A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS
PART TWO: HIGH SCHOOL HELL
Written by Rick Archer
2015, Richard Archer
ON MY OWN
My father's $400 bombshell sent
me reeling. Coming on the heels of the cheating incident, I hit a real tailspin. I knew my father was
frugal where I was concerned. I also warned myself not to get my hopes up too high.
even my worst
expectation didn't prepare me for this final salute to my
worthlessness as his child.
I never expected
my father to add insult to
injury. I stared in disbelief as my father
explained that my two skin operations, the one good deed he had ever
done for me that wasn't legally mandated, had been deducted from his college donation.
So much for his voluntary generosity.
My father claimed the skin
smoothing operations had cost somewhere around $2,000. My memory told
me each operation cost $1,000, so the $2,000 quote made
sense. But I remembered something else as well.
I decided to check it out.
That night I
actually talked to my mother for the first time in ages.
I asked her to explain again how my father's medical insurance
something about a $200 deductible and an 80-20 split after
that. In other words, after the initial $200 outlay,
his insurance paid 80% of the remaining $1,800. I did
some quick math. 20% of 1800= $360. $200 + $360
= $560. I showed the numbers to my mother. She
right. Your father told me he paid $500 something for
I had another
question. "How did the insurance work?"
was legally responsible for all medical bills. You
were covered by his company insurance plan."
"In other words,
to some extent Dad was lawfully obligated to help me?"
I asked, "So
when his deductible ran out, what would the third operation
"I suppose a
new $200 plus 20% of the remaining $800. What is
"If you recall,
the doctor was so convinced that one more operation would do
the trick, he offered to do the operation for half-price.
So that would be $200 plus 20% of $300. My father
refused my third operation because $260 was too much for
him. Does that sound right to you?"
frowned. This was not a subject she wanted to discuss
due to her guilt over causing the problem in the first
suppose $260 is correct."
I was angry now.
My father claimed to have removed $2,000 from my college
fund. Not only did he lie about that, he wouldn't even
pay for the discounted final operation.
"Was there some
understanding between the two of you that my acne operations
were to be covered by my college savings?"
are you talking about? Heavens no.
Your father was responsible for all medical bills period.
As for college, there was nothing in the document about college savings.
Anything he gives you is up to him."
That's all I
needed to know.
Deep down I knew
that the money for skin operations was a bullshit excuse on his part.
I knew my father. He had used
those skin operations as a flimsy
excuse for being such a cheapskate on the Sixth Grade Pledge.
Now I finally
knew the truth. In the six years following
his Sixth Grade Pledge, the man had never put a single dime into
savings for me. At lunch today, my father had lied to
my face. I was sure of it.
likely, my father
figured the day had finally come to get his "Pledge" over
with, so what was the easiest way to get me off his back?
converted the discontinued child support payments into $400
of cash his wife didn't know about. By handing me
cash, he could escape his wife's wrath and get rid of me at
the same time. In case I protested, he practiced his
cock and bull story about the skin operations ahead of time
and figured I was too stupid to figure any of it out.
Besides, even if I did figure it out, what difference did it
make? He had no more legal obligation to me. I was on
own now; his parental obligations were fulfilled. Good
The sting would not go
away. My world turned blacker than usual. Ironically,
shortly after this I got news that all three of my college
applications had been accepted. Big deal. What should have been a joyous
moment for me was completely negated by the fact that I had no idea
how to pay for these colleges.
Actually the money issue
was just the tip of the iceberg. The pain of being treated so
coldly by my father ripped my heart out. I sunk into
the worst depression since the outbreak of acne back in my Freshman
My father had made it clear he was
done with me. Kaput. Couldn't be bothered. Dad
bought me off with $400. That was my value to him. I was filled with
disgust. How pathetic was this man?
At this point, I
hit a major tailspin. The world hated me, so I hated
the world back.
My Foot in the
Door strategy had been dealt a major setback. With the
news of my father's limited one-time donation, it was all
down to the Jones Scholarship. This award was my last chance.
father's bad news, I had hoped he would give me enough money to pay for an
year at Georgetown. Well, that idea was history. However, my father's $400 gave me a new idea.
My father's meager donation was just barely enough to
allow me to pay for one semester...
if I got the Jones
tuition plus room and board would
cost $6,000 for a year. However it had just
occurred to me that I only had to pay tuition one semester
at a time. I didn't need the full amount to get my
Foot in the Door. I only needed half... $3,000... to
pay my way onto campus.
savings would amount to $2,000. Father's
$400 would help.
The Jones Scholarship was worth $1,000 a year, $500
when divided in two. $2000 + 400 + 500= $2900.
Close enough. Work-study jobs at Georgetown would do
If I could
get the Jones Scholarship, I was in... for one semester.
would have to do. The moment I set
foot on campus, I would visit the financial aid office.
I would tell them my story and show them my
Jones Scholarship. The scholarship might help me
explain "Deadbeat Dad" to them because it would
show my high school acknowledged my financial hardship. I would finish by asking them if there were
any campus jobs I could have.
From there I
would spend the first semester getting good grades. In
addition, I would
visit that office as often as possible in an attempt to
ingratiate myself by looking for further part-time jobs. I was willing to scramble. I
was willing to do whatever it took to find enough money to
finance the first semester at Georgetown. Once I was there,
let the chips fall where they may.
Once I made it to Georgetown, no one would
stop me. I had incredible ambition. Just get my foot in the door!
The Jones Scholarship
would do the trick. Receiving this award
was make or break.
I had thought
the year of the acne outbreak was the worst year of my life.
However, so far my Senior year of high school had been
equally painful thanks to
a constant string of bad news and bad moves. I
couldn't take much more disappointment. Mother and I weren't speaking. Little
Mexico was driving me nuts. I wasn't doing very well at
school either. I was having trouble getting my
homework done thanks to the constant racket in my home.
spiraling out of control and making bad decisions. So
far Mr. Murphy didn't have serious enough disciplinary
violations to take stronger action, but it was probably only
a matter of time. I was lucky with
the restroom incident in the Chemistry building when Mr.
MacKeith decided to look the other way. Recently I had
been caught cheating on the German exam. Why I had
been given a second chance, I didn't know, but there wasn't
going to be a third chance.
But what if there was a next
time? Russian roulette
is a dangerous game. Sooner or later, my luck would run
out. One more misstep would surely mark the end of
everything I had worked for.
was barely on the radar. I still had not
forgiven myself for cheating, but the
real damage had come from my father. He had really
hurt me. I felt worthless and betrayed. I had
never felt more alone in my life. I figured I had
pretty much worn out my welcome at St. John's. In my
mind, Georgetown meant a chance to start over and do things
The only thing
that kept me going was
my hope of winning the Jones Scholarship, the key to my Georgetown
approached, I had no idea when the announcement for the Jesse Jones scholarship
would be announced, but it had to be soon. After all, students
would be basing their college choices on this award. Consequently I
scoured the morning newspaper on a
I was very
worried. Lately I had developed a bad feeling about
this award. I was certain there
must be a dark cloud over me. As for the $400, I was able to admit to myself I knew all
along my father would pull a stunt like that. Now I was
sick with worry because I had a
similar feeling about the Jones Scholarship. Awaiting
the announcement, I was enveloped in an ominous gloom. Something
was wrong, I was sure of it.
speaking, it made no sense that I would lose the Jones
Scholarship, but I had begun to think I would
not win this award. I based this on the fact that not one single person from St.
John's had contacted me.
That didn't make sense. I had to believe
if I was going win this award, I shouldn't have to read about it in
the newspaper first.
Still, you never know. Maybe I was
wrong. Maybe it was supposed to be a big surprise. All I knew
was that I was really scared. My
uncertainty combined with the importance of this scholarship
ratcheted my tension to feverish heights. This was
my last chance!
It was now early March
weeks had passed since my father's
smack down. I knew from
tracking this scholarship the past two years that the announcement
would come out any day now. Every morning I would run to the front yard
and rip open the Houston Post for news of the results.
Sure enough, one morning I saw the Post
had listed the winners. With my heart thumping, my eyes anxiously
scanned for the name of St. John's School down at the bottom of the alphabetical
list. There it was.
Holy smokes! And the winner from
St. John's is....
THE RICH GET
No, actually, that is not what
the paper said. The newspaper said the winner was Katina Ballantyne.
Unbelievable. My worst
nightmare had just come true. My gut was right all
along. I didn't win the scholarship I had to have. As my
dreams of Georgetown went flying out the window, I was sick
I paled as I realized
my classmate Katina from the mighty
Ballantyne clan had been given that scholarship
grant instead of me.
I went numb.
This made no sense. The first thing that crossed my mind was:
Katina lives in wealthy River Oaks and I live in a
halfway house. She's rich, I'm poor. Why didn't I win this award?
I felt like I had been
kicked in the stomach. The pain was nearly identical to my
father's $400 insult.
Katina Ballantyne? You mean the same Katina Ballantyne who lives in a mansion in wealthy River Oaks and has a
doctor for a father and a socialite for a mother? The same Katina Ballantyne with six
brothers and sisters here at St. John's? The same Katina
Ballantyne who goes up and sweet talks Mr. Salls after German class?
The same Katina Ballantyne whose famous mother walks arm in arm with Mr.
Salls every day in the hallway?
What kind of bullshit is this?
I felt weak.
I sat there on the steps of my mother's barn trying to
grasp that my classmate Katina had just
given that scholarship grant
instead of me.
I was beyond incredulous.
I stared in disbelief at the newspaper. Sure enough,
no matter how many times I stared at the results, the paper refused to magically rewrite itself.
continued to insist that none other than Katina Ballantyne had won the scholarship.
There could be no mistake, but I
still refused to
Dumbfounded, I stared
some more at the newspaper. The article said
that candidates were nominated by each participating high school.
Then a committee makes the final selection based on scholastic
achievement, economic need, community service and leadership.
I did not know who was in charge of nominations, but it had to be Mr. Salls.
Who else besides Mr. Salls? Mr. Salls wasn't just the Headmaster, he
was also in charge of all things to do with college admissions.
This had to be his doing.
Hmm. There had always been some sort of connection
between Mr. Salls, Katina, and her mother. In German class,
Katina was the only person who wasn't afraid of our stern
Headmaster. In public, Mrs. Ballantyne acted like Mr.
Salls' best friend. This farce had something to do
with Mrs. Ballantyne; I was sure of it.
I had always believed Mrs. Ballantyne was
the most influential parent in the school. Well, this proved
need the money, I was sure of that. This had to be
about prestige. Over afternoon tea and coffee in the
Commons Room, no
doubt today Mrs. Ballantyne would boast that her smart daughter
had won the coveted Jones Scholarship. Her wealthy admirers
in the Mother's Guild would
surround her and swoon with adulation. With this grand
coup, Mrs. Ballantyne had reinforced her Alpha status
exponentially. After all, how many mothers at the top
of the food chain could ever hope to wrangle a scholarship
for their 'needy child'?
No one but Mrs.
This rip-off had to be
an arrangement between Mr. Salls and Mrs. Ballantyne. I
assumed the mighty Mrs. Ballantyne had persuaded her friend
in high places to pick her daughter. To hell
with the poor kid, let's reward the rich girl who is the
darling of this year's Senior class. There
could no be no other explanation. That explained why no one
had ever contacted me. I
never had a chance. It was a done deal long ago.
Resigned to my fate, I
began my dreary post-mortem consideration of the criteria listed in the paper.
Ballantyne had always been a good
student, no question about it. However I was
For the past few years, my grades had been
better than Katina's. I am not saying I was
smarter, but with my back to the wall, I had an incentive the size of
succeed. Due to my desperation, I was undoubtedly the most
overachieving student in the entire school.
When it came to "need", I could not imagine any
kid in that entire school who needed the money more than I did. Heck, I was the
Oliver Twist of St. John's, the near-orphan kid on scholarship. My story was the Twentieth Century
equivalent of a
Charles Dickens melodrama.
Community service and
leadership. Hmm. Now that gave me pause. By those
criteria, Katina definitely had me beat. Katina was our class
leader in a dozen different ways. Meanwhile I was a complete zero.
Maybe this was the reason for my downfall.
But I didn't
believe that. I believed the reason for my downfall
was Politics and Mrs. Ballantyne. This was an inside deal, no doubt.
are based on financial need, not class leadership.
Point blank, I needed that scholarship more than Katina did
and I deserved it too.
I had been
The Rich just keep getting Richer.
I was convinced
that powerful Mrs. Ballantyne
had pulled strings to steer this
money her daughter's way. I
was bitter. The rich man always wins.
with the gold make the rules and the people with the coal
pay the toll. I was just
another victim in the
age-old battle of class warfare.
I found it hard to imagine
Mrs. Ballantyne had
not been involved in this unfair decision. But how did she ever
persuade Salls to give Katina the
money? This mockery had to be
the result of her ability to wheel and deal.
I felt an intense resentment
rising in me towards this woman. Up
till now, I had always liked Mrs.
Ballantyne. In fact, she had been
the object of years of
hero-worship. Now I realized these had been
the childhood fantasies of an
ignorant, stupid little boy. Just like I had found out who my
father really was, now I had just found out who
this Ballantyne woman really was. She reminded me of
Stepmother, the worst insult I could think of.
Over the next few days, I developed an enormous grudge towards Mrs. Ballantyne.
I didn't blame Katina... I never blamed Katina... but I could not stop thinking how her
had stolen my
scholarship. Mrs. Ballantyne knew everyone at St. John's. I
watched her rub elbows with Mr. Salls many times in public. Surely
they had met in private many times as well, no doubt
plotting how to steal my scholarship.
How was I
ever going to pay for Georgetown now?
I was lost. There
was no backup plan, no Plan B. I had
pegged everything on a Jones Scholarship that I believed had my name on
it. First my father and now the loss of this
scholarship... I was left reeling. All my stupid Foot in the Door plans had just gone up
The highway robbery of the Jones Scholarship
rubbed me raw. I
had admired Mrs. Ballantyne for nine years only to get the shaft when it
really counted. Just my luck. For the next few days
I was barely hanging on by a thread. There was no one I
could talk to about my fears, not even Mr. Curran. I was too
ashamed to face him. I was worried
that Mr. Curran knew I had been suspected of cheating on the German
if he asked me the truth? I didn't want to answer that
question for all the tea in China. No Mr. Curran. I had to absorb this enormous loss on
There were no clear-cut
options left. Every door I knew about was closed now. I
had a flicker of hope that I might get a college scholarship, but every time
this idea crossed my mind, the Curse of Deadbeat Dad's Salary shut that hope
down. A scholarship felt like a long shot at best. I
Only four students in
the twenty-two year history of this school had failed to go directly to
college following graduation. At a time when every single one
of my classmates was assured of going to college, it looked like I
was about to become the fifth.\
My absolute worst fear
seemed close to becoming a reality. As it stood, every
classmate but me would be going to college next year.
I connected my sudden
grudge towards Mrs. Ballantyne with the same cesspool of bitterness and
envy I had been feeling towards my college-bound classmates for the
past two months. There really was a curse over me.
There had to be. Thanks to Mrs. Ballantyne, I wasn't going to
college next year, was I?
At this point in time, I
could not see any further moves. Pure and simple, the loss of
the Jones Scholarship was checkmate, game over. The irony was
overwhelming. The kid who needed college the most would be the
one denied college. The kid who had worked the hardest to
deserve college had just seen his dream go up in smoke.
The rich get richer... I could
not get that thought out of my mind. It played over and over again
in my mind like a broken record. One day it joined my other
recurring thought... Everyone but me. Now
the two phrases became one.
Everyone but me; the Rich get Richer. Everyone but me;
the Rich get Richer. Everyone but me; the Rich get Richer.
Every time my mind
phrase, the grudge festered more.
I had no way to escape this
mental agony. It followed me everywhere. Just shoot me.
Try as I might, I could not seem to get
this awful grudge towards Mrs. Ballantyne out of my mind. Nor could
I get over the
irony. Out of all the people to wrestle that scholarship away from me, why did
it have to be Mrs. Ballantyne?
To a messed up kid like me, that
was like finding out my greatest sports hero had cheated to win.
Say it ain't so, Joe.
I had admired Mrs.
Ballantyne so much. Why
did it have to be her?
Thinking how Stepmother had muscled me out of Father's heart,
neither woman had any qualms about promoting their own children
over the heads of the weak.
Just as my wicked stepmother had turned my father against me,
Mrs. Ballantyne had seemingly pulled a similar trick on Mr. Salls.
My imagination came up with this conversation...
"Mr. Salls," Mrs.
Ballantyne said, "As you know, I have seven children at
this school, more than any other parent. My children are
exemplary... academics, sports, leadership. In addition, I provide leadership
at the Mother's Guild and support your school in every way
possible. I attend every single activity. Now I need
a big favor from you.
Would you consider my daughter
Katina for the Jones Scholarship? It would mean so much to
Perhaps. But that line of
thinking didn't feel right.
working her persuasion magic on susceptible Father of the Year, Mr. Salls was not
someone to be manipulated. No one pushed Mr. Salls around.
Visualizing that erect, steadfast man, I was certain of that.
Someone like Mr. Salls didn't get to be Headmaster by being easily
swayed. There had to be a better explanation than Mrs. Ballantyne
Mr. Salls was a person I admired. Why would Mr. Salls take that scholarship away from me? The decision had to be his.
The more clearly I saw things, the more I shifted my initial blame
from Mrs. Ballantyne over to Mr. Salls.
There had to be some reason
why Salls chose Katina over me.
I could understand Mrs. Ballantyne stealing my scholarship... hey,
Katina was her kid. Besides, Mrs. Ballantyne didn't owe me anything.
For that matter, I doubted seriously that Mrs.
even knew I existed. But Mr. Salls? Gee whiz, this guy was
a straight shooter. He didn't play games. And he liked
me, I was sure of it. Well, at least I thought he liked me.
Now I was having some serious doubts. To begin with, I had no idea why my
father had turned against me. Now I had no idea why Mr. Salls
had turned against me either. Why was I always so clueless? Was
I really a creepy loser kid and just too afraid to see the truth?
Concentrating on Mr.
Salls, it struck me that Salls had been the Assistant Headmaster for
my entire career at St. John's. Mr. Salls knew full well that
I had received scholarships to St. John's for the past six years.
That meant Mr. Salls was the only person on earth besides me who knew how badly I
needed a scholarship to college. And yet he gave that money to Katina knowing full well
how hard it would hit me.
That didn't make any sense. Why didn't Mr. Salls say something to me?
It was thing for Mr.
Salls to overlook me, but wasn't he sensitive enough to know how I would react?
Why couldn't my former teacher pull me aside and whisper an
explanation? Did I do something wrong?
'Did I do something
wrong?'... that thought stuck in my mind.
... uh oh.
A terrible flash hit me. I felt a wave of sudden sickness come
oh no, oh
please tell me that is not the reason.
Cheating on the German
Of course. That
had to be it. What else could explain this mystery?
Now it made sense.
I was overwhelmed with shame. I finally had my answer.
brought Mr. Salls'
abandonment on myself. No one respects a cheater,
especially not a man like Salls who values honor.
After I cheated on that German test,
I had to believe Mr. Salls was so disgusted
decided the money should go to someone else who didn't cheat. It
wasn't worth his effort to prove I had cheated... it was my word against that other
student. No doubt I could whine and argue my way enough to
cast an element of doubt. So why bother?
However, in the privacy
of his thoughts, Mr. Salls could have decided I was guilty.
After all, I had been seen closing a book suddenly in an empty room. Very
Mr. Salls knew about the
shower room fight I had been in with Harold, I was sure of
And what about all those Detention Halls
and arguments with Mr. Murphy?
Why should Richard Archer, a student with a full
scholarship at SJS, a student who constantly rebelled against
rules and the Honor Code, be rewarded with yet another scholarship
when there was someone like Katina Ballantyne who exemplified the
St. John's Way?
There was Katina
honor student, Prefect, choir leader, sports captain, drama lead, editor of
the yearbook. Katrina was the epitome, the ideal.
Then there was
the creepy loser kid, the boy who broke the rules at every turn, cheated on a
German test, stole gym clothes, contributed nothing and participated in nothing.
The picture of pretty, smiling Katina would no
doubt look good as the Cover Girl for the annual SJS alumni
newsletter. I could read the cheerful caption in my
"Katina Ballantyne wins the 1968 Jesse H. Jones
Scholarship Award. We could not be more
proud of her success here at the school. We wish
Katina good luck at Vanderbilt next year and expect this
scholarship will come in very handy."
Or they could
consider putting my scowling Scarface on the cover...
"Creepy Loser Kid Dick Archer wins the 1968 Jones
Scholarship by being the poorest student in St. John's
history. In his Senior year, Dick failed Calculus,
set a one-year mark for most Detentions, scared his
Chemistry teacher to death, stole gym clothes, and got
away with cheating on a German test. Impressive!
plans to attend Georgetown where he hopes to get the
first date in his entire life. We could not be
more pleased to send Dick on his way to college."
about it... a picture of me with all my acne scars in
prominent display. Probably not the
picture Mr. Salls wanted to see. I was Carrie
before the book had even been written.
After cheating on the German test,
at first I believed I had gotten off lucky.
Wrong. Mr. Salls' snub on the Jones Scholarship was my
well-deserved payback. Cheating on
that German test had cost me more than I could ever have imagined. It
would keep me out of Georgetown. Justice had been served.
At this school, students
earned their privileges. Nothing was handed to them.
Just because I was dead broke did not automatically qualify me for
this scholarship. Mr. Salls had decided I did not deserve
the Jones Scholarship. This was the only explanation that made any sense to me.
was already in the pits thanks to my father's callous
treatment, but the thought that Mr. Salls had rejected me
over my insane loss of judgment hurt even worse.
Life isn't fair,
is it? Four years of constant study, two years of work
after school, the sacrifice of my basketball dream so I
could save more money...
now I had thrown it all away in one
stupid action because I believed my hard life gave me the
right to cut
corners. I was the perfect example of
My mind rolled back to
the 8th grade when the undercover cop had caught me stealing candy bars
at Weingarten's. In a blinding flash, his words came back to
Isn't that a private school?
I think I know what school you are talking about. I've passed
that place. It's on
Westheimer, right? Hey, that's a
rich kid's school. You go to St. John's? Are you
serious? You go to a private school like St. John's and here
you are stealing candy bars? Do you have any idea how many
kids would die to go to a school like yours?"
My sense of shame was
I could not
believe I had thrown away the chance of a lifetime because I
was too important to be bothered to learn the names of
Goethe, Hesse, Nietszche and Mann.
At this moment, I officially hit rock
bottom. The pain of this moment was equivalent to the onset of the acne explosion
as the worst day of my life.
It was Sisyphus
time again... as the rock plummeted to the valley below, I was at the lowest point I could ever
The Jones Scholarship. Gone.
Georgetown University. Gone.
I hated myself because I had gotten what I deserved
and it was my own fault. All that hard work only to screw it
This was no nightmare. This was High School
My classmates didn't know I
My mother couldn't wait to rent my room out.
preferred his other children to me.
The grocery store manager wanted
to fire me.
basketball coach didn't want me. Mr. Murphy told me
every day I didn't deserve my St. John's scholarship. And now Mr. Salls, a
man I admired greatly, had just had made it clear
he was disgusted with me.
My biggest fear for the
last four years had been how to pay to for college. Now I
realized I would not be going to college next year and it was my own
fault. It could not get any
worse than this. I was trapped in the
very nightmare I had struggled so hard to avoid.
I was crushed. Absolutely crushed.
could have possibly hurt worse than this. It wasn't just
losing Georgetown, it was the loss of Mr. Salls' belief in me that left me shattered.
Mr. Salls probably knew me better than my own father.
Unlike my father, Mr. Salls was in a position to judge my character.
He had found me lacking integrity. By his actions, my
status as the Creepy Loser Kid had just been affirmed by the most
important man in the school.
I was mired smack dab in
second worst crisis of my life. I was a loser by every
possible definition I could think of. I was
finished. I had nowhere left to turn.
This Jones scholarship
had been my last hope. There were
no clear college options left. I had no new ideas. I was sinking into
an Abyss of despair with no idea how to climb
I was sick with worry. I couldn't
eat. I couldn't concentrate. I was so nervous I began to
tremble. Every moment
was full of dread. I had all kinds of terrible thoughts entering my mind
that I couldn't control.
I hated myself every waking moment. Nine years of
hard work at St. John's, two years of sacking groceries,
college acceptances, but no way to pay. And that
wasn't even the worst part. There
seemed to be a universal consensus that I sucked as a human
I was lost in a
whirlpool of bitterness and self-pity. In boxing terms, I was
on the ropes.
One more blow and I was going down.
As I moved closer to the
edge, I could feel the Abyss calling to me.
It was me against the
World... and the World wasn't just winning, it was running up the