St. John's
Home Up The Ballantynes

   

Book One:

A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS


PART ONE: CHILDHOOD

CHAPTER FOUR:
ST. JOHN'S SCHOOL

Written by Rick Archer

  2015, Richard Archer

 


This 1968 picture shows St. John's School and St. John's Episcopal Church.  Although SJS was loosely affiliated with the church, St. John's had no religious ties. That street is Westheimer. In my Senior year, I had a narrow brush with death in a car accident that took place in the upper right corner. 

 


RICK ARCHER'S NOTE

St. John's School was the absolute center of my life for nine years.

I would have to say that St. John's is the major reason why I didn't turn into a sociopath.  I owe my teachers and the people who ran St.  John's School quite a debt.  These were the people who saved me from my miserable childhood. 

Considering I probably caused the Administration more grief than any other single student, it is ironic that these men worked so hard to guide me with nothing but aggravation to show for their efforts. 

To this day, I am still amazed at the lengths these men went to keep me on the path. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 15
- ST. JOHN'S SCHOOL

 

St. John's is a college preparatory school located in the wealthy River Oaks area of Houston.  Founded in 1946, over the years St. John's developed a reputation as the strongest academic school in the city.  Starting in the 4th grade, I attended St. John's for nine years.  By the time I graduated in 1968, I was firmly convinced SJS deserved its lofty academic reputation.  I watched this school turn out National Merit Scholars as efficiently as any assembly line turns out cars. 

In the tradition of the fine Eastern prep schools such as Exeter, Andover, Brooks and Groton, St. John's was established as a college preparatory school.  However, it was not Houston's first; Kinkaid School in the Memorial area had been founded forty years earlier in 1906. 

Following World War II, several wealthy benefactors in the River Oaks area decided Houston would benefit from a second institution.  The main purpose of Saint John's was to prepare its students for college.  The founders were successful in their mission.  By the time I graduated, SJS had been open for twenty-two years.  I was told in that time only four students had failed to go directly to college after graduation.

I thought that was an impressive statistic.  St. John's had certainly earned its 'Elite College Prep School' reputation. 

The Puritan ethic - work, study, get ahead - was pervasive throughout the school.  St. John's stressed the importance of 'education' and 'achievement'.  I completely bought into the school's purpose.  SJS would help gain us admittance to the college of our choice and prepare us to excel once we got there.  Getting into college became the single most important goal in my life.  In fact, it became an obsession.

 


SUBCHAPTER 16
- ALAN LAKE CHIDSEY, SJS HEADMASTER

 

I faced a huge crisis regarding the 7th grade.

That is when my father announced he would no longer pay for my St. John's education.  I was aghast!

Forced to honor the terms of the divorce agreement, my father had paid the first three years of tuition at St. John's (4th, 5th, 6th grade).  Now that he was no longer obligated, my father refused to continue.  I was furious with him. 

Dad's words to me at the time were pathetic.  He said it was more practical to put all that tuition into a savings account for college. 

I begged him to change his mind.  "Dad, I love my school!  I have done really well here.  I have never missed the Honor Roll once.  Besides that, St. John's is the only thing that keeps me from going insane!  Please don't do this to me."

Those words fell upon deaf ears.  Although I practically begged him on my knees, my father wouldn't budge.

After my father bailed, my mother appealed to St. John's for help.  Mr. Alan Chidsey, the Headmaster, noted that I had been an honor student from the moment I had entered the school three years earlier.  My academic record was a real point in my favor.  In the same manner as an elite football team can never have enough athletes, St. John's valued its best-performing students highly.

Seeing the financial crunch my mother was in, Mr. Chidsey offered a half scholarship.  Well, Mom couldn't pay that either.  But she knew how much the school meant to me, so she got her brother on the phone.  Mom asked Uncle Dick if he could help.  After talking it over with his wife Lynn, bless her heart, she said yes.  Uncle Dick generously went on to pay my way during the 7th and 8th grade.

Mr. Chidsey had helped found St. John's in 1946.   He would go on to serve as Headmaster for twenty years.   Mr. Chidsey was a fixture at St. John's for eight of the nine years I attended, retiring in 1967 at the end of my Junior year.

I got to know Mr. Chidsey well in the 8th grade.  He taught a unique history class known as Bible History. 

I had been raised a Quaker. Since we spent absolutely no time in Quaker Meeting studying the Bible, I knew next to nothing about this book.  So my attitude was apathetic.  Who cares about the Bible?  I went to this mandatory course assuming I was going to hate the class.

To my surprise and delight, I loved this class.  I couldn't believe Bible History was so intense!

Mr. Chidsey really loved this material.  In fact, Mr. Chidsey had even gone to the trouble of writing the textbook himself.  He did a good job too.  His book was interesting reading.  I practically memorized Mr. Chidsey's Bible History book. 

I was instantly taken with the Land of Israel.  Or Judea, or Canaan, whatever the name was.

Poor Israel!!  Good grief, the Jews were always being conquered by someone.  Since Israel was a land with no natural defenses and a small population, it seemed like every single ancient dynasty took turns subjugating the people of this coveted land... Greeks, Romans, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Philistines, Egyptians. 

Now I finally understood why the Jews felt so persecuted.

It seemed like the whole world was against them.

Considering how much I felt like the world was against me too, this probably explains why I felt such a strong emotional connection to the miserable plight of Israel.  They were outnumbered at all times, but they fought fiercely to defend their country.  I admired that.

One thing that I couldn't figure out is why the whole world wanted to conquer Israel.  This had to be the ugliest, most barren landscape I had ever seen.    To begin with, the Dead Sea was the most accurately named body of water in the world.  Furthermore those arid deserts were devoid of life.  The deserts of Israel made Death Valley look like the fertile crescent. 

Centuries and centuries of fighting over what??  These were not battles to gain control of lush valleys and valuable life-giving rivers, but rather a bunch of rocks and unfertile soil.  All that blood for a place that looked like this?  That made no sense to me.  Why did everyone want to conquer Israel?  Who is willing to die for sand and salt water?  I just couldn't figure it out.

So one day I stayed after class.  After naming the best-known enemies such as the Romans, Persians and Egyptians, I asked Mr. Chidsey why Israel kept getting conquered all the time.  Why did people care so much about this barren landscape? 

Mr. Chidsey broke out in the widest grin.  With a laugh, he said, "Young man, you forgot to add the Muslims, Turks, Palestinians and British to your list.  It was just Israel's bad luck to exist at the crossroads of ancient civilization.  In order for each new conquering army to get somewhere, it had to eventually cross through the Land of Israel.  So while the invaders were passing through, they took the time to conquer Israel."

I nodded in wonderment.  I think Mr. Chidsey was amused by the intensity of my curiosity.  Mr. Chidsey could see that I was hooked on Israel. 

Every night I poured over Mr. Chidsey's Bible History book with enthusiasm.  Israel had so many enemies!!   Who could keep them all straight?  Nevertheless I made a real effort to keep the names organized in my mind.  Whenever Mr. Chidsey asked a question, I was often the first person to raise a hand. 

I don't think it took much effort for Mr. Chidsey to become aware just how much I loved his class.  And he was right - Bible History had become my favorite class.  Any teacher appreciates a kid who takes the material to heart like I did... especially when the teacher has written the textbook himself!

At the end of the 8th grade, I faced a new crisis regarding my future at St. John's.

Uncle Dick told my mother he could not afford to send me for another year even at half-price.  He had four children of his own and he was starting a new business.  My mother didn't say a word in protest.  She knew Uncle Dick would help if he could.  She thanked him profusely for what he had done and made sure he wouldn't feel guilty.  Uncle Dick had done more for me than my own father.

When Mom broke the bad news, I was despondent.  I desperately hoped to continue the 9th grade at St. John's, but now I was in real trouble.  Over the ensuing summer, I managed to get rid of Neal the taxi driver, but I was too depressed to gloat very much.  I was sick with worry about leaving St. John's.  For the past five years, St. John's had been my refuge.  It was the only place where I could hide from Mom's unwanted boyfriends and my crazy home life. 

Considering how important this school had become to me, one can imagine my despair when it appeared I would be leaving to attend public school.  The likelihood of leaving my sanctuary left me totally depressed. 

In July 1964, just one month before the start of the next school year, my mother called Mr. Chidsey to tell him the bad news.  Could Mr. Chidsey perhaps recommend a good public high school for me?  Since we were always moving anyway, Mom would simply find an apartment nearby whatever school he suggested.  Mr. Chidsey said he would research that question and get back to her. 

A couple nights later Mr. Chidsey called my mother at home.  If St. John's offered a full scholarship, would she be able to pay for the books and meals?  This offer was completely unexpected.  Stunned and delighted, Mom said she would do her best. 

Mr. Chidsey was pleased with her answer.  He said he was proud of my record at St. John's and would hate to lose a good student like me.   Pointing out that St. John's had a five year investment in me, Mr. Chidsey said he believed strongly in helping students who tried as hard as I did.

So that is how I received a full scholarship for my four years of high school.  I burst into tears with relief. 

I thought about Mr. Chidsey and wondered if his evaluation of me in the Bible History class had an effect on his decision to take a gamble on me.

I have a hunch Mr. Chidsey developed a fondness for me based on my hard work that year.  I wouldn't call myself 'teacher's pet', but he was always very warm towards me.  It was mutual.  Mr. Chidsey was a nice man and I was glad he had made his subject fascinating for me.  I always appreciated a teacher who could make a class as interesting as he did.

My strong effort in his class had not been an act of any kind.  I worked hard because I was genuinely fascinated.  Furthermore, at the time I had no idea that my uncle would be unable to continue helping.  As Mr. Chidsey watched how hard I worked in his class, I think he realized just how much his school meant to me. 

At the time, I was too young to know he was watching me and forming impressions.  I was hardly the smartest kid in my class.  Not by a long shot.  But I was probably the most determined.  Due to the loss of my comfortable life in Sharpstown and the misery of my current home life, I poured heart and soul into my school work.  My grades were going to be my ticket out of town and I knew it.

Mr. Chidsey no doubt recognized my intensity.  St. John's did mean the world to me.  To this day I credit my marvelous St. John's education as the great miracle of my life.  My superb education would open many doors throughout my life. 

But it wasn't just the education I received that makes me so grateful to my school.  During my nine year stay, Mr. Chidsey and several other men at Saint John's quietly served to guide me in lieu of my parents who continually dropped the ball.   It wasn't till long after I left the school that I realized several men had followed me closely.  These men were so skillful I never had a clue. 

Mr. Chidsey was definitely one of those people.  Mr. Chidsey was the first in a long line of silent mentors who went to bat for me during my troubled childhood.

1964 had been my best summer ever.  I felt like I was on top of the world.  I had slain Neal the dragon with my chess board and mastered my basketball jump shot as well.  Now thanks to the full scholarship, I was assured of spending my entire high school career at my beloved school. 

I could not have been happier.  I was absolutely tingling with excitement as the 9th grade approached.

 


SUBCHAPTER 17
- ADMISSION TO St. John's

 

To me, St. John's was a marvelous academic institution.

However, there were many other faces and facets to St. John's than academics.  St. John's served as an important social hub to the members of Houston's High Society.  The rich and mighty mingled on our campus daily.

St. John's School is located in the very heart of River Oaks, a tony neighborhood hidden under a thick canopy of stately oak trees.  This area is where Houston's 'Old Wealth' lives in stunning palatial estates.

St. John's was not a large school when I went there.  There were only fifty students in my graduating class, two hundred and twenty in the four grades of the Upper School (9-12). 

St. John's was a small, close-knit place that built its reputation on its academics.  Early on, the founders were determined to improve their product by capping the size of the classes.

Indeed, the size of my individual classes never exceeded fifteen students. 

This guaranteed close interaction between the top-notch instructors and the gifted students.  

The school was also determined to select the smartest students possible, often taking bright kids from middle class homes over average students from wealthy homes.  I suppose a case could be made that I was one of the beneficiaries of that objective.  

The school had a waiting list a mile long of students who wanted to enroll.  However St. John's never seemed in any hurry to expand.  If my school grew during my time there, that was news to me.  The size of my own particular class of 50 students never changed.

Therefore, based on the law of supply and demand, the limited openings guaranteed that admission was a highly valued commodity.  Since there were quite a few parents who wanted the best education for their children that money can buy, every spot was coveted. 

However, my school had a reputation as a place where money could not buy admission to the school. 

St. John's was so ridiculously well-endowed that it didn't need anyone's money.  The kid had to be smart enough to get in or tough luck.  That hard line attitude won the school a lot of respect in High Society circles.  If someone's child was smart enough to get into St. John's, that meant something special.

Let me put this another way.  To some people, having a child who attended St. John's was a major status symbol.  Admission to SJS carried a great deal of prestige in the status conscious world of River Oaks.  It meant someone's son or daughter was smart and it also meant the parents had considerable wealth to be able to afford this place.  By extension, it meant the parents were likely smart as well.

In other words, having a child at St. John's meant the parent was both rich and smart, a real asset to anyone's reputation.

 


SUBCHAPTER 18
- The St. John's Mother's Guild

 

Having a child at St. John's bestowed a special honor to their mothers.  It served as entry into an exclusive club known as the St. John's Mother's Guild

One of the benefits of having a child attend St. John's was the chance to rub elbows with the River Oaks elite on a regular basis.  The school made a point to serve as a daily meeting place.  In a manner similar to the court of Versailles, it was a definite privilege to associate with women who dominated Houston's society columns.

While Houston's men of wealth pursued their business careers in skyscrapers downtown, women of wealth pursued their social agendas here at my school.  The ladies of Houston's social elite gathered here at SJS on a regular basis to see and be seen. 

Borrowing a tradition from English and New England prep schools, St. John's served high tea at 1:30 pm every day in the Commons Room.  Not surprisingly, the mothers of the children who attended this elite institution enjoyed coming to St. John's on a frequent basis to network, visit with their friends and pursue various business projects and charitable events.

I never had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the Mother's Guild, but I had the feeling it was a volunteer organization open to mothers of children in the Upper School. 

The Mother's Guild was a group of confident women who helped guide the fortunes of St. John's behind the scenes.  In particular the Mother's Guild was concerned with the "Social" side of SJS.  These ladies planned various social activities for the students.  

The activity I remember best were the dance parties held at the River Oaks home of various St. John's students after every home football game.  These dance parties were sponsored by the Mother's Guild and open to all SJS high school students. 


I first became aware of the Mother's Guild in the 4th grade during my first year at the school.  One day early in my first year I noticed a large group of women wearing expensive dresses congregating near my home classroom.  These ladies were meeting in the Commons Room, a spacious reception area designed as a greeting spot for private events. 

These ladies were all chatting and milling about.  I was so taken by these animated women that I stopped to watch.  With their fine clothes, furs, jewelry, perfectly styled hair and perfect figures, these patrician women were unusually attractive. 

At age 10, I was easily impressed.  I made sure to stop and watch the ladies whenever I had an extra moment.  With my 4th grade locker situated right next to this area, I had the perfect vantage point to study these women on a daily basis. 

I had never seen 'wealth' displayed like this before.  I was from a middle class home with parents who did not socialize much.  I had no idea women who looked like this even existed.  Compared to my own mother who dressed modestly and had a humble manner, these women acted like celebrities.  Based on the way they carried themselves and spoke with such confidence, I concluded these dynamic women must be very important.

From the moment I attended St. John's, I was unusually curious about the Mother's Guild.  Although I never consciously understood why, the reason is obvious.

Looking back, no doubt my issues with my hapless mother made me overly curious about the subject of motherhood in general.  I could not help but compare these high dominance women with their perfect posture and regal bearing to my struggling mother and wonder what kind of mothers they were.

 

 

St. John's was divided into three sections.  The Lower School was on the south side of Westheimer while the Middle School (Grades 4-8) and Upper School (Grades 9-12) were on the main campus on the north side.  The two sides were connected by a tunnel under Westheimer Street.

The lovely Quadrangle in the center of the middle school served as the central focus of the campus.  This is where pep rallies and graduation exercises were held.  During the school year, only the seniors had permission to walk in the Quadrangle.

The Commons Room was located at the entrance to St. John's.  Right outside was the area where children were dropped off in the morning and picked up in the afternoon. 

The Commons Room was where the afternoon social events were held.

Since school ended at 3:30, it made perfect sense for the mothers to attend an hour of coffee and tea at 1:30 pm to hobnob with friends and acquaintances while they waited for their children.

It seemed to me some of these ladies practically lived in the Commons Room.  I saw the same faces all the time.  I had the impression these ladies would meet at St. John's in the late afternoon at least twice a week, maybe even three times.  Truth be told, high tea was held every day, but back in those days I wasn't paying enough attention to figure that out. 

The ladies would mingle in a lush, carpeted area decorated with wood paneling, valuable paintings and a fire place.  The Commons Room was furnished with plush leather chairs, comfortable couches, expensive tea sets, and soft lighting. This was a luxurious setting indeed.

Because I was star-struck, I studied the women on a regular basis.  I suppose I was drawn to these women for the same reason people watched Dallas and Dynasty.  People who are rich and powerful have an irresistible attraction about them.

I was ten when I first developed my fascination with this group of wealthy, polished women.  As a small and quite harmless little boy who was the anonymous child of God knows who, my invisibility was practically guaranteed.  Therefore I was able to do a lot of watching without anyone noticing. 

One day I saw these ladies as they emptied out of a side door into the Commons Room.  That was the first time I realized there was a private dining area connected to the reception area.  A couple days later when no one was looking, I peeked in.  The dining room was secluded and very lovely.  It had large windows that looked out onto our beautiful inner courtyard known as the Quadrangle.

This discovery made me realize that Lunch was another important feature to these gatherings.  I developed a theory that the women would meet first for lunch.  Then they would conduct their business.  Afterwards they would meet informally in the Reception area for coffee, tea and conversation.  I assumed many of them stuck around to avoid having to make another trip at the end of school to pick up their children.  I imagine there were days when these women were here at the school for two to four hours at a time. 

Since my 4th and 5th grade locker was right next to the Commons Room, it wasn't much trouble for me to keep track of their comings and goings.  Students were given ten minutes to get to their next class, about eight more minutes than I needed.  With time to kill, whenever I noticed the group of ladies, invariably I would invest my extra time in observation.  Sometimes the ladies were laughing; sometimes they were deep in serious conversation.  One thing for sure - they definitely liked to talk.


One day in the 4th grade, a lady noticed me watching them.  Frowning, she pointed at me and barked in a harsh voice, "Young man, who are you?  You have no business being in here.  You need to leave right now."

With that she pointed her finger to the hallway and stomped her foot.  As I left, she glowered darts at me.  I was unusually mad at her dismissal.

I was stunned by her harsh rebuke. I was being quiet and I wasn't hurting anyone.  What gave her the right to talk to me like that?  She wasn't a teacher.  If this woman had asked politely, that would have been one thing, but her rude, imperious manner upset me.  Why was she so mean to me?

I suppose in her opinion I was invading her privacy.  However, this was a public area and this was my school.  I may have been just some lowly kid, but I had just as much right to be here as she did.  Was there some rule against watching?  If so, no one had told me.

That incident was a turning point.  It is important to note I was a troubled child with anger issues.  I was still bitter over the divorce and about as lonely as any boy can be.  Yes, St. John's was the perfect place to challenge me academically, but I was still the same angry kid who nearly got suspended from public school due to my constant classroom disruptions.

Given my grouchy state of mind, this woman's bossy attitude rubbed me the wrong way.  On the spot I lost my admiration for this group.  I decided I didn't like these women any more.

In this new light, they seemed phony and preoccupied with social status.  There was something about their haughty air of superiority that made me feel unwelcome. 

Mind you, I made this sweeping decision based on the rudeness of just one woman.  No doubt many of the ladies were nice, but there was no doubt that others were definite snobs.

The demand to leave marked the beginning of the chip on my shoulder that I felt towards the rich and famous at St. John's. This was my first realization that I wasn't very important. 

By way of this event plus several less dramatic incidents over time, I would conclude I occupied the absolute lowest rung on the St. John's social ladder. 

Without anyone to reassure me, I began to feel inferior.  There was a part of me that felt like I didn't really belong here.  

 


SUBCHAPTER 19
- UNDERDOG

 

The men who ran St. John's have been gifted educators, but they had no way of shielding me from the heartache my inferior social status would cause me.  I was in for some rough times at this school.

Social status has its winners and losers.  When it comes to social climbing, we don't often think about the people clinging to the lowest rung, but they do exist.  From my humble perch on the bottom rung, I spent nine years at St. John's observing the elegant trappings of wealth - mansions, cars, clothes, country clubs, and beach houses.  Add to that the stories I overheard about my classmates' summer camps and amazing vacations.

I have little doubt I was the poorest kid in the school.  Although I was born into a middle class home, that changed dramatically after the divorce.  While my electrical engineer father continued to rise in his career, from that point on, his contribution to my life was reduced to $100 a month in child support.  That left it up to my mother and her revolving door of jobs to do the rest. 

For the nine years I spent at St. John's, I would peg our socioeconomic status at the "lowest" possible level of middle class. 

For the most part, we lived in modest apartments in the Montrose area of town.  We weren't abjectly poor, but money was always a huge issue.

Economically I would have been in the bottom quarter at any neighborhood public school where I lived, but at least I would have had some company. 

Here at St. John's, the gap between me and the sons and daughters of the wealthiest families in Houston was about the size of the Pacific Ocean. 

There were times when my envy was hard to handle. 

I am not a person who is especially interested in material things.  Like anyone else, I wish to be comfortable, but luxury is not a necessity.  What I really wanted more than anything else was a solid home.

There are not enough words to explain just how truly strange my life space was compared to everyone else at school.  I believe I was the only kid in the school who rode his bike to school.  I was probably the only kid who opened the front door wondering if the lights would turn on.   I imagine there weren't many other students who wondered if his only parent would be staying home that night or leaving to hit the bars.  For that matter I don't imagine too many SJS students awoke to find strange men in their mother's bedroom on a frequent basis.

That said, my envy of the home life of my friends was the least of my problems.  My biggest problem had to be the loneliness. 

Because I was an only child, I lacked brothers and sisters to help me learn how to get along with other people my age.

A major handicap was the fact that we moved so often.  Although seven of our eleven homes were in the Montrose area, I was never in one of these homes much longer than a year.

During the nine years at St. John's, I made a neighborhood friend one time and that was it.  Considering we only stayed at Emerson (6) for six months, a lot of good that did me.

Since I never a chance to make neighborhood friends, that forced me to rely on St. John's for my social interaction.

That worked well enough for the first three and a half years. 

Since St. John's used a mandatory dress code to avoid distinguishing the rich from the not so rich, my disguise of white polo shirt and khaki pants worked liked a charm for my first three years.  During the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, my social status was unknown and I was one of the pack.  Since no one had any idea just how poor I was, I was occasionally invited to visit my wealthy classmates at their homes for birthday parties, Saturday afternoon basketball games and maybe even the occasional sleepover. 

However my situation changed dramatically in the 7th grade thanks to a terrible mistake. 

In the 7th grade, I joined a boy scout troop affiliated with St. John's.  Several of my SJS classmates were members as well.  That was back in the days when I was still accepted as an equal.  We had a weekend camping trip way out in the Texas pine forest.  It was freezing cold to begin with and then it began raining heavily once we arrived.  One degree colder and we would have had snow.

There was no let up in the downpour, so we had no choice but to huddle in our tents.  I shared a tent with three other boys.  Unfortunately, our tent wasn't well sealed and my sleeping bag was of low quality.  I was miserable out there.  I absolutely could not get warm.  At first I shivered constantly and then I got sick.  In fact, I was so sick that my body ached all over.  I had a fever and was in real pain.  I couldn't rest because I was too cold to get comfortable.

One of my classmates, Fred, wanted to go home.  He wasn't sick, but he didn't like the cold at all.  When I found out someone was coming to pick him up, I begged Fred for a ride to my apartment.  I felt like such a quitter, but I knew that whatever I had was too serious to tough it out.  Fred took pity on me and agreed to help.  I was astonished when I saw an enormous black limousine pull up in the middle of this remote forest.  To this day, I still don't know where Fred found a phone to call home, but I sure was happy to see that car.

Out came a uniformed driver who walked with extreme dignity to the tent with an umbrella to fetch Master Fred.  All the boys were staring in amazement at the spectacle.  If I hadn't been in so much pain, I might have even smiled.  This was a scene straight from a Richie Rich comic book.  There were rumors that Fred was among the richest kids in school; now I believed it. 

I was very sick, so sick that Fred insisted I sit in the front seat lest he catch whatever I had.  I am not quite sure if Fred realized what the driver might think about that gesture, but I was in no position to discuss the issue. 

I was barely hanging on.  After I gave the driver my address, I quickly fell asleep in the deliciously warm car.  I slept the whole way home.  The driver woke me up from my deep sleep when we got there.  I was so weak, it took me a minute just to get my bearings again.  The moment I became alert, I groaned.  Sure enough, my instincts were correct... I had really screwed up. 

As the limousine idled in front of my run-down apartment on Travis (4) in a lower middle class neighborhood, Fred's eyes bulged at the building I lived in.  Fred asked, "Dick, do you really live here??

I nodded yes, but I died a million deaths when I saw the look on his face.  I instantly hated myself.  Due to my sleep, I had been unable to ask Fred's driver to drop me off at one of the nice homes a few blocks away.  This was a trick I had used with other kids from my school when their mothers gave me a ride.  However, I was so sick and groggy that I had forgotten to give a fake address. 

What a dumb mistake.

As I staggered out the car door mumbling my gratitude, I noted Fred's wide-eyed stare of astonishment continued unabated.

In my condition, it was a monumental effort just to climb the steps.  When I finally I made it to the top, I looked back.  To my surprise, the limousine was still there.  With the window rolled down, Fred was gaping at me in disbelief.  No doubt he wanted to see me open the front door.  Fred wanted to make absolutely sure this was where I lived before driving away.

Fred's face was covered with the most profound look of pity I had ever seen directed at me.  What was his problem?  Did Fred expect the door to fall off the hinges?   Despite my pain, I felt a wave of bitterness come over me.

Welcome to the Real World, Fred.

After that incident, something changed at school.  I felt like some of the kids began to avoid me.  The timing was unmistakable.  I had a hunch that Fred had said something.  I doubt that Fred said anything to be mean.  He wasn't that kind of guy.  But whatever he had said had real consequences.  I suddenly felt very alone.  Nothing could explain my sudden isolation other than Fred's likely whispers.   

It seemed suspicious that my invitations to birthday parties seemed to disappear.  Nor was I invited to spend Saturday afternoons with classmates at their homes any more.  I couldn't be sure what was going on.  Was this really happening or was it my imagination? 

That moment in the 7th grade marked the beginning of my alienation at St. John's.  It wasn't what my classmates did to me that bothered me.  What hurt was being left out in various subtle ways.  I no longer felt included in my classmate's lives.   

St. John's was a small school.  With fifty kids in my class, there were no secrets, especially since I ate lunch every day next to my classmates.  Since they had no reason to be guarded around me, they talked about what was going on in their lives.  That made it easy to overhear stories about the recent exciting events I had been left out of. 

Maybe four kids had met at the River Oaks Country Club yesterday afternoon to watch a pro tennis match.  Or three boys went to Memorial Country Club to practice their golf swings.  Or six kids had spent the weekend down in Galveston at someone's beach house.  Or there was a big birthday party at someone's mansion for twenty kids.  Or someone was going skiing over spring break.

They never knew I was listening.  I had become the Invisible Kid.

This was not 'deliberate' meanness.  Not one student in my class ever displayed any particular animosity towards me.  Yes, I was excluded, but this exclusion wasn't the product of any deliberate conspiracy meant to ostracize me. 

I understood my academic scholarship to St. John's did not include an automatic invitation to events outside the classroom.  My classmates ignored me because I was not a part of the social circles they ran in after school.  It didn't help that I had no idea how to become popular enough to rate inclusion into their circles

Let me be clear about one thing.  My classmates were always cordial towards me.  I do not recall one instance where one of my own classmates was deliberately mean to me (the boy who taunted me was one grade behind).

However, outside of class they ignored me... as was their right.  It wasn't their job to worry about my self-esteem issues or my wish to be included.  Every one of my classmates had plenty of growing-up problems of their own to worry about.  It wasn't their job to worry about me.

Although there were several mothers who treated me poorly, I was never the victim of overt snobbery from my classmates.  Okay, there were a couple kids who liked to needle me about my inferior clothes or my lack of fashion sense, but I am not even sure their comments were meant to hurt.  It was just teasing to them and I had a very thin skin.  What bothered me the most was simply feeling left out. 

No one enjoys watching a birthday party through a window.  I felt increasingly alone at my school.  I was there, but I wasn't there.

I wasn't part of their world any more.  By the end of the 7th Grade, I felt about as significant as a light fixture.

A sense of futility came over me.   No one wanted me here. 

In very small ways, for nine solid years I received subtle messages as to my inferiority.  Slowly over time, the acid of negative conditioning would erode my confidence.  Some very dark messages would be implanted in my subconscious that would have serious consequences later in life. 

The results were disastrous to my self-esteem.  I grew up believing I wasn't good enough in many social situations. 

For example, when it came to head to head competitions over women, I would mysteriously throw in the towel because I felt 'inferior' to men who reminded me of the confident boys at St. John's.  Or I would have trouble standing up for myself when an alpha male asserted his dominance in some way at my expense.  Let's face it, there are people who enjoy making themselves taller by stepping on those who are smaller.  I would allow myself to be elbowed to the back by men I had the ability to go toe to toe with.

Starting practically from the moment I arrived at the school, for nine years on a daily basis I received subtle messages that I was the least important person in my school.  Without a parent to counteract those messages, the conditioning took hold.  As my confidence dwindled, I began to say less and less. 

The longer I went to St. John's, the more I became convinced I was socially inferior to my classmates.  To avoid being reminded of my inferiority, I kept to myself outside of class.  This self-imposed alienation prevented me from acquiring the various secrets of popularity.  I never discovered the value of developing ways to be interesting or the benefits from learning to listen.   I had no idea how to tell a story or a joke, I never learned to dance, and I never learned to tease, offer encouragement or pay compliments.  I never acquired the knack of showing interest in other people or how to approach them.  I avoided the phone like the plague.  These important lessons in friendship went right over my head.

A loner by nature, it required a real effort to make friends to begin with.  Then after a major crisis in high school, it became easier to stop trying altogether.  As I withdrew into myself, my loner status gave rise to Harold's taunts of 'Creepy Loser Kid', a moniker that burned like an ember in my soul.

The only place where I felt any pride was my academics.  Even that area bothered me.  Here I was competing with the smartest children in the city.  These kids were not only brilliant, they had every advantage one could ever ask for.  It became crystal clear to me that I was a huge underdog at this school in every possible way.  

However, I did have one advantage.  As my bitterness grew, I became determined to out-work every single one of them.  

Someday I was going to overcome these problems.  I was determined to prove... first to myself, then to others... that I was their equal.

 

 


CHAPTER FIVE: THE BALLANTYNE FAMILY

 

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