The Ballantynes
Home Up High School Hell

   

Book One:

A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS


PART ONE: CHILDHOOD

CHAPTER FIVE:
THE BALLANTYNE FAMILY

Written by Rick Archer

  2015, Richard Archer

 


SUBCHAPTER 20
- Maria Ballantyne

 

Despite my perpetual loneliness, there was no other place I would have rather been than at St. John's.  I knew I was getting an amazing education.

However, each year I felt more like an outsider.  So I adjusted as best I could.  If I couldn't participate, I could at least do a lot of watching.

The memory of the nasty woman who had practically taken my head off with her scorn had a lingering effect.  Although I didn't let that woman's rude dismissal stop me from peeking in, I did become more surreptitious.

I found an observation post in the shadows behind an entrance to the room.  If I got an occasional dirty look from someone who noticed me, I learned not to stick around. I would simply disappear before they could say anything.  No one ever bothered me again.

There were usually twenty or so women milling about. I had no idea what their names were or who their children were.  Except one - Mrs. Ballantyne.

I first noticed Mrs. Ballantyne in the 4th grade.  I had no idea who she was, but she definitely caught my attention.  It seemed to me that Mrs. Ballantyne dominated the conversation.

As Mrs. Ballantyne spoke, the other women seemed to gather around her.  I assumed she was their leader.  I didn't know if Mrs. Ballantyne was as mean as that woman who had ordered me to leave, but I did know I was impressed by her stature.  Everything seemed to revolve around her. 

Mrs. Ballantyne pictured with her brother George
 

I found myself drawn to Mrs. Ballantyne. 

As I watched her perform on center stage, I was star-struck.  From that point on, whenever I noticed the Mother's Guild in the Commons Room, the first thing I did was look for this lady.   Even if I had only a few minutes left to get to my next class, I would risk being late just so I could watch Mrs. Ballantyne in action a little longer. 

An attractive woman about 5' 3" tall, Mrs. Ballantyne had dark brown hair and a dark complexion thanks to her Greek heritage.  Whenever I saw her, Mrs. Ballantyne always continued to be at the center of every group.  Mrs. Ballantyne was the most dynamic and powerful woman I had ever seen in my life.  I stopped paying attention to the other women and began to concentrate only on her. 

Any time I spotted Mrs. Ballantyne, I would stop and hide somewhere so I could study her for a few minutes.  However, I never once came anywhere near Mrs. Ballantyne.  After that other lady had chewed me out so badly, I kept a discrete distance from all these women lest they bite. 

From the shadows, I was free to study Mrs. Ballantyne.  Over time I thought I detected a difference between Mrs. Ballantyne and the other women.  For one thing, she seemed very down to earth.  She smiled a lot and radiated warmth.  I began to like her.  I liked to watch her in action.  As far as I was concerned, with all those women buzzing around her, Mrs. Ballantyne was the Queen Bee.

It seemed to me that Mrs. Ballantyne was most socially gifted person I had ever come across.  She exuded confidence.  Warm and outgoing, Mrs. Ballantyne struck me as the go-to lady at every one of these afternoon Power Conclaves. 

It struck me as unusual that Mrs. Ballantyne was the only "mother" I ever noticed.  I didn't even know her name, but I was mesmerized by her.  I have not a single memory of another mother who made an impression on me other than that particular woman who had been mean to me. 

Oddly enough, it was not until the 7th grade that I finally learned this lady's name.  There was a new girl in my class that year named Katina Ballantyne.

One morning I saw Katina get out of a car along with several brothers and sisters.  When a woman got out of the car to give instructions, I assumed that was Katina's mother.  By chance that afternoon I noticed this same lady as she spoke to friends in the Mother's Guild group.  Now I began to pay more attention to Katina because I was so fascinated by her mother.

Mrs. Ballantyne seemed to be a constant fixture at my school.  I estimate I saw her at Saint John's two or three times a week for all the nine years I attended.  One day I asked Katina why her mother was at school all the time.  Katina told me her family had seven children at the school, more than any other family.  I was incredulous at that revelation.  No wonder Mrs. Ballantyne was at my school all the time.

Most of the time I would spot Mrs. Ballantyne in the Commons Room, but she was also the only mother who ever seemed to appear in other parts of the school.  I would see her striding down the hallway corridors side by side with Headmaster Alan Chidsey or deep in conversation with E.K. Salls, the Assistant Headmaster.  Since I didn't see the other mothers doing the same thing, this also set Mrs. Ballantyne apart from the other women in the Mother's Guild. 

I had no idea why this lady was so special, but Mrs. Ballantyne seemed to know everyone.  She was a social dynamo of the highest order. 

Through the grapevine, I learned Mrs. Ballantyne had a reputation at my school as an effective go-getter.  I have a hunch that for the most part Mrs. Ballantyne used reason, charm and persuasion to accomplish most of her projects. 

However, Mrs. Ballantyne was also rumored to have enormous will power.  It was said she could be very controlling at times, perhaps even forceful.  One day I inadvertently overheard a conversation about Mrs. Ballantyne's iron will.  There had been a fierce argument between Mrs. Ballantyne and one of her daughters (not Katina) concerning a young man the girl was dating.  Mrs. Ballantyne didn't approve because in her opinion the young man was too old for her daughter.  The daughter, strong-willed just like her mother, completely disagreed.

The ensuing battle led to considerable thunder and lighting in the Ballantyne home.  That story convinced me I never wanted to cross swords with this woman.

Based on this story, I suppose Mrs. Ballantyne had a sledge hammer in her tool kit in addition to her assortment of persuasive charms.  No surprise there.  I am not quite sure how else one accomplishes things in life without asserting one's will when necessary. 

That is why some people are called 'leaders'. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 21
- A Great Mom

 

When I recall my impression of Mrs. Ballantyne, I remember thinking many times that she was the best mother I had ever seen.

From the moment I first spotted Mrs. Ballantyne in the 4th grade, I was transfixed.  The 4th grade became the 5th grade and the 5th grade became the 6th.  With each new grade, I resumed my silent watch and with each new grade my respect for this woman deepened. 

Over time I came to greatly admire Mrs. Ballantyne.  Not only was she the clear leader of the Mother's Guild, the alpha lady in a group of women who were typically used to being in charge themselves, I also noticed how well she interacted with her own children. 

Mrs. Ballantyne obviously had her children's complete respect.  I came to the conclusion that Mrs. Ballantyne was not only the most socially talented woman I had ever seen, she was also the best mother.

One day it finally dawned on me why I watched this lady every chance I got... Mrs. Ballantyne represented the kind of mother I wished I could have. 

My own mother was all I had.  Given that my father abandoned me shortly after the divorce in 1959, thanks to the absence of relatives, family friends, or even some kindly neighborhood lady across the street, I was totally dependent on a mother who was perpetually lost in her own problems.

Based on what I saw at school, Mrs. Ballantyne seemed intimately involved in every detail of her children's lives.  As an extremely lonely little boy, it isn't surprising at all that I would be attracted to this dynamic Greek woman who radiated warmth and concern.  The stark contrast was disconcertingly unfavorable to my own beleaguered mother.


Although I knew my own mother was a good person, she simply wasn't a very good mother.  Mom couldn't keep a job and she couldn't pay her bills.  Mom also had a bad habit of putting her needs before mine.  Her penchant for acquiring total losers and forcing me to live with them was a source of serious contention. 

With my privacy was invaded, the presence of these men made me miserable.  I rebelled any way I could.  Indeed, in the 8th grade during the time Neal the taxi driver lived with us resulted in terrible behavior on my part.

My mother's manic depressive behavior caused me untold anguish over the years.  There were times I actually worried she might kill herself.  Other times I feared she would end up in the loony bin and be unable to care for me. 

Due to my increasing lack of confidence in my own mother, I often wondered what other mothers were like. 

I would notice Mrs. Ballantyne's poise.  I would see how well she was liked by her peers.  I would take note of how her own children gravitated to her.  At these times I would be overwhelmed by all sorts of wishful thinking.

Given my troubled home, it should come as no surprise that I developed a serious case of hero worship for Mrs. Ballantyne.  That said, please do not be alarmed.  There was nothing 'creepy' about my admiration.  Although I was a sad kid, I was completely harmless. 

Although I admit I was very a troubled young man, I was not out of control.  I had total respect for Mrs. Ballantyne's privacy.  Not once in all those years did I ever approach her in any way.  All I ever did was stand in a corner watching and wondering.  

"Gee, what would I be like if I had someone like Mrs. Ballantyne for a mother?"

Since I was a near orphan, how could I not be attracted to such a caring, energetic mother? 

I would conclude every viewing with the same wistful lament.

"Gosh, why can't I have a mother like that?"

 


SUBCHAPTER 22
- THE BALLANTYNE CHILDREN

 

Mrs. Ballantyne was married to Alando Ballantyne, a physician who researched cancer at Houston's MD Anderson.  Together they raised a truly remarkable family of seven talented children - Michael, Dana, Katina, Marina, Christie, George, and Lisa.

During my time at St. John's, the Ballantyne family was the most famous family in the whole school. There were many talented individuals at St. John's, but no family could possibly rival the Ballantynes.  To me, the Ballantyne family was the SJS answer to the Kennedys.

Having developed my unusual fascination with their mother, I extended my watch list to the three Ballantyne children who were closest to me in age.  Dana was two years ahead of me, Katina was in my own grade, and Marina was one year behind. 

Like their mother, Dana, Katina, and Marina were friendly and warm to everyone.  They were down to earth and thoughtful of others.  Despite their enormous talent, not one of them displayed any egotism whatsoever.  I observed that Dana, Katina, and Marina achieved tremendous success in academics, athletics, and leadership.  They all excelled at one school activity after another.  Dana was not only the football captain, he was far and away the best player on the team.  Marina was Head Prefect of her class and Katina was a Prefect as well.

It was my observation that these three students deserved their accolades.  In my opinion, like their mother, the Ballantyne children were born leaders.

Dana, Katina and Marina received the respect of their peers because they deserved it.  No snobbery, no airs, no pretensions.  In nine years, I never saw a single incident where a Ballantyne child acted in any way other than exemplary. 

Although I had no direct interaction with any of these three students, from my close vantage point, I could see they conducted themselves with extreme dignity.  They accomplished extraordinary things and they did it the right way - they earned it.  I am sure they weren't perfect, but I never saw a single reason to relinquish my high regard for them.

I feel compelled to state again my interest in this family was benign.  Watching my three dynamic classmates was something I did because I admired them.  Due to my own feelings of inadequacy, it is no surprise I was drawn to them as role models.  I wanted to know why the Ballantyne children were so successful.  Maybe if I watched, I could learn something. 

Meanwhile I respected their privacy just as I respected the privacy of their mother.  Keeping my observations discrete, I doubt seriously they even realized my interest.

In the end, it all boiled down to this - I longed for a strong mother like Mrs. Ballantyne.  Through her own actions and the accomplishments of her children, I developed a great appreciation for the impact a strong mother can have on a child's life.

 


SUBCHAPTER 23
- KATINA BALLANTYNE

 

Katina Ballantyne was the person I watched the most frequently.  Since we were in the same grade, Katina and I shared many classes over the years. 

Although Katina was my classmate, I never knew her on a personal basis.  I don't remember a single incident or one significant conversation with her.  On the other hand, I certainly had enough opportunities to observe her enough to form strong impressions. Since St. John's kept its classes small, Katina and I sat in close proximity on many occasions.  Katina conducted herself gracefully at all times.  She was humble and kind almost to a fault with all her classmates. 

Mrs. Ballantyne was deeply involved in each of her children's careers at the school.  After watching the accomplishments of one Ballantyne child after another, whatever Mrs. Ballantyne did, it worked.  Seven children, seven success stories.

Through the grapevine, I would overhear "Mrs. Ballantyne" stories about how she made sure her sons and daughters lived up to her high expectations.  I would wryly note that if my own parents had any expectations for me, they had yet to share them with me. 

As I said, due to my fixation with Mrs. Ballantyne, I studied her children too.  I watched Katina as much as I did her mother.  Due to my respect for Katina, she became the major reason why I felt that Mrs. Ballantyne was a superior mother. 

Katina definitely brought great honor to her parents. 

I always felt that Katina reflected her mother's talents beautifully. 

I had a profound respect for Katina because she conducted herself with so much poise and grace.  Katina was a born leader, the kind of person people would follow into battle if necessary.  A cursory glance at the 1968 yearbook from my Senior year says it all - Katina was all-conference in field hockey, she was captain of the volleyball team, she played lead in The Music Man, she was a Prefect, she sang in the choir, and she was editor of the yearbook.  Oh, don't let me forget, Katina was an honor student as well. 

Despite all this success, Katina was level-headed and even-tempered.  I never once saw a streak of meanness or pettiness.  There were no airs of superiority emanating from this young lady.  Indeed, she was always modest and unassuming despite her continued brilliance.

Katina was not the exception, but rather the rule.  Every single one of Katina's brothers and sisters were the same way - talented, generous and humble.  They never once abused their popularity to get an edge.  Whatever they accomplished in the classroom and on the playing fields, in my book they earned it fair and square.  Be it the classroom, the playing field, student politics, or extracurricular activities, the talent and leadership of the Ballantyne children permeated throughout the school in seven different grades. 

To my surprise, one day in my Senior year, I overheard Katina speaking about her mother. 

Seniors were treated very well at my school.  Not only were we allowed to hang out in Quadrangle for everyone to see, we had our very own Senior Room complete with couches and big comfy chairs.  We could visit the place whenever we had free time.   From this convenient vantage point, I was able to overhear all the gossip.

Katina was talking in a low voice to one of her girlfriends, but I was close enough to hear.  Katina said last night her mother had chewed out one of her brothers for slacking off on his homework in a class he didn't like.  Her brother was trying to explain that playing football had cut into his study time.  Apparently Mrs. Ballantyne wasn't buying any of it. "What a bunch a bull.  Boo hoo hoo, life isn't fair.  I'm sure you deserved that grade."

As I listened on in startled fascination, Katina repeated more of the conversation.  "Young man, I don't believe in happy teenagers.  I don't want any excuses.  You are going to work harder because I said so!"

I was in shock.  I thought about that story for days. I had never heard of a conversation like this before.  Mrs. Ballantyne didn't pull any punches.  Obviously the woman was a strong believer in tough love.    My own mother had certainly never chewed me like this.  Considering her sharp tongue, I decided I never wanted to make Mrs. Ballantyne mad at me.

It doesn't take a genius to conclude raising seven special children required the talents of very special parents.  I hope this explains why I admired Katina's mother so much.  I believed it was a great accomplishment to raise so many gifted, wonderful children.

 


SUBCHAPTER 24
- INFERIORITY

 

I made a fool of myself in the 8th grade.

1963 was a particularly bad year for me.  In addition to the grief I felt over the Kennedy assassination, I made a series of mistakes that I would come to regret.  The pain I felt in the 7th grade over my apparent relegation to the back of the bus carried over into the 8th grade.  In addition, the presence of Taxi Driver Neal created constant tension and hostility in my home. 

I ended up making a series of extremely bad decisions.

In the 8th grade, Mr. Chidsey cast me in a play as a drunken pirate.  I was having a great time and even received a compliment.  Mr. Chidsey said I was terrific in the role.

Then one day my mother said that when the play started in a few weeks, I would have to take the bus home at night after each performance.  I don't even remember what reason she gave me.  Maybe she was working late in those days.  Who knows?  What I do remember was how angry I was at her.

I was beyond furious.  No other kid in my entire school had to put up with this crap.  Was I being immature?  Yes, absolutely.  Yet at the same time, I was sick and tired of having the rug pulled out from under me.

At the time, we lived pretty far from school and I didn't know anyone who lived remotely near us to beg for a ride.  All I remember is that I was so angry at the thought of taking the bus at 10 pm at night that I decided to quit the play.  Poor Mr. Chidsey.  He begged me to stay.  He said I would be tough to replace so late and, besides, I was perfect for the role.  Consumed with guilt, I knew I had done the wrong thing, but I was too ashamed of myself to change my mind.  I hated myself for days on end for not having the guts to go to him and apologize and offer to continue the role if it was still open.

And to think Mr. Chidsey would eventually give me that full scholarship at the end of the year!  Oh, how I must have tried his patience.

I quit the 8th grade basketball team for the same reason.  When I found out some of the away games were late at night, my mother gave me the same line... take the bus home.  Considering I didn't know the bus routes at these different schools, I was worried about getting lost.  In addition, I didn't like the thought of getting bus transfers downtown and having all those weird homeless people to contend with late at night.  For the entire basketball season, I seethed with resentment at my mother.  I wanted to play ball!!

I finished second in the 6th grade spelling bee to Nancy Paxton.  Second place isn't bad at all, so I was encouraged.

The following year, I cracked down and studied even harder.  I literally gave it everything I had.  I finished second in the 7th grade spelling bee to Nancy Paxton.  This time rather than be happy, I was disgusted.  No one can beat Nancy Paxton.

The following year I was done with losing.  I was in a bad mood to begin with and I was in no mood for any further humiliation.  To hell with finishing second to that damn Nancy Paxton.  I skipped the 8th grade spelling bee altogether.

One day Nancy stopped me in the hall.  "Dick, how did you do in the spelling bee?"

At first I was angry at Nancy.  I thought she was taunting me.  But she didn't have that look on her face and now I was confused.  I simply muttered, "I wasn't in the spelling bee. I didn't feel like doing it this year." 

There was no way in hell I was going to admit I had quit because I was unwilling to compete with her any more.

The strangest look came over Nancy's face. "Oh my goodness, Dick, I didn't know!  I didn't go out for the spelling bee this year because I really wanted you to win!"

The creepiest set of feelings overwhelmed me.  First, at that moment I hated myself for disliking Nancy so much.  What the hell was wrong with me?  If I didn't know better, Nancy seemed to like me.  She was trying to be nice.

However, I didn't say a word.  For one thing, I was embarrassed.  Nancy had surely realized I had quit due to her superiority.  Rather than open myself to more shame, without a word I just turned and walked away. 

Nancy had made an effort to reach out to me, but all she saw was a moody boy who rudely turned his back on her.

Maybe if I could have swallowed my pride a little, we could have actually been friends.  This bitterness was killing me!   No wonder I was so damn lonely all the time.  I was my own worst enemy. 

Nancy and I never shared another conversation.

And what did my mother say about dropping out of the play?  Nothing.

And what did my mother say about dropping basketball?  Nothing.

And what did my mother say about skipping my third year of spelling bees?  Nothing.

So take a guess how I felt whenever I saw Mrs. Ballantyne in the hallway fussing at one of her children to do this or do that.  I imagined that Mrs. Ballantyne never missed a single detail.  A darkness would come over me and I would curse my mother for her passivity.

Now in my mother's defense, she worked during the day and wasn't able to visit campus.  I understood that.  However, there were no evening conversations either.  My mother wasn't the type to encourage.  That just wasn't her style. 

I never understood my mother.  She was a really nice person to everyone - I sincerely mean that.  Unlike me, my mother actually had friends.  She was a very warm, outgoing person.  However, when it came to me, she had the strangest blind spot.  We just didn't talk about school very much.  For whatever reason, we could not be friends.  Don't ask me why, I don't have an answer.

Without a mother or a father for support, I had to learn to push myself.  However, there were times when I simply ran out of courage.  Whenever this happened and I did something stupid like quit, my feelings of shame and inferiority took over.  

I would tell myself, "Gee,  Wouldn't it be great to have a mother or a father to tell me to get back out there and try again?  Wouldn't it be nice to have someone like Mrs. Ballantyne to remind me not to give up?"

I don't suppose it will come as any surprise to reveal that I compared myself to the gifted Ballantyne children all the time.  I wanted to be just like the Ballantynes.  I wanted to be respected like they were.  I wanted to be admired.  I would have traded places with any one of them in a heartbeat, maybe give the Prince and the Pauper story an exciting new twist. 

Full of sour grapes and venom, all sorts of dark thoughts would cross my mind.  "Let's see how good those Ballantyne kids would do with my mother as their mother."  All the while the chip on my shoulder grew larger.

In the nine years I went to St. John's, it wasn't the cars, the mansions, or the incredible privilege I saw on a daily basis that got to me.  It was watching people like the Ballantyne children grow into the finest young adults any parent could ever wish to have that hurt the worst. 

To quote Marlon Brando in his role from On the Waterfront, "That could have been me.  I could have been a contender.  I could have been somebody."  

No wonder I liked that movie so much.  That summed up my feelings perfectly.

As I tried to make sense of my own lonely childhood, I would have given anything to be liked and respected like the Ballantynes, my role models.  I ached to be given the chance to prove I belonged in the same league as the Ballantyne children. 

I yearned to show them that I was just as bright, just as athletic, and just as decent as they were.  Above all else, I wished to belong and be noticed.  I wished to play alongside the Ballantyne boys on sports teams and I wished to have someone like Katina become a friend rather than a distant acquaintance.  

But that didn't happen. 

For a kid with a struggling mother, no father and no siblings, for a kid who felt like he had a social disease, watching the superiority of the Ballantyne clan created an envy that was difficult to bear.

Mind you, these conclusions were drawn from distant observations.  I tell anecdotes throughout my story, but there will not be any anecdotes about my interactions with the seven Ballantyne children.  Why not?  Am I protecting them?  

No, not hardly.  The reason there are no Ballantyne stories is simple enough... there are no stories!  Our paths never crossed.  For starters, I did not belong to their social circles.  And since I never participated in any school activities, there was little reason to interact.  I didn't play sports.  I didn't act.  Nor did I sing or join any organizations. 

The Ballantyne children and I simply had no reason to interact. 

I imagine I was just as invisible to the Ballantynes as I was to the other 220 members of the Upper School.  It isn't easy being a person who has little status in society.  It isn't easy feeling like a competitor given little chance of winning a fight or contest. 

I was always the outsider looking in.

 


SUBCHAPTER 25
- ACADEMIC GLADIATORS

 

Academics was the only arena where I could compete.  I took my studies seriously.

By coincidence, Katina was one of my closest rivals.  Given my sad preoccupation with Ballantyne Superiority, this was the only place where I could show a Ballantyne that I was an equal.  Katina and I were Honor students who traded rank periodically.  Katina was usually one notch ahead of me or one notch behind. 

Since I was so acutely conscious of protecting my own academic standing, once we reached high school I never took my eye off her progress.  

Katina and I were members of an entire class of academic gladiators.  Like fighting ability in ancient Sparta, academic performance was worshipped at St. John's.  A major reason for the school's exemplary academic record was its skillful use of head-to-head competition.  St. John's students quickly learned to compete or be weeded out. 

In Sparta, the weakest babies were dumped on the side of the mountain.  There was an interesting parallel at St. John's.  At the start of every school year, I would note with chagrin that the lowest performing student from the previous year did not return. 

The coincidence was too much to overlook.

Either they were asked to go or perhaps they quit to escape the constant embarrassment of being last.  Their absence made a strong impression on me.  This was an environment where the toughest survived and the weakest were culled out and banished to public school. 

I remember one boy named Jeremy who "disappeared". 

I always liked Jeremy.  He was funny and outgoing.  Since his mother taught ballet at SJS, I had a hunch he probably received a scholarship like me.  There was a rumor that children of the faculty were given scholarships of varying degrees.

I had long noted Jeremy had something of the same hangdog air about him as me.  I assumed Jeremy occupied the next rung on the social ladder just above me.  Neither of us had a lick of confidence around our Alpha classmates.  However, while I was an Honor student, Jeremy really struggled.  I could not help but wonder if his low grades had something to do with his disappearance.

One afternoon I saw Jeremy back at school as he waited for his mother to finish a dance class. I went over and asked him where he had gotten to.  Jeremy smiled ruefully and said he had transferred to Lamar High School, a public school right next door to St. John's.  I asked him how he was doing.  Jeremy swelled with pride and said he was one of the best students in his class.

I was surprised.  Jeremy was the best in his class?  I was so lost in my own problems that I never considered the idea that Jeremy could conceivably be smart.  In my limited teenage awareness, if someone was last in my class, then that meant they were stupid. 

So how could someone who was stupid suddenly become smart?  Something was definitely wrong with my logic. 

I scrutinized Jeremy carefully.  This wasn't bluster.  There seemed to be a new confidence about him that made his surprising tale of worst to first ring true.

After chatting a while, we parted.  I began to process this interesting new information.  The worst student at St. John's leaves and becomes one of the best students at Lamar. 

That is when I realized I was oblivious to the concept of relativity.  Relative to SJS students, Jeremy struggled.  Relative to Lamar students, Jeremy excelled.

I developed a new respect for Jeremy.  Previously I had thought he was maybe average smart at best.  However, now that Jeremy explained how he excelled in the general population, I realized for the first time Jeremy was a pretty smart guy in his own right. 

Now my thoughts turned to St. John's.  If Jeremy was smart, then what did that say about my own classmates?  In a flash, I developed a new appreciation for the intelligence of my classmates.  If Jeremy was among the smartest kids at Lamar, then every one of my classmates must be brilliant in his or her own way. 

In a sense, we were being trained as gladiators.  We were all sparring partners.  Using our minds and our willpower, we fought on a daily basis to be the best and to improve our academic standing.  The tough competition brought out the best in us.

My competition with Katina was never acknowledged between the two of us.  We did not talk to each other past an occasional formality. To be honest, it was hardly a head to head struggle.  I doubt Katina even cared what my grades were.  She made excellent grades and knew that her admission to a good college was a foregone conclusion.  As the gifted daughter of a successful doctor, I assumed concern about college finances never crossed her mind.  I on the other hand thought about college scholarships constantly.

Therefore I doubt seriously Katina kept check on my progress the way I kept check on hers.  As for me, I watched her grades like a hawk. Since college was my obvious escape route from home, my desperation to succeed led me to take my class ranking far too seriously for my own good.  Consequently once we reached high school I began to keep tabs on Katina's grades.  When test results were handed out, I made sure to take a peek at Katina's score. 

One might conclude I was obsessed with Katina.  No, not at all.  Yes, I watched her from afar, but I left her alone.  I liked Katina.  Katina never said a single mean thing to me.  My overriding impression of Katina was that she was very classy.  Ultimately my fixation on Katina had little to do with her, but rather my preoccupation with her family's Olympic standing in my mind. 

It was simply that every time I saw Katina in class, she would say or do something that reminded me of her continued excellence. Over time, Katina came to represent everything that I wanted to be, but could never be.    

I envied Katina because I believed I had ability equal to hers and I hated feeling like an underdog because she had so many advantages. 

Katina had a dynamic, caring mother.  I had a mother who was a lost soul. 

Katina had a father.  I had a picture of a father hanging in my room. 

Katina had a family.  I had no one. 

Katina had friends.  I had a few acquaintances. 

Katina had brothers and sisters to motivate her and study with at night.  I had no one. 

Katina had a support system to cheer her up if she had a bad day.  I had my dog and my basketball. 

Most of all, I envied Katina because the sight of her reminded me that she had a great mother and I didn't.

If I had a Magic Mother like Mrs. Ballantyne, I would have a parent committed to guiding my fortunes.  I would have a mother to encourage me when I was down and chew me out when it was time to quit feeling sorry for myself.  I would have someone to explain my fears to and someone to clear up my confusion about all sorts of things that troubled me.

But this was just a dream.  My fantasy would disappear the moment I came home to my own hapless mother who was putting on makeup as she prepared to hit the bars.  No heart to heart conversations for us.  My mother's energy tonight was reserved for man hunting over at the Athens Bar and Grill

Who would be the lucky guy tonight?  No doubt I would meet him in the morning.  After a brief introduction to mother's latest Greek hero, I would ride my bike to St. John's.  When I saw Mrs. Ballantyne, I would resume my dream about what it would be like to have a mother like her.

Interestingly enough, for all the years I studied Mrs. Ballantyne, I never spoke to her at the school.  Not once in nine years did our paths intersect in halls of St. John's.  Watching the woman from afar, I would stare and wonder about how my life would have been different if I had her for a mother.  What kind of things could I accomplish if I could have someone like her in my corner?

I resented bitterly the uneven playing field.  Darn it, I believed I had just as much talent as the Ballantyne kids and every other kid at St. John's.  Academically, I proved my value, but unfortunately the classroom was the only place where I stood my ground.   In the sports arena, student activities and the social arena, I was a total loser.  

I didn't have a clue how to engage in friendly banter.  Rather than tease with my classmates and develop skills like small talk and the ability to inquire about their private thoughts, I held back.  It upset me no end to see how much my social awkwardness, my feelings of being inferior, and my lack of confidence held me back. 

WHAT IF?   How would my life change IF I could just have a mother like Mrs. Ballantyne? 

I drove myself crazy with the thought that having a better parent would make a difference. 

A Greek sailor dancing at the Athens Bar and Grill
 


Yes, these were the dark thoughts and sad fantasies of a lonely, introverted, troubled boy wrapped inside his thick shell of self-pity. 

Envy, pity, and loneliness are a dangerous combination.  I was becoming a very bitter kid.

Although I was the underdog at St. John's to some degree in the early years, it was the 8th grade when I really began to lose confidence in myself.  Due to my problems at home, I hit a real tailspin and quit one thing after another.  I came to believe I wasn't as good as these other students... I wasn't attractive, I wasn't witty, I wasn't polished, and, most of all, I wasn't interesting. 

I was someone very easy to ignore. 

Strangely enough, the spelling bee incident with Nancy Paxton upset me enough to take some action. 

When Nancy stopped me in the hall to ask about the spelling bee results, I sensed that she was reaching out to me.  However I had no idea how to react appropriately.  I just mumbled a few words and walked away to find some rock to crawl under. 

Now I was consumed with a serious round of self-loathing.  My life boiled down to me, myself, and I.  No wonder I had few friends... I was so preoccupied with my own misery I was not the most cheerful kid to be around. 

The funny thing is, I tried my best to rally.  Okay, so I didn't have a mother.  Poor me.  But I didn't want to spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself.  I made a firm decision to right my mistakes.  I knew I was wrong to give up on basketball, a sport I excelled in.  I decided starting that afternoon, I would practice shooting basketball at a nearby park one hour a day after school. 

I had a plan.

Next year I would be a freshman in high school.  Not only would I make the freshman basketball team, I was determined to be a star.  Then maybe I would get enough confidence to talk to girls instead of shying away from them.  It was time to be somebody.

That afternoon, Terry and I made a trip over to Cherryhurst Park.  Today I would begin my basketball project. 

 


CHAPTER SIX:  HIGH SCHOOL HELL

 

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