Johns Hopkins
Home Up Search for Meaning

   

Book One:
A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS


PART THREE: COLLEGE

CHAPTER NINETEEN:
JOHNS HOPKINS

Written by Rick Archer

 

  2015, Richard Archer

 


SUBCHAPTER 86
- HEARTBREAK

 

After high school graduation at the end of May 1968, I moved out of my mother's house the following week.  My SJS friend Walter Freeman told me his family had just moved to a new home in the Montrose area.  Walter was well aware of my problems at Little Mexico.  He said the new home had a garage apartment that wasn't being used.  I was welcome to move into this tiny one-room unit if I wished.  I didn't hesitate for a moment.  This place was perfect for me.  It was within walking distance of my grocery store job. 

I was on my own for the entire summer of 1968.  Best three months of my life.  Not only did I leave the nightmare of Little Mexico behind me, I conducted a Farewell Tour at the store.  For the next three months, I made sure to tell each of my favorite customers about my scholarship to college.  Using the word 'scholarship' turned out to be a very effective hint.  Each customer told me how much they would miss me and then kindly lined my hands with generous tips. 

The money was sweet, but it was the outpouring of affection that really touched me.  These customers made me feel important.  I was reminded again how much my job at the store had meant to me over the past two and a half years.  I could not imagine how I would have ever come out of my shell otherwise.

Best of all, girls began to smile at me.  Now that High School Hell was over, I was in a very good mood.  With the clouds of darkness lifted, I actually began to joke and tease like other kids my age.   I could not help but notice that as my mood lightened, I became more attractive to the girls who chatted with me as they walked through the store.  Amazing.

I would see the girls and flirt a little.  I was hardly a Casanova, but I was making steady progress.  I even dated a couple of the girls at the store that summer.  These were the first dates of my life.  Wonders never cease.  However, the dating was not serious.  Knowing I was leaving town, I made sure to keep it superficial.  Nevertheless, my lonely days were over.   My world was no longer black.  Let the sunshine in.

This summer was a triumphant time for me.  I cherished every moment.   

I avoided my mother and her house like the plague all summer long.  After what she put me through with Little Mexico, I didn't want to go anywhere near the place.  My bitterness towards her knew no limit.  I was not in a forgiving mood.

One night in late August a lady in the grocery store front office said my mother had left a message.  The message said I had some mail from Johns Hopkins.  I had not been back to the house in two months.  However, if it was from the school, I suppose I had best go see what it was about. I drove over after work.  To my surprise, there was no one home when I arrived that evening.  To my further surprise, my key didn't work.  Ah, Mom was sending me a message.  I wondered if she had already rented out my room.  I wouldn't put it past her.

Well, the locked door wasn't going to stop me.  There was bound to be an open window somewhere.  If I couldn't find an open window on the ground floor, then I would climb the huge sycamore tree, jump to the second level and try there next.  I had left a window in my bedroom upstairs unlocked in anticipation of this exact problem.  I doubted seriously anyone had bothered to lock it.

I scouted the windows on the ground floor first.  I stopped to check a promising window.  To my surprise, my dog Terry stuck his cold wet nose into my hand from behind.  I whirled around to see him.  I had no idea that Terry was outside.  I guess he had been sleeping under the elevated house to escape the summer heat.  Now he decided to come say hello.

I looked down at Terry and saw the saddest expression on his face.  He should have been excited to see me, but he was strangely motionless.  No wagging tail, no excitement.  I felt a stab of fear.  Was he sick?  Was he being fed?  Had someone hurt him? 

As I checked him over, I figured it out.  My dog missed me so much he was suffering from an overwhelming depression.  Oh my gosh, I was besieged with the most powerful sorrow possible.  What had I done to this poor dog?  How on earth had I forgotten about him?

It had been over two months since I had last seen Terry.

My poor dog was forlorn.  I could tell.  I could just see it in his eyes.  Terry greeted me with such a profound sadness.  I instantly fell to pieces.  I was beset with an overwhelming grief.  I collapsed to my knees and began bawling my head off.  I buried my face in his fur and began to sob uncontrollably.  This was the first time I had realized that my leaving had caused such a terrible impact on my beloved dog.

I just couldn't bear the thought that I had left him behind knowing how much he loved me.  I should have come to visit!  What the hell was wrong with me?  As massive waves of self-hate surged through me, I squeezed my poor dog to my body and sobbed profusely.

I felt a grief that surpassed any emotional pain I had ever felt before in my life, even more than the time my father had given me the $400 and made me realize how little he cared for me.  The guilt I felt for leaving my dog was far worse.  The pain was absolutely overwhelming.  I couldn't bear it.  I hurt so bad inside I thought I was going to die.  I hugged that sad wonderful dog as hard as I could and kept repeating over and over again, "Oh my god, Terry, I love you so much.  I am so sorry I left you.  Please forgive me, I am so sorry I left you. I must be the worst person in the world!"

I finally recovered enough to assume a sitting position with my back against the house.  I pulled my dog onto my lap, then patted him and scratched his ears.  I could not stop telling him how much I loved him.  I held him close forever and ever.  Finally Terry gave me a quick lick on the face. 

I guess Terry forgave me, but I wasn't sure he would ever recover completely from what I had done.  Soon enough he began licking the salty tears off my face.  That didn't help; I just cried harder.  I could not stop crying.  This must have gone on for half an hour.  It was just awful. 

I think all the tension and all the worry and all the frustration I had felt throughout my senior year decided to come out at once.  But nothing could possibly heal the sadness I felt.  I could not bear the thought I had hurt the one person on earth who had loved me with every imaginable part of his being. 

I took a good look at my dog.  He was graying and no longer moving with the kind of energy he once had. Terry was 10 now, but he looked older than that.  I realized for the first time that he had aged badly in my absence.

The difference between now and when I had last seen him two and a half months ago was frightening.  It was painful to think my absence had taken such a terrible toll on my beloved dog.  Now the tears swelled up again and I cried uncontrollably. 

A picture of Terry after I left for college. 
His advancing age and his sadness are both unmistakable
 

The guilt refused to abate.  I hated leaving him so much.

We sat there in the darkness for the longest time, just me and Terry. 

At least he was happy for now.  But I knew the fate that awaited him and it caused a huge lump in my throat.  As he lay contentedly in my lap, every time I looked down and thought about leaving him permanently, the tears started all over again.

To heck with getting in the house.  We just sat there for an hour in the darkness on the side of the house.  I cried the whole goddamn time.  I wanted to take my dog to college so badly... please don't make me leave him!  I had no idea this was going to hurt so bad.

Eventually my mother returned home.  Terry and I got up off the ground and went to see her.  I was very shaken, but I did not want to explain to my mother why I was so ashen-faced.  I talked to Mom for a while, found my mail, then went upstairs to get some other stuff I needed to take with me to college.  It was time to leave.  I gave Terry one last tearful hug and kiss, then left Terry behind with Mom.  I could not bear to look back at my dog as I walked out the door lest I break into tears again.  I was so upset. 

My abandonment had devastated the most loyal dog on Planet Earth.  That knowledge tore me completely to pieces.  The pain and the guilt has never gone away.  I have cried just as hard retelling this sad story as I did on that painful night so many years ago. 

That night was the last time I ever saw my dog.   I left Houston a week later.  I could not bear to return home and go through this pain again.  As I drove to Baltimore, I thought about Terry so much.

How do I leave someone behind who doesn't understand?  How do I explain to a dog who has wrapped his entire life around my existence why I am leaving him?  I felt an unbearable guilt.  That guilt has never healed.

 


SUBCHAPTER 87
- Emily

 

College at Johns Hopkins had its ups and down.  I had some serious problems with depression, but certainly nowhere on the scale of my high school years.  I was intensely lonely most of the time, but that was something I was used to by now. 

The moment I set foot on campus, I was ready to fall in love as soon as possible.  Let the dating project begin!

At the start of my 1968 Freshman year, I discovered a posh women's college north of Hopkins known as Goucher College.

Located in a distant Baltimore suburb nestled inside a lovely wooded campus, the young ladies who attended Goucher came from wealthy homes up and down the Eastern seaboard. 

These young ladies were pretty, polished and confident.  I couldn't help but notice how much they reminded me of the young ladies back at St. John's.

In a sense, I would finally be dating the girls from St. John's. 

It was time for the grand experiment.

I won't draw out the suspense... I really made a mess of things. 

In the space of two and a half months, the experiment was over for good.

My inexperience around girls my age led to every mistake in the book.  I suppose my major mistake was trying too hard.  For example, at the start of the year, I drove out there four or five nights a week.  I was there all the time introducing myself to one girl after another.

One night in mid-November 1968 I was sitting by myself in the visitor's section of one of the dorms.  I wasn't even sure why I was there and my lack of confidence must have shown.

A girl came by, noticed me, and decided to offer a fly-by insult.  "Oh, Rick, look, it's you!  Where have you been?  I missed you last week, but now you're back again.  I'm so glad.  After all, you've become part of the furniture here!"

With that, she turned her back and walked away.  Not even a glance back.

I had never heard that line before, so I had to think for a moment what it meant.  Then I got her message loud and clear.  I immediately turned crimson with shame.  She was telling me I had worn out my welcome. 

That insult was a major clue that my dating project was headed in the wrong direction.  At first, I had been popular.  I had a flurry of dates.  But then the girls caught on that my constant presence masked an overwhelming neediness.  That didn't sit well with them and they began to ignore me.  No one wants a clinging vine for a boyfriend.   

Truth be told, although the furniture insult was the kill shot, the major blow had come ten days earlier.  I had just gotten my heart broken.  I had developed a huge crush on a pretty girl named Emily.  Emily came from Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.  Emily liked me too, no doubt about it, but I think the intensity of my feelings for her put a damper on her interest.

I received a  smashing blow when Emily ditched me for Eric, the rich kid from Odessa, Texas.  Eric was the boy with the big car care of Daddy's oil money.  Eric reminded me of my wealthy male classmates back at SJS.  Same swagger.  On a Thursday, Emily called and said she couldn't keep our date for the weekend due to a project at school.  She added that maybe we could get together some time next week.

I was crushed, of course, but okay.  I accepted her excuse at face value. 

Saturday morning came and there was a knock on my door in the dorm.  A boy on my floor needed an emergency ride to the train station.  I was one of the few boys in the dorm with a car.  For $5 gas money, could I give him ride at this very moment?  Sure.

Just as we got to the train station, I saw Emily and Eric getting out of a cab together complete with suitcases.  This took place about 50 feet ahead of my car.  The taxi and my car must have arrived within seconds of each other.  I was so instantly transfixed I didn't even notice my friend was thanking me and handing me a $5 bill.  All I could do was stare in shock at Emily.  I will never forget the laughter on her face.  Emily was happy and excited to be with Eric.  My jaw dropped.  I had seen that same look before when she had been with me. 

It was apparent Emily had broken our date to go somewhere special with Eric.  New York maybe?  Catch a play?  No doubt share a hotel room.  I paled as I realized I could never afford to spring for a date like that.  I realized Emily had lied to me so she could be with this young man instead.  Thank goodness they didn't see me.  My previous disappointment after Emily broke our date earlier in the week had really hurt, but that pain was nothing compared to the pain of being betrayed.  This unexpected revelation sent a dagger through my heart.  I immediately stopped breathing. 

I had known heartbreak throughout my childhood, but this was different.  Never in my life had I known this kind of hurt before.  In the next week or so, I would die a million deaths thinking about that moment.  I felt so incredibly inferior again.

Welcome to the world of dating, Rick.  When it came to women, I had learned absolutely nothing while in high school.  In a sense, I was still in the 9th grade.  It was now clear I had a lot of catching up to do.  I was four years behind my peers in the Book of Love.  

Emily's cruel surprise hit right on top of my raw nerve that I didn't match up with wealthy boys my own age.  This insecurity had followed me from high school to Hopkins.  Eric was supposed to be my friend.  That's how he met Emily.  And now he had stolen my girl. 

Considering that I had an inferiority complex carried over from high school about the size of the Pacific Ocean, Emily's decision to choose the rich boy over me reinforced all my beliefs that I didn't match up.  No wonder I didn't have any confidence around girls.   

My fears of being the creepy loser kid began to resurface.

For four long years in high school, I had avoided the girls because I expected they would reject me.  I was ugly, I was poor, I had no idea how to charm a girl and I could not possibly afford the price tag to date these girls.  

That was high school.  Yes, those St. John's girls were far out of my league.  But what about college? 

When I got to college, I decided to take advantage of my fresh start and challenge those beliefs.  Emily was far and away the prettiest and warmest girl I had ever met.  And there is no doubt in my mind she really liked me.  One weekend I took her down to Northern Virginia to meet my Aunt Lynn and Uncle Dick.  I remember a stunningly romantic walk through the snow-covered hills and woods near their house.  I remember rolling in the snow with Emily and sharing kisses sweeter than wine.  Her affection for me was not imagined.

I tried my best, but somewhere along the line I guess I screwed it up.  I imagine my mistake was coming on too strong.  What a shame.  Emily was a sweet girl.  Very special.  I had the talent to attract her, but certainly not enough to keep her.

When Emily rejected me, it reinforced far too many negative self-images.  So after Emily left, I felt pretty gun-shy.  Should I try again or throw in the towel?  I let about ten days pass.  At this point my loneliness demanded that I try once more.  So one night I decided to go out to Goucher just for the heck of it.  I didn't even go to see anyone, but rather just to sit there in the reception room and think about things.  Anything to be around women. 

I was sitting in the reception room hurting no one when that girl walked by and took her random pot shot.  Once I figured out what she meant, it really stung.

I concluded no one wanted me here.  I had a lot of defiance in me, but not for something that dealt with my attractiveness issues.

I don't think Harold's "creepy loser kid" taunt back in high school had hurt me any worse than the insensitive insult from this girl.  I barely even knew her, but her unprovoked barb ripped me to shreds nonetheless.  The furniture insult put an end to my visits. 

Why I had thought I could do any better with these Goucher girls than the St. John's girls was ridiculous.  They were the same girls!  Not only was I still poor, but now I realized just how much my inexperience put me at a disadvantage. 

Not long after that, someone stole my car.  Can you believe that?  Considering the car had little value, I had not bothered with theft insurance.   Now I didn't even have a car.  That was the last straw.  I figured the Universe was trying to tell me something. 

Between Emily's sucker punch, the furniture insult and losing the car, dating would have to wait till... well, it waited a long time... two and a half years.  I would date some in my Senior year, but not seriously.  Even then I still had no idea what I was doing. 

I was dismayed to learn my problems with girls had failed to magically disappear once I reached college.  Once I met this disappointment, I folded like a wet rag.  The only way to learn about women is to be with them and keep trying, but I didn't have the guts to risk the kind of pain that came with Emily's rejection again. 

One month into my high school career, my high school dating project had ended due to the acne.

Now two months into my college career, my college dating project was over as well.

Pathetic.

College was supposed to be the Promised Land where life would become easy and breezy. 

It was painful to realize my shortcomings from high school had followed me all the way to college.  Little did I know these problems would follow me to graduate school as well.  I assumed once I made it to college, I would be magically cured of my handicaps.

Guess again.  I was not out of the woods by a long shot.  

 


SUBCHAPTER 88
- COINCIDENCE

 

Throughout my saga I have indicated my belief there has been a supernatural element to my life. 

If someone were to ask me if Fate exists, I would say I think so, but I have no way to prove it.  All I can say is that various experiences have created a faith that there is more to this world than meets the eye.  That said, I openly admit I could be wrong.  

A major reason for telling my story is to lay out the events of my life and let the readers make up their own mind. 

It has been my contention that there is something very fishy about what we call "Reality".  A perfect example of a situation that supports my theory would be the train station incident involving Emily.  That was a major coincidence.

First of all, I had no business being at that station.  I would visit the train station one time in my life and that is only because some boy popped up out of nowhere to ask me a favor.   Isn't it interesting that our arrival coincided perfectly with Emily's arrival?

The train station incident took place within a narrow window of opportunity.

Two minutes tops. 

That is the time it took for me to stop the car in front of the train station and let my dorm friend retrieve his bag from the back seat.  So during this narrow two minute window, I saw Emily with Eric.  What were the odds??  

There could be no doubt the set-back with Emily was my single most painful moment during college.  I would shy away from women for the rest of my college career.

However, despite my intense stab of pain, I could not help but notice what a huge coincidence it was to see Emily at the train station. 

I was reminded of the time Frank had walked in during a three minute window of opportunity to catch me cheating on a German test... nearly impossible.  Or the odds that none other than Mrs. Ballantyne would one day walk into my grocery store... nearly impossible.

I couldn't decide what bothered me more... these weird coincidences or Emily's betrayal.  I picked Emily's betrayal.  That sucked the life out of me.  But I didn't overlook this new coincidence for a moment. 

 


CHAPTER TWENTY: SEARCH FOR MEANING

 

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