Losing Control
Home Up Self-Destructive

   

Book One:
A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS


PART TWO: HIGH SCHOOL HELL

CHAPTER TWELVE:
LOSING CONTROL

Written by Rick Archer

  2015, Richard Archer

 


SUBCHAPTER 53
- SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH ME

 

My Senior year, 1967-1968, was one long nightmare. 

Things were rough for me.  I couldn't make myself study.  I couldn't stop worrying about college.  I hated my mother with a passion.  I was arguing constantly with Mr. Murphy at school and Mr. Norris, my new grocery store manager.  I felt a disturbing bitterness towards my classmates that I couldn't shake.  The Holy Roller music was driving me crazy. Just when I thought things couldn't get worse, first those girls showed up, then La Familia moved in. 

My mother's determination to turn her house into Little Mexico was the last straw as far as I was concerned.  I would sleep in this place, but it would never be my home. 

I intended to spend as little time in this house as I possibly could.  However, there was a heartrending consequence to my decision.  It broke my heart seeing how much my border collie Terry missed me. 

Terry would stare at me with the saddest eyes whenever I left.  I would think about him and feel so guilty.  Terry looked almost as lost in this house as I was.  I don't think he spoke Spanish any better than I did.

The thought of leaving Terry for college next fall upset me greatly. 

Terry the Terrible, the dog I loved so passionately, had been my best friend in the world for as long as I could remember.  However, that meant I was his best friend as well.  Through thick and thin, for ten years we had been inseparable.  I knew my dog would never stop loving me.  Despite all the problems I faced, the thought of leaving Terry to go to college was my single greatest sadness.  I knew my dog would miss me so much. 

How would Terry ever understand my abandonment?  Just thinking about leaving my dog brought me so much sorrow.  The bond we had was incredible.  What would happen to my dog when that bond was broken?

This was a time when I was becoming a hard kid.  I was growing tough and mean.  I was overly serious and almost never laughed.

Nevertheless, no matter how much I hated the world, whenever I saw my dog, I always seemed to break down crying.  My guilt over the separation that awaited him when I left for college troubled me no end. 

Oddly enough, I was grateful for those tears.  Those tears were about the only thing I had left that reminded me that deep down, I was still at heart a pretty good kid.  If someone could reach my puppy dog side, I was a kind and decent person.  However, good luck reaching the puppy dog side these days.  I felt very cold inside.

During the worst part of this dark period, I felt like Terry was virtually the only friend I had left.  My love for my dog was the only thing that proved I still had any kindness left in me.  If only I could find a way through all this hostility! 

It was January 1968 of my Senior year when I began to go off the deep end.   My home, my school and my job had all become battlegrounds.  With no support system to fall back on, I felt like there was no one I could turn to.  I wanted to lash out in the worst way and tell the world just how pissed off I was over my crummy life.

As my defiance rose, I developed an anti-social streak that allowed me to justify a series of misguided moves.  I developed a contempt for the cherished principles of my school.  Disconnected from the school's honor code as well as my own honor code, I did things that came dangerously close to ruining my St. John's career.

Up till my Senior year, I loved my school.  I knew I was getting a great education.  I wrapped my self-esteem around doing well at St. John's and pleasing my teachers.  If it hadn't been for my sarcastic, bristling nature, I might have even been a teacher's pet like my sun-kissed classmate Katina Ballantyne.  I was on the verge of achieving my nine year dream - getting into college.

However, with the Finish Line so tantalizingly close, something was wrong with me.  Deeply wrong. Throughout the second half of the 12th grade, I hovered on the brink of self-destruction.

I could not understand my tailspin.  During my first eight years at SJS, I had always been a disciplined, conscientious student.  I poured my heart into every class, did my homework and came prepared for tests.  I never whined about grades and I participated in every classroom conversation.  Academics had always come so easily to me.

But now my vaunted self-discipline had seemingly deserted me.  I was having trouble concentrating in class.  My grades suffered because I could no longer force myself to study things I wasn't interested in.  What was wrong with me?   This loss of control had never happened before and it scared me.  I would never succeed if I continued to ignore classes I didn't like.

The problem that bothered me the most was money.  How was I ever going to pay for college? 

More than anything else, it would be my fears about paying for college that sent me hurtling into a dangerous downward spiral.

 


SUBCHAPTER 54
- a series of BAD OMENS

 

If ever there was a bad omen, it had to be the Holy Roller organ music.  The noise irritated me from the moment I heard it.

The moment this maddening sound drifted in from across the street, I knew I was in trouble.  Finding myself totally unable to study, I had a really bad feeling about this new home.  

Another bad omen arrived soon after.  In early September 1967, my application form to Georgetown University showed up.  As I looked at the brochure, I gasped at the tuition.  $5,000 a year.  I had no idea the tuition was so high.  My grocery store savings were projected to be $1,500-$2,000.  I was sick to realize my savings from two years of work were not nearly enough to pay for even one semester at Georgetown.  $5,000 a year seemed insurmountable.  Where was the extra money going to come from??  Obviously a scholarship was my only hope, but I had no idea how one gets a college scholarship.  I assumed that after I got accepted into school, that's when to ask.

The next bad omen took place at the start of November.  That is when my father's $100 per month child support check failed to show up.  For the past nine years, my father's child support payment had been as predictable as clockwork.  So naturally Mom was surprised when the check didn't show up on time... and worried too.  She planned to use that guaranteed money to pay her monthly house note. 

The missing check was serious.  For all his faults, my father was a champion with child support.  He had never missed a check before.  Considering how much Mom depended on that money, she was deeply worried.  We were still on speaking terms at that point, so she asked me to help figure it out.

I didn't have a clue, but Mom came up with the answer.  It took a good fifteen minutes of concentration to guess the reason, but Mom finally realized that my recent 18th birthday in late October was surely responsible. 

Long ago when I was 6,my father was transferred from Maryland to Houston.  I had been put back a half year by the Texas school system on some sort of age technicality.  That explained why I was a bit older than most of my classmates. 

Now it made sense.  Mom hadn't thought about it in years, but now she recalled my father's legal responsibility for child support ended when I turned eighteen... even though I was still in high school.  So Dad immediately stopped paying.  It didn't matter to him that we were deeply dependent on that money.  

Mom groaned.  She had not seen this coming.  She had attached no significance to my turning 18.  In her mind, she thought child support would continue until high school graduation.  It had never crossed her mind that my child support would end at my birthday. 

Mom paled visibly as she realized that the house payment money was gone.  Mom was fit to be tied.   Had she known this, she would have never made her ill-fated decision to buy this giant barn.   She realized she had made a serious mistake.  Mom had no way to make up the difference.  She would be hard-pressed to make that house note without my father's much-needed child support.  I understand to a modern reader $100 in child support doesn't sound like much, but it meant a lot back in those days, especially to us.

Money became ridiculously tight.  My mother began to worry day and night how to replace that money.  A very awkward moment took place when I offered to give her some of my grocery store money to make up the difference.  I don't know if it was her pride, but she turned me down in a huff.  "I don't want your money, Richard.  Save it for college." 

That was probably the last warm feeling I had for my mother the entire year.  Here she was facing the loss of her dream house, but her code of honor kept her from accepting my college money.  I was impressed.  However, what I didn't know was that she had a disastrous plan of her own set in motion. 

The arrival of Janie and Linda shortly after Thanksgiving was deceiving.  How could I have guessed the appearance of these girls was the worst omen of all?  Janie and Linda certainly didn't look dangerous, but beware beautiful Mexican girls bearing gifts.  Their presence not only paralyzed my ability to study for two solid weeks at the end of November, things would get much worse.

I made a series of terrible decisions during my Senior year, but hindsight shows my one good decision was to avoid having sex with either girl.  Upon arrival, both girls were convinced the sooner they found a man to take care of them, the better. That explains why they initially turned on the heat towards me, the only available male.  However, once they figured out that I was not interested in taking care of them, they branched out and found better options.  To my surprise, from that point on, I didn't exist any more.  The smiles, the giggling, the touching, walking around half-dressed... all of that disappeared. 

Those girls had me thinking I was hot stuff there for a while, but when the truth came out, my ego was badly deflated to say the least.  Considering I didn't have much of an ego to begin with, I felt stupid, foolish and confused about the entire matter.  It wasn't till much later in my life that I realized my misgivings had been accurate all along and that I had narrowly escaped a truly messy set of complications.  Too bad I was so hard on myself.  Avoiding temptation with those girls was the only smart thing I did all year.

What I did not know at the time was that Janie and Linda's arrival was no accident.  If my mother had explained, quite a bit of heartache could have been bypassed.  Linda and Janie's appearance was part of a scheme Mom and Ramon had cooked up. My mother was certain she was going to lose the house without a new source of income.  So Ramon had invited the girls up.  Once they got here, Mom hoped they could find a way to get the girls to pay rent.  That explains why shortly after they got here, Ramon told the girls to go out and get a job.  We already know the rest.  La Familia was just around the corner.

It would have helped immensely if Mom had explained things up front.  Why didn't my mother tell me this?  Pride.  Mom was too ashamed to admit the main reason she turned her house into Little Mexico was to get enough rent money from her guests to replace my father's missing child support.  It wasn't until our huge yelling match in late December that Mom finally blurted out the truth. 

What a shame she hadn't told me sooner.  Thanks to the huge fight, we weren't even speaking.

Oddly enough, now that I finally understood the fix she was in, I gave my mother no more grief about the Mexicans.  I still detested living in this house, but I understood my mother's dire financial situation too well to punish her further. 

Nevertheless, my mother's inability to explain things directly in the beginning had cost our relationship dearly.  There was a permanent wedge between us.  Not only was I little more than a boarder in my own house, I operated totally without supervision.

Shortly after the blow-up, I got a message at school to meet my father for lunch. 

When I showed up at the usual meeting place the next day, I realized my father was not going to invite me to his house for Christmas this year.  This was new; I had always spent a part of Christmas day with him.  Not this year, he said.  Today's lunch would be our Christmas meal instead.  He said I was older now and should understand... whatever that was supposed to mean. 

What I assumed it meant was that his wife couldn't stand to have me in her house again.  Trust me, the feeling was mutual... I couldn't stand the woman.

With that, Dad gave me a Civil War book about Stonewall Jackson, plus a Christmas card with a ten dollar bill in it. 

Thanks, Dad.  Touching. 

During the meal, I was very upset that my father never said a word about college or college finances. 

My father's neglect of this all-important subject signaled real danger.  My mind drifted back to the promise he had made five and a half years ago.  At the end of the 6th grade, my father had stopped paying tuition at St. John's the moment he was no longer legally obligated.  At the time, he promised to save up for college instead.  In my mind, I referred to this moment as the Sixth Grade Pledge.

If he had kept his promise and banked the tuition as he said he would, I estimated he would have close to $4,000 saved for me. 

I scoffed.  In my dreams.  I didn't trust my father then and I didn't trust him now. 

January 1968 was right around the corner.  Soon the college acceptances would begin coming in.  However, I still had no idea how to pay for college.  One would assume this was the time a father would bring up the subject of college.  No such luck.

When Dad ignored any talk of college during our Christmas lunch, I was disheartened.  This was a bad omen indeed.

I should have said something, but I was too scared to bring the subject up.  If I said anything, I was certain he would tell me the truth and dash my hopes for good.  I simply wasn't strong enough to bear the disappointment.  My fight with my mother was still fresh in my mind.  My mother had hurt my feelings badly.  I didn't want to admit how upset I was that I wasn't welcome in her home anymore.  Whether she meant it or not, it really hurt.  Consequently I was simply not brave enough to risk alienating my other parent as well.

Rather than take the chance of being crushed now, I preferred to cling to my long-shot hope that my father would come through for me in the end.  So I remained silent.

When this meal was over, I was in a terrible mood.  It wasn't the Christmas snub that upset me.  I was used to my father's indifference by now.  Besides, I didn't want to go to his house anyway.  What upset me is that I felt deserted by both parents.  My "Little Mexico" argument with my mother had taken place just days earlier.  She didn't want me in her home and now it looked like my father wouldn't help me with college.  What a pair.

If my father could not be counted on to help with college... and I was becoming more certain all the time this was the correct conclusion... then I was in big trouble.  Therefore, starting with my father's Christmas snub, I began to worry about money night and day.  Without my father's help, I was way short of the necessary money to make it to the Promised Land. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 55
- TERRIBLE NEWS

 

About three weeks after my father's Christmas Snub, I heard something during school lunchtime that disturbed me greatly.

As for college tuition, I was down to two remaining possibilities... a college scholarship and a local scholarship known as the Jones Scholarship

If I couldn't count on my father, then a college scholarship was officially my best hope.  A college scholarship was no sure thing, but I believed I had a pretty good chance.  In fact, I told my friend David that exact thing as we ate lunch at school.  If I could get a scholarship at St. John's, then surely a college scholarship should be no problem.

David said not so fast.  David attended SJS on a half-scholarship and he worried about college scholarships almost as much as I did. David proceeded to tell me something I had never thought of before.  David said a couple years ago his older brother was unable to get a college scholarship because his father made too much money.  Now that it was his turn, David was worried about the same problem.  His brother was saddled with a huge college loan debt and David was certain a similar fate awaited him as well.

I replied my father's salary was not an issue.  I had nothing to worry about because my father wasn't even in the picture.  St. John's knew this for a fact which is why I had gotten my full scholarship here.  Surely the same principle would apply for college.

David disagreed.  First he shook his head "no", then said emphatically,

"I wouldn't be so sure about that, Rick.  Any college is going to expect the parents to pay, especially someone like you from a rich kid's prep school.  A college doesn't know you from Adam.  It has no obligation to take your word for it that your father is a jerk.  If colleges did that, every kid in America would say they had just been disowned by their parents upon graduation. 

Why would any parent willingly pay all that tuition if all they had to do was tell the kid to lie and go to college for free?  There's cheaters everywhere in this world.  That's why colleges go over the money parents make with a fine-toothed comb.

Just how are you going to explain how your father is able to send two kids to private school but doesn't have a cent for you?

I bet they're going to take one look at your father's salary and say 'Sorry Charlie, Daddio needs to pay up.'"

I was stunned.  David was absolutely right.  I had no reply for that.

My jaw dropped.  I felt sick.  My father's money was going to count against me whether I liked it or not.  How was I ever going to explain my father bizarre attitude to some school that had never heard of my situation?

Maybe I could get my father to write a letter on my behalf.  I dismissed that idea in a nanosecond.  My father didn't give a shit about me.  My father's attitude was that I was on my own.  He would never cooperate. 

No doubt money was tight in my father's home at the moment.  After all, both my step-brother and step-sister were currently in private schools.  Their enrollment at private schools similar to SJS was a source of real irritation to me.  I bitterly recalled how my father had sanctimoniously preached the value of public school after he refused to continue to send me to St. John's following the 6th grade. 

Public school was good enough for me, but his two children by his second wife deserved private school.   No doubt the child support my father had discontinued was helping to pay their way.  I got the message loud and clear.

Although I still hadn't given up hope that father was good for his 6th grade promise, I was pretty skeptical.

Now I had to deal with the thought that my father's salary might sabotage any chance at a scholarship.  That was sickening.

If David was right, my father's salary would count against me unless he cooperated in some way.

That would never happen.  My father would not have touched a financial aid form in a thousand years.  I doubted seriously my father wished to print on some form the reasons why he was unwilling to spend a single dime on me. 

The blood drained out of me.  I stopped breathing.  I felt sick.  My disappointment was so powerful that I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. 

A huge bitterness arose.  My fear that I might not have a way to pay for college had just been amplified to crisis level.

After lunch, I staggered to class.  I had the same sick feeling one would have after a doctor reveals the presence of an incurable disease.  The more I thought about what David said, the more upset I got.  The thought that my father's salary might work against me was unfathomable.

I had German class after lunch.  When I walked in, I was almost in tears.  Mrs. Anderson, the nice lady who taught German in my Senior year, asked us to translate a long paragraph of German into English.  I finished first, mostly because my heart wasn't in it.

With nothing to do, I began to scan the room.  I looked at all twelve students one by one.  Every student in this room had come to school today secure in the knowledge their father's money guaranteed they were going to the college of their choice.

I shook my head in dismay.  An overpowering wave of bitterness surged through me. 

While my classmates didn't give attending college a second thought, I now believed there was a good chance I wouldn't be going to college next year.  This thought made me furious.  Who at this school worked harder than me??

Was it really possible my father's job could present a nearly insurmountable obstacle to my chances of getting a scholarship?

That thought absolutely blew my mind.  My entire life had been wrapped around college ever since the acne attack three years ago.  The thought of being trapped at Little Mexico for another year was more than I could handle right now.

As I looked around, some very dark thoughts entered my mind.  My sudden fear about not being able to go to college next year led to an absolutely devastating attack of envy towards my classmates. 

At a time when I had no idea how I would ever pay for college, it infuriated me that every single one of my senior classmates BUT ME had parents who were going to take care of their college education. 

Unbelievable.  Was it really possible everyone in my class might go to college but me??

For the rest of the day the words "everyone but me" bounced through my head repeatedly. 

And with that, the resentment towards my classmates began to build.

 


SUBCHAPTER 56
- THE BITTERNESS MOUNTS

 

I once asked Mr. Curran why St. John's didn't offer any useful classes like typing or car repair.  Mr. Curran laughed and said St. John's was a college preparatory school.  Their intent was to prepare their students for college.  These children were the daughters and sons of Houston's elite.  Since none of these students would ever be a car mechanic or a secretary, there was no need for these kind of classes.

College was the only goal.

Mr. Curran was right.  The pursuit of a college education had been drilled into my mind since the moment I had first stepped into my 4th grade classroom.  St. John's had preached the goal of scholastic achievement for nine years.  Indeed, thanks to my superior education, I was extremely well-prepared for the next stage... if I could just get there.  

Going to college was the single most important thing in my entire life, not only as a way to train for a future career, but as a way to escape my mother and my miserable home life.  College was my Promised Land, Holy Grail, and Mt. Everest all rolled into one.

I thought about college constantly.  Every fiber was directed at hanging on until I could leave Houston and find sanity.

However, David's lecture on Daddy's money had convinced me I had a serious problem, but no answer.  Money was a real issue.

The three colleges I had applied to were expensive out-of-state private universities.  When I looked at the cost of tuition plus room and board, I paled considerably.  At a private university, I was looking at annual bills somewhere around $5,000 plus $1,000 more room and board (obviously these numbers are meaningless today, so multiply times 10 to get a better picture). 

As it stood, without a scholarship, there was no way on earth I could pay for an out of state school.  College loans, maybe, but I needed parents to guarantee loans.  That wasn't going to happen.

For the very first time it occurred to me I had more than enough money to afford a in-state school.  That would have been a very practical solution.  Why hadn't I thought of that before? 

I had a blind spot... I wanted to get out of Texas no matter what.  In my desperation to save application fees, I had deliberately chosen not to apply to less expensive schools here in Texas like the University of Texas or the University of Houston.   Nor had Mr. Salls brought the subject up.  He had 'Johns Hopkins' on the brain.  What a joke. 

Now it looked like my failure to consider a state school would come back to haunt me.

I kicked myself because I had not applied to Rice University like I wanted to.  That was the one school that might be able to give me a scholarship despite my ridiculous situation with my father.  Surely I could just drive over to Rice and explain my problems with father face to face with someone in Admissions.  I would suggest Mr. Salls as my reference.   Surely Mr. Salls would go to bat for me. 

However I was so desperate to escape my mother, the thought of applying to a school here in Houston had never crossed my radar.

Too late now.  I was stuck.  My chance to apply to Rice University would have to wait another year.

Unless I could find some source of serious money, I was scared out of my wits that my freshman year of college would consist of another year of Weingarten's grocery sacking, more Little Mexico, and perhaps a few scintillating classes at Houston Community College.  Why not look on the bright side?  At least I could take a typing class.  Or learn how to fix a car.  Or maybe learn Spanish and figure out how to seduce a Mexican girl.

I was full of despair. 

Thanks to David's bad news about my father's salary, paying for college was now a monumental nail biter for me.  I brooded over money every spare moment of the day.

"Everyone but me" continued to rattle around in my brain on a daily basis.

I began to resent the good fortune of my classmates in a completely new way.  Sure I had known envy before, but not to the point that it bothered me like it did now.

My scholarship at St. John's had made it possible for me to get the finest education money could buy even though I had no money.  Yes, my low socioeconomic status was a source of irritation to me, but the fact remained that my Rich Man - Poor Man situation had not kept me from competing with my wealthy classmates... until now.  

My classmates were going to college, but thanks to good old Deadbeat Dad, I wasn't.

I was ready to explode with bitterness.  In all my years at St. John's, I had never before hated the privileged lives of my classmates as much as I did now.  The unfairness of their comfortable lives compared to my rotten life was eating me alive.  

I was sick of it!  Sick and tired.  And that sickness kept growing inside of me, filling me with bitterness and poison.  Throughout January, I was stuck in a gut-wrenching nightmare consumed with worry about a future that was completely out of my control.

Every day as I sat in class trying to concentrate, these demons haunted me.  I knew it wasn't the fault of my classmates that they had been given these advantages, but my resentment just kept building nevertheless.  I began to hate going to school.

The fight with my mother and my father's snub underscored just how completely alone I felt.  With college beckoning just across the horizon, my world was in shambles.

At this point, I became seriously anti-social.  Wrapped up inside my self-pity, I am afraid my judgment was impaired.  I began to do some very stupid things. 

 


CHAPTER THIRTEEN: SELF-DESTRUCTIVE

 

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