced to me to constantly retreat until he smothered me to death like an anaconda.  I was thoroughly beaten.  Then he grinned at me with a broad grin of satisfaction and laughed.  I didn't see the humor.  I had just been crushed to death.

The sting of that overwhelming defeat lingered for a long time.  One day I noticed a book on chess at my school book fair.  It was written for kids my age so I asked Mom to buy it for my birthday.  I began to teach myself the finer points of the game.  And yes, I improved.  Soon I was able to beat the other boys at school on a regular basis.  But apparently I did not improve enough.

Neal came along when I was 13.  After he moved in, he noticed my chess set and immediately challenged me.  As we played, I could see he took the game seriously.  Puffing away on his perpetual cigarettes, Neal studied each move carefully.  Neal described himself as an 'intellectual' and valued his chess skills highly.  Neal was definitely a lot better than the boys at school.  He would laugh derisively after each victory.  Neal told me not to take it so hard; after all, he was a great player.  He reminded me I never had much of a chance.  After all, he beat everyone. 

I couldn't stand losing to Neal.  Choking on the cigarette fumes, how I hated this guy!  But I didn't let on how angry I was; after all, I had to live with him. Privately, though, I fumed over my defeats.

I noticed that even though I lost, each game was pretty close.  I believed he wasn't really that much better me.  I knew that I had some ability; I just lacked polish.  My problem was that I couldn't figure out how to win the end game.  If I could just discover a way to
improve there, I might win.


Meanwhile my dislike of Neal grew and grew.  I begged Mom to throw the bum out.  Please!  I told her I couldn't stand to be around him.  Mom admitted she wasn't too keen on Neal herself, but since he was helping with the bills, he could stay.  That gave me pause for thought.  This was the first time I had ever considered that money might be the reason she allowed these men to stay with us.

So Neal stayed and now my worst nightmare came to pass.  When my 8th grade school year ended, I was disgusted that Neal was still hanging around.  Summer was here and so was Neal.   I wanted the freedom to enjoy my summer, but no such luck.  Ugh!

Since Neal worked nights, that meant I would have to share the apartment with him during the long summer days while Mom was at work.  I would have absolutely no privacy with this jerk living here. 

Sure enough, that's exactly how it played out.  Throughout the summer, Neal played Lord of the House all day long.  I would wake up and there he would be in the living room puffing and drinking the morning away in front of the TV soap operas.  I couldn't bear the sight of him.  Or the smell either.  Just to get away from him, in the morning Terry and I would head over to Cherryhurst Park so I could practice shooting basketball.  Basketball was my official summer project.  I was determined to go out for the Freshman basketball team next year, so I practiced my jump shots and layups until the summer Texas heat reminded me it was time to leave.

One day in June 1964, Terry and I returned from the park.  Neal was sitting at the table practicing his chess moves.  Neal saw me and ordered me to sit down and play.  The insistent tone of his voice made Terry come closer to me and stare bullets at Neal. 

I quietly grinned.  Thank goodness, Terry hated Neal too!  Terry never left my side when Neal was around. 

Seeing the look in Terry's eyes, Neal did a double-take.  Neal was afraid of the dog.   I was a teenager now and starting to develop a very smart mouth.  In response to his taunting, I had begun to fight back. I developed a sarcastic, biting style that surely got under his thin skin just like he got under my skin.  When I started asking him if it was time to learn how the shower worked, Neal would just glare at me.  But what could he do?  Neal knew better than to ever get physical with me if I smarted off to him... which I did all the time with Terry to back me up.

There was no love lost between us.  The hostility had been growing ever since I had begun to talk back.  Unable to smack me across the face like he wanted to, instead Neal stuck to humiliating me on the chess table.  He could tell how aggravated I was when he beat me. 

So now Neal had just challenged me to our first big chess game of the summer.  Okay, fine, let's play.  I tried as hard as I could, but Neal beat me soundly.  Neal always insisted on playing twice, once as White, once as Black.   So now he beat for a second time.  Roars of laughter emanated.  Neal had just put the smart-mouthed twerp in his place.  Neal was Lord of the House.  Hear him bellow.

I seethed inside, but kept my mouth shut.  I grabbed Terry and the basketball and left the apartment to play basketball for the second time that day, Texas heat be damned. 

Once I was outside, I screamed my head off, "Darn it!  I wish I could find a way to beat that SOB!!"

When I returned, it was more of the same.  Neal was on a roll.  For the rest of the day, Neal laughed every time he saw me and bragged about his victory.  Then he told my mother when she came home and laughed again.  Neal enjoyed this humiliation immensely because it proved that he was smarter than me.  Meanwhile I cursed my inability to match his chess skill.

With this guy around, my summer was off to a lousy start.  Neal was ruining my life.

That summer was incredibly stressful for me even without Neal to add to my misery.  I was worried sick that I would not be returning to St. John's for the 9th grade, i.e. my freshman year of high school. 

Some explanation would help.  The 1959 divorce agreement had forced my father to pay full tuition for the three years... 4th, 5th, and 6th grade.  My father refused to pay after that.  Mr. Chidsey, the Headmaster, had offered my mother a half-scholarship to keep me at St. John's, but she was penniless.  However, Mom called Uncle Dick on the phone.  Thank goodness Uncle Dick and Aunt Lynn in Virginia were willing offered to pick up the remaining half for the 7th grade.  Then they did it again the 8th grade.

However, at the start of the summer, Uncle Dick told Mom he could no longer afford to help her pay my St. John's tuition.   Since I knew my mother could never afford to pay the other half, it looked like I was through with St. John's.  I assumed I would be going to public school in the 9th grade.  The thought of leaving my beloved St. John's had me twisted in knots.

Now I had Neal around to make my life even more miserable. 

Following my latest defeat at chess to Neal, I cursed my futility.  I openly wished I could find some way to improve at chess. 

To my surprise, a very odd coincidence took place the following afternoon. 

After Neal left to go drive his taxi, I was alone in the apartment.  As I took a shortcut through my mother's bedroom to my own bedroom, I noticed a box of books lying on the floor over in the corner.  Curious, I put the box up on the bed and began to leaf through them.  There were several Ayn Rand books... Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged.  Then I saw a copy of Exodus by Leon Uris, plus several Bertrand Russell books on philosophy.  I snorted with contempt.  These were just the sort of books an intellectual would read.  I wondered if Neal had actually read them or just kept them around to impress whomever he was shacking up with.

And then my eyes lit up.  There hidden at the very bottom of the box, I discovered Neal owned a copy of the 1960 World Chess Championship.  I opened the book.  The introduction said the tightly contested match had resulted in an upset victory won by Russia's Mikhail Tal over fellow countryman Mikhail Botvinnik.  The rest of the book contained the moves from every game played written in chess notation.  Even better, there were detailed explanations for the reasons behind the most important moves. 

My eyes grew wide.  I had just found a chess book that explained the strategy of grandmasters.  I smiled as I grasped the potential here.  If I could replay each game and try to understand the strategy analysis, maybe I could improve. 

I looked to the sky and nodded my gratitude to whatever unknown deity had sent this small miracle my way.  This quirk could be easily dismissed as another silly coincidence, yet the uncanny timing of the book's appearance caught my attention.  Some part of me wondered if this book was the answer to my prayer. 

I carefully put the other books back in order and placed the box back where I had found it.  Then I carried my prize to my bedroom. 

Would Neal find out?  I doubted it.  The book was probably on the bottom because he never looked at it. The odds of Neal missing this book were one in a million.  

Having this book appear out of nowhere felt like an omen.  I had a hunch this book might just prove to be my secret weapon.  I had to do something to keep Neal from driving me mad.  I already spent at least two hours a day practicing basketball at the park.  Now I decided to tackle an afternoon chess project as well. 

After I figured out how to read chess notation, I made it my mission to replay every single chess game in the book.  On each page there was a discussion of the reasons behind Tal's most important moves.  Every spare moment I would analyze those notes.  I had no idea if learning the secrets behind Tal's strategy would help my own game, but I had to try something.

Each morning Terry and I would head over to the park so I could practice shooting basketball.  I would come home and see Neal passed out on the couch with two empty beer bottles on the floor and some soap opera on the TV.  There he was, Lord and Master of the house, snoring his head off in another drunken stupor.  Disgusted, that was exactly the vision I kept in my brain as I studied that book with the fervor of a Bible scholar.  I would shower, eat lunch, and then head to my bedroom to practice my chess moves with the door closed.  Terry would jump up on the bed and take a nap while I carefully replayed the games on my chess board.

Once in a while, Neal would challenge me to more chess, but I always refused.  I was going to finish playing every game in that book first.  So Neal would guffaw, call me a chicken, make a few chicken squawks for good measure, then go smoke another cigarette.  Humiliated, I would retreat to my room, slam the door, and open the book.  Every time I heard Neal open the refrigerator door and grab another beer, my desire for revenge mounted.

It took a month, but I finished all the games in the book.  Now I carefully returned the book to the box and waited.  I thought I understood the reasons behind the moves, but I had no idea if it would make any difference in my own game. 

Sure enough, one day in July, Neal challenged me to another game of chess.  I tried to look casual.  Sure, why not?

This time I was ready.  I gleefully cleaned his clock.   As I expected, he demanded a rematch.   Since we had started late in the day, Mom came home in the middle of the second match.  She watched in surprise as I handily won the second game too.  This was the first time she had ever seen me have the upper hand.  It wasn't just that I beat Neal.  I beat him so soundly that Neal was bewildered.  Neal's expression was priceless.  He stared at me like a wounded prize fighter who has just been knocked down for the first time. 

The following day, Neal challenged me again.  Again I cleaned his clock.  I smiled.  It was uncanny how much I had improved.  

This victory did the trick.  Neal was now convinced my improvement could not be attributable to a simple explanation like a bad day on his part.

For the rest of the day Neal walked around the apartment slamming doors and muttering to himself.  He drove himself silly trying to figure out how I had managed to improve so much.  What was I doing alone in my bedroom all those hours?  Had I made some secret deal with the Devil? 

What an intellectual!  Neal never had a clue what my secret was.  Instead Neal began to stare at me like I was Damien from The Omen.  Seeing how much it bothered him, I refused to explain the circumstances.  I guess he got spooked by my supernatural powers.  Good.  Served him right.

Just before Neal left for taxi duty that night, I heard Neal and Mom arguing about something.  Neal was still upset.  Within the week, Neal moved out.  I had slain the dragon with a chessboard.  My mother even thanked me once he was gone.  She said good riddance. 

I had found motivation in the unlikeliest of places. My love of chess was sealed for life. 

 

 


CHAPTER THREE:  TERRY

 

   

 

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