A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS
Written by Rick Archer
2015, Richard Archer
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
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
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
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
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
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
Baltimore suburb nestled inside a lovely wooded campus, the young
ladies who attended Goucher came from wealthy homes up and down the
ladies were pretty, polished and
confident. I couldn't help but notice how much they
reminded me of the young ladies back at St.
In a sense, I would finally be dating the
girls from St. John's.
It was time for the grand
I won't draw
out the suspense... I really made a mess of things.
space of two and a half months, the experiment was over for
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
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
With that, she
turned her back and walked away. Not even a glance
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
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
I received a smashing
blow when Emily ditched me for Eric,
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
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,
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.
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
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.
rejected me, it reinforced far too many negative self-images. So
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
I was sitting in the
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
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
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.
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.
I was not out of the woods by a long shot.
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
station incident took place within a narrow window of
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.
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
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.