PAY IT FORWARD
It can be very
unsettling to meet one's double. Two years earlier, Mrs.
Ballantyne was convinced that she had meant a younger version of
herself during our parking lot conversation. Judging by her expression, Mrs.
Ballantyne clearly did a double-take as she discovered the strange details of my story in the parking lot.
She certainly never expected to be looking in the mirror when she
first met me.
At the time, I was
surprised that she spent the next ten minutes telling me the
intimate details of her own youth.
Mrs. Ballantyne revealed
aspects of her life one would ordinarily reserve for a close friend,
not some random boy she had just met.
What would move this
lady to reveal so much
about herself so
I suggest that Mrs. Ballantyne
felt a powerful kinship to me. Once she realized her childhood story was uncannily similar to
my own, it may have crossed her mind that there was a special link
At the same time, let me add that the childhood story of my own father was
virtually identical to mine. In the case of my
father, I have no explanation for him. Rather than develop
a sense of compassion like Mrs. Ballantyne, my father went in the opposite
direction. Why he abandoned me
remains one of the great mysteries of my life.
For that matter, the
story of Mr. Salls contains strikingly similar elements to mine.
I suspect that if I knew more details about his past, he and I would
have closely parallel childhoods.
Mr. Salls... Mrs.
Ballantyne... my father... and myself... all four of us
were born poor; all four of us used education to climb out our
difficult childhoods. Not that unusual in itself, but
very unusual when one considers that all three adults with such a
similar past to my own were so closely connected with
my life. In a sense, the four of us were linked. Linked
by Fate? Oh, there I go again.
During my Magical
Mystery Tour, one day I read about a philosophy known as Pay it Forward.
The idea is that when someone does
good deed and I can't pay that person back for what they have done for me, the next best thing
to do is find someone who needs
my help down the road and pay my debt forward. Considering the
kindness of so many people who had guided me this far, I was understandably
very drawn to this philosophy.
There was no way I could ever
repay these people, but I wanted to. How could I ever settle
In the case of Mrs.
Ballantyne and Mr. Salls, I believe they took a special interest in
me specifically because my struggles reminded them so much of their
own problems as children. Recalling how people had helped
them at the right time when they were young, they turned around and took care of me.
When they met me... they paid it forward.
Now it was my turn.
One day I found
myself in a situation that gave me the opportunity to take care of
someone else for a change.
I wasn't much of a giver
when I was young. I was too preoccupied with my own problems
to worry about other people. I imagine my self-centered
attitude was very much responsible for my loneliness, but I didn't
figure this out till much later.
A few weeks after the
lecture given by Bob Hieronimous, I received another unusual invitation. After
Quaker meeting one Sunday morning, an
older lady named Constance came over to chat. She remembered me
speaking to me after the lecture. Now she asked me again what I
thought about Hieronimous and his strange ideas. I replied
that I hadn't been able to put what he had said out of my mind.
Then I shared that I was involved in a whirlwind reading project to
investigate those unusual ideas.
She liked my answer.
"Rick, if I didn't know
better, I would say you have found your path. I have a
suggestion. Now that you are curious about the occult, why not attend a sťance??"
My immediate reaction was to frown, but
then I decided it was in my best interests to stay
open-minded. I have always believed it is the highest form of ignorance
immediately reject something I don't know anything about.
Although I recall feeling very uncomfortable about this suggestion, I
decided I was curious enough to have a look. So I asked
her to explain what took place and how to attend.
After offering some
background information, Constance gave me
the address to a nearby row house on Greenmount Avenue. She said
that every Tuesday evening a medium named Dorothy conducted a sťance.
She told me not to afraid and that Dorothy was a friend of hers.
During my Magical
Mystery Tour, I had made a silent vow to follow whatever lead came my
way. If the Beatles were willing to drop LSD and to visit India to explore the unknown, then what
was stopping me from exploring the unknown as well? I
wasn't interested in mind-altering drugs, but I was open to anything else.
Previously I had met
privately with a orange-robed yogi from India who had come to lecture on the
Hopkins campus. Another time I had visited a spiritual commune
known as Savitria dedicated to a lifestyle based on
I began to visit a Christian-based commune known as Koininia
where meditation was practiced on a daily basis. Soon I began
meditation as well.
Why stop there? A
new door had just been placed in my path. Why not check
the sťance out?
So I took Constance up on
her suggestion. Later that week, I walked over from campus to the address
given me. After knocking on the door, I was
guided to a small room upstairs. Dorothy, an older lady who
was the medium, said she would conduct a
meeting at which people could attempt to make contact with the dead
by way of her particular psychic abilities.
As for me, I didn't know any dead
people. Since everyone I was close
to was still alive, I had to be content with listening to
other people try to make contact.
turned out the lights and various dead people began to speak through the
medium. The medium gave voice to anyone from Aunt Nellie to
Abe Lincoln to Saint Paul. I was impressed by the range of
voices emanating from the medium, but found myself feeling far more
skeptical than convinced. The thought that the ghost of
Abe Lincoln was still hanging around one hundred years after his
assassination was a
little tough to swallow. Weren't ghosts supposed to move on?
That said, I did find
the experience interesting. Considering I was terrified of
death, perhaps I could find some reassuring answers here.
Since these meetings were
free, I came back two more times over the next month.
No one ever spoke to
me. Each time I would leave feeling curious, but not convinced. In
general, these sťances were pretty hokey.
One Sunday morning in
April 1970, I
the target of a young girl's affection.
After the service at
Quaker Meeting, I met an attractive young lady named Vicky. Vicky was short and a bit on the chubby side.
She was clearly younger than me, but intent on distracting me enough
that I might
overlook the age difference. I quickly learned Vicky was Irish
through and through in both appearance and personality. Vicky had short red hair, green eyes and a pretty round face with prominent cheekbones.
Vicky was what I would call 'perky'. She was very sassy and
liked to tease a lot. She had a way of challenging me that I
intriguing. I liked matching wits with her and found myself very drawn.
I joked with Vicky and smiled. I could tell she was younger than
me, but pegged her for a high school senior. Here in the latter
half of my
Sophomore year, I had not had a date in a year and a half.
Maybe Vicky was the answer to my loneliness. Always
open to possibility of finally landing a girlfriend, I made the
mistake of getting a little too friendly on our first meeting.
We parted with a warm 'see
you next week!'
I definitely looked forward to seeing Vicky
again and I had a feeling she did too.
Sunday morning hour of silence the following week,
Vicky and I resumed our conversation. Vicky had obviously been
waiting for this moment because she pounced on me like a panther. Vicky was so aggressive that my instincts told me to
take a step back and put on the brakes.
Based on our previous
conversation, I could tell she liked me a lot. However, this
time the intensity was stronger. In fact, she didn't just like
me, I was certain she
had a serious crush on me.
This was new. I had never had
a girl have a crush on me before.
I could not
help but recall my own powerful crush on Emily the year before.
My affection for Emily had been so strong that I think that was what caused her
to back off. I had moved too fast. Now that the shoe was on the other foot,
I could begin to see why Emily might have cooled on me. I felt
very uncomfortable. I wanted to put my hands up and tell her
to slow down.
Why was this girl pushing so hard?
As my sense of caution
kicked in, I decided to check out a disturbing hunch. After
age, I learned Vicky was only fifteen. I could barely contain
my disappointment. Good grief. I was twenty. Five years
might not matter much if one person is twenty-five and the other is
thirty, but five
years was a lot to overcome at this stage.
I now viewed Vicky through
a much-different lens. Lonely or not, I had no business
pursuing this girl. Vicky was certainly attractive enough to
meet my standards and I enjoyed talking to her, but even in my
love-starved state I had serious reservations about adding more
wood to this particular fire.
Perhaps Vicky sensed my
reluctance and decided I needed encouragement. She asked me
Vicky asked if we could have dinner sometime. My
brain screamed no way; this was not a good idea. Despite my
desperate need for companionship, I sensed something I did not
know about was wrong here. Vicky was too hungry, too
needy, too aggressive. Vicky had a dark secret, I was sure of
I could feel the gears
shifting in my mind. All sorts of walls were going up. Vicky had activated some sort of 'big
brother' instinct in me. I now felt
protective towards this young girl and not even remotely romantic
her for the invitation, but said this was a busy week at school. Maybe another
When I saw how
disappointed Vicky was, my heart went out to her.
Recalling how my own vulnerability had led to so much pain with
Emily, I wanted to soften the blow. Trying to let Vicky down
easy, I made a mistake and told her I wasn't dating anyone... which
was the truth of course... but something that Vicky didn't need to
think in Vicky's mind this remark left the door open.
I skipped Quaker Meeting
for the next couple weeks hoping Vicky's ardor would diminish some.
Then came May and I returned. I caught Vicky staring at me from
across the room during meeting. When I saw the cow
eyes, uh oh, I knew I was in trouble.
Sure enough, once Quaker Meeting
concluded, Vicky came on just as hot and heavy as before. She
immediately walked over to me and asked me to dinner again, adding
"What's your excuse this time?"
She had read my mind.
At this exact moment, I was indeed racking my brain for some lame reason
to say no.
Her line about the excuse caught me off guard
and made me smile.
Yes, she did. If I
didn't know better, she had just read my mind.
had no decent excuse, I decided to accept. It didn't have to
lead to anything and I could certainly use the company. That
is when Vicky threw me a curve. Dinner was at her house
and her strange mother would be there. Good grief. Never
in my wildest imagination did I think 'dinner' meant dinner at her house.
I assumed we would meet at some pizza place in her neighborhood.
I groaned. What
have I gotten myself into? I vaguely knew her mother from Quaker
Meeting. I had not been introduced to the woman, but I had
noticed her hovering in the distance whenever Vicky spoke to me. In
fact, I noticed her watching us now.
How could I not notice? With her black attire, gaunt face and hollow eyes, it
was unsettling to see this lady staring at us intently.
Obviously the woman knew what her daughter was up to. No doubt
Vicky had asked permission beforehand.
When I accepted the
invitation, I hadn't bargained on this weird
lady. I felt very uncomfortable at the thought of
spending an evening in the presence of this foreboding woman.
Her mother seemed very overprotective and surely I would come under
I gave it some thought. Unfortunately, it would have been very awkward to
decline now. For some reason, my presence meant a lot to this
girl. I had already said yes, so I decided I wasn't going to back out.
Nevertheless, as I walked back to
campus, I strongly regretted my decision. This poor girl was wearing
her heart on her sleeve. There was something about her aching
vulnerability that reminded me again there must be something wrong.
However I didn't dare cancel the
date. I knew Vicky was counting on seeing me and I didn't have
the heart to let her down hard like Emily had with me. So I
came up with a ploy to cut the evening short. Right before I left my
apartment to pick her up, I called ahead to Vicky and said I would have to
leave early since I planned to attend a sťance that night.
That was my next
mistake. To my surprise, Vicky immediately asked
if she could come along. Over the phone, Vicky said that someone had once told
her she was a natural psychic. Then she added that she would like to see what a
sťance was like.
I groaned. I felt
Rabbit and the tar baby. Everything I did sucked me in deeper
to something I didn't want to do. How did I ever get into this mess?
With great reluctance, I said okay,
I could see no polite way out.
That evening when I reached her
apartment, Vicky greeted me enthusiastically with a big hug. Her row house was an
aging, run-down building
that was three stories tall and extremely narrow. Stacked side
by side twelve units to a block, these row
house dwellings were common in
Baltimore. Street after street was home to another set of row
Now I faced her mother who was looming on the
Vicky. I was instantly
appalled. As usual, this tall slender woman was wearing all black. With
her long, straggly dark hair and her gaunt pale face, the woman was the veritable incarnation of Morticia
from the Addams family. I could not detect any hint of a smile
as she greeted me. With her prominent cheekbones
jutting out, I couldn't help but notice the woman
downright emaciated. The word "skeletal" crossed my mind. This lady looked sickly and
seriously unhappy. She scared the wits out of me.
Wondering again what
I had gotten myself into, I reluctantly climbed the stairs. I
felt like I was walking into an ambush of some sort. The second level of the home
contained a combination living room and dining room. This area was
decorated in distinctively uncheerful grays and browns.
There was not a single bright color to be seen. I wasn't sure
how one would decorate a haunted house, but add a few cobwebs and
this place was off to a good start. This room gave me the
I now realized Vicky lived alone with her mother.
Like me, she was an only child. I was on guard and I knew why. Vicky's situation with her mother reminded me far too much of my own circumstances
growing up. I had spent four years in high school hoping
for the day I could escape my mother. Seeing that Vicky was in the same
spot I had been in, memories of how trapped I felt
came surging back. I felt trapped here as well.
As we sat down for
dinner, I realized I had absolutely no appetite. To be polite,
I picked at my food. Our conversation began with her mother asking Vicky about
how school had gone that day. Considering Vicky was
desperately trying to act five years older, this line of questioning
didn't help much.
Soon it was my turn to answer a battery of
questions. The lady was very blunt in some of the things she
asked me. Rather than be offended, I understood. The
mother was being protective; she didn't want her young daughter attending
a sťance with some college boy she didn't trust. It didn't
take much of an imagination to see
how vulnerable her daughter was. Vicky was easy pickings for
me. One snap of my fingers and her lonely daughter would be in my
lap. Was I someone who could be trusted?
I had no polite way of
reassuring the woman that her daughter was safe with me. How
was I supposed to communicate there
was not a hint of lust in my mind? Mostly I just felt
incredibly sorry for this lonely girl. I knew exactly how
miserable she had to be.
Considering that her mother was gloom
personified, I suspected that Vicky must be going out of
her mind. I could not believe I had met
a younger version of myself. This poor girl was following a path
very similar to my own miserable childhood.
What a strange coincidence...
I had always thought my
own mother was the most depressing woman in the world. How wrong I was. At least my
mother could laugh. Not this strange lady. Vicky was
surely counting the seconds until she
grew old enough to leave this mausoleum. No wonder Vicky was
Despite my waves of sympathy
for Vicky, I was growing more uncomfortable by the minute. This woman
reminded me far too much of my own mother. I needed to
get out of here. So I arose and thanked Vicky's mother for
dinner and her hospitality. Then I lied about the starting
time of the sťance and asked Vicky if she was ready.
Poor Vicky... she nearly
tripped trying to get out of her chair as fast as possible. I
had to suppress a smile; this girl could not wait to escape!
What had I gotten myself into? This was without a doubt the strangest date of my
Vicky's mother followed
us all the way to the sidewalk where my car was parked across the
street. She beckoned for Vicky to roll the car
window down. She went over curfew rules and
reminded her daughter this was a school night. Then she stared
directly at me to make sure I was listening. The woman could
not possibly have humiliated Vicky any more than she did with her
Mother Knows Best lecture.
I watched Vicky's facial expressions; she just sat
there grim-faced and took her mother's little-girl treatment in
stride. I was impressed with her self-control. Vicky was
much more obedient than I ever was. I would
have never let my mother talk to me like that. I concluded that
Vicky was light years more mature than I was at that age.
Once we were on the
road, Vicky quietly dropped a bombshell. Her mother was dying
of cancer. It was just a matter of time. She immediately began to cry her head off.
Through her sobs, she explained they were conducting some sort of slow-moving death march together.
I felt sick. All the dread I had felt in that row house
suddenly made more sense.
The Grim Reaper had no doubt been sitting in the fourth chair at the dinner
table with one hand
on the woman in black's shoulder. I could not imagine how much Vicky suffered
living in that dreary atmosphere as her mother's
only companion. What a brave girl. I felt so sorry for
her. I also felt ashamed of myself. I had spent my entire
life cloaked in self-pity, but my situation was nothing compared to hers. I
couldn't believe I had met a girl whose childhood fate was far worse than my
My heart went out to
Vicky. If anyone ever needed a friend, she did. No
wonder she had been so aggressive. Vicky needed a friend in
the worst possible way. She needed someone,
anyone, to talk to and give her a break from that morbid home. She felt so
Unfortunately, I had no
idea what to say or do to console the girl. I will confess that I was upset with myself.
It hurts to admit this, but I didn't know how to take care of her.
I had spent so much of my childhood
alone that I could not recall ever
consoling another person to any extent. Besides, I was always
the most miserable person I knew. What did I know about
cheering other people up?
Now that I had finally met
someone with a tougher life than my own, I was unprepared to help.
have the slightest idea what to say. So I just drove and listened. I guess that was enough because
Vicky eventually stopped crying.
Then she smiled at me.
"Thanks, Rick, I needed to tell you. It hurts so bad
to see my mother wither away like that. She cries and tells me
how scared she is to die. I try to be grown up for her, but I
get so scared sometimes. It is difficult being brave all the
time when I don't know what is going to happen to me when she is
I completely understood
Been there, done that. I had met my double.
So now we pulled up to
the row house on Greenmount Avenue. Since we were there
early, Vicky and I sat in the car and talked a while. Vicky
had pulled herself back together. Now she was very interested in the sťance and asked me to describe it.
Vicky reminded me that
someone had told her she was a natural psychic. I smiled politely.
If you say so.
Finally it was time. We were ushered upstairs and took our seats.
Now they turned out the
lights. As usual, the personality of good old Aunt Nellie
spoke first. Then some Indian spoke about the Great White
Spirit. The Indian was followed by more of the usual riffraff,
Uncle Bob and Sister Mary and so on.
This was ridiculous. I wanted to go. Vicky's pain had
made this night
about as depressing as it could possibly be. I couldn't take
To my surprise, a new
voice spoke out. Someone said, "Excuse me, but..."
Then there was a pause.
It was pitch black in
there, but I
could tell this voice did not come from the medium. This was
definitely a new voice. I was very surprised. No one had
ever interrupted the medium before. Now I
realized it was Vicky
sitting right next to me who had interrupted the silence. I
was immediately riveted.
Vicky resumed speaking.
"Does anyone in the
room know a Terry?"
I froze. No way. Surely
I waited for someone to
answer. No one answered.
With an enormous sense of dread, I
hesitantly volunteered that I knew a Terry.
"There's something strange about Terry. I think he's a dog."
Oh my God. This
cannot be happening.
But I answered nonetheless.
"Yes, you're right. That
must be my Terry. Terry was my dog back in Houston."
One month earlier, I had
gotten a letter from my mother that Terry had died. He was
twelve when he passed away.
had never said a word to anyone. Why should I? I didn't
have any friends in Baltimore that would care.
My silence meant that no one in
Baltimore had any idea that my beloved border collie had died a thousand miles
away in Houston. That included Vicky. Terry had certainly
not come up in the dinner conversation. In fact, Terry wasn't
even remotely in my thoughts. Sorry to admit the truth, but my pressing
college problems had let Terry's memory drift to the distant recesses.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Vicky's next words broke
my heart. She told me that Terry was lonely and scared in his
new 'home' whatever that was. Then she said Terry had a
question for me.
My heart stopped beating. What?
"Terry wants to know why
you left him."
A sharp dagger of pain
knifed through me. An overwhelming wave of guilt surged to the surface
and I broke down on the
I began to cry like a baby. I had been
through this exact same thing with Terry the night I saw him at my
house for the last
time two years ago. The pain back then had torn me to pieces. Now
the pain of having my dog actually confront me about my abandonment
made the pain even more intense if
that was humanly possible. Guilt hemorrhaged throughout every
part of my being.
But I had to keep it together so I
could communicate. Through the copious tears streaming down my
face, I spoke into the
"Terry, I am so sorry. I had to leave you to go to college.
Please forgive me, I beg you. I love
you, Terry. Oh, my God, do I love you. You are the best dog and the best
friend I ever had in my life. I love you so much."
And then I couldn't
take it any more. I couldn't speak. I just cried and cried and cried.
My guilt was unbearable.
To her credit,
Vicky continued. Vicky said that Terry had
been heartsick without me. Vicky added that Terry felt better now and
that he had begun to wag his tail. Vicky said she could see him
right in front of me.
I groaned. It was
pitch black in here. I wanted to see the ghost of my dog in
the worst possible way, but how could I?
Without having any clue
what I was doing, I involuntarily stuck out my hand to pet my dog.
I felt nothing but cold air. I saw nothing, I felt nothing, I
heard nothing, and I sensed nothing. This made it very difficult to
believe the ghost of my dog was actually before me. This was beyond
Maybe it was bizarre,
but nevertheless Vicky insisted Terry was right in front of me.
I couldn't speak, but I
listened carefully to everything Vicky said. All I could
think was that this couldn't be happening. There was no way
this was happening. But through my misery and guilt, I summoned whatever strength I had
left and spoke again.
"Vicky, please tell Terry that I will always love him.
Tell Terry that I can't see him or talk to him, but that he can visit me
any time he wants and that I will know he is near."
Vicky said that Terry
had heard me and seemed very happy. I just kept crying.
The guilt refused to let up. I could not bear the thought that
my dog had suffered so much due to my abandonment.
And with that the medium
retook control of her sťance. Vicky stood up and bent over to
put her hand on my shoulder. She
whispered we should go. I wholeheartedly agreed. In the
darkness, we stumbled towards a dim candle next to the door and left.
I collapsed in my car.
Vicky sat silently beside me while I cried. It took a
quite a while before
I could compose myself enough to drive.
Vicky suggested we get
an ice cream, but I told her I was too shaken for that. I
preferred the darkness of the night. On the way back to her
row house, I tried to make sense of what had just happened. Naturally
I wanted to be sure this girl had not played a trick on me.
I took account. I barely
knew Vicky. And Vicky
barely knew me. She certainly knew nothing of my past
whatsoever. I'm not sure if she even knew that I was from Texas.
Racking my brains, I could not imagine how she would know my dog had recently
died. It certainly wasn't part of our dinner conversation. For that
matter, Terry had not even been on my mind. How could she read
something in my mind that I wasn't even thinking about?
At my request, Vicky described Terry's appearance to me
very accurately after we left the sťance. She named his three
colors of fur... mostly black, brown nose with a hint of white.
Then I tried to
trick her. "Was he a small dog?"
"No, Terry was pretty big
with lots of fur. Terry had long black hair." She had me convinced. That
As we drove, I told
Vicky how grateful I was for that
unbelievable gift she had given me. It wasn't often that a
boy gets a chance to visit with his dead dog. To tell the
truth, once I got over my shock, I was
glad I had this chance to talk to Terry. I had been miserable at leaving him
behind in Houston. At least I had gotten a sense of closure no
matter how sad it was. I was glad I was able to tell him I
loved him. That meant a lot to me.
I prayed there wasn't
some kind of trick here. I try to be open-minded, but I was
very worried about being gullible. I had not one shred of
evidence beyond what Vicky had claimed had taken place. I had no choice but to
take Vicky's word for the entire experience.
I am not the most
trusting person. Everything boiled down
to Vicky's credibility. What possible thing did she have to
gain by playing a preposterous trick on me? As I took another
look at this wounded, vulnerable young lady, she didn't seem the
type to be playing sick jokes on people. She struck me
as a decent human being trying as hard as she could to cope with her
difficult life. Recalling her own considerable tears that night, I
didn't think Vicky was any mood to play games.
I concluded Vicky was on
the level. Furthermore, I could not even imagine how it could
be a trick.
So now my mind drifted
back to Terry. Had I really spoken to the ghost of my dog?
I wished so much I could have seen something. If tonight was real... and it
certainly had felt that way... maybe Terry could stop hanging around
me and move on to the next level of existence.
This evening had been
far too traumatic for me... Vicky's misery over her mother's impending
death, the frightening appearance of that poor woman with the
specter of death hanging over her, memories of own mother, the ghost of my dog, and this young girl's incredible ability
to visualize the world of the dead.
Let me be blunt... I was
terrified by this all-out assault on my sense of reality.
This evening had the presence of Death and I was fearful.
had some sort of access to a spooky world I feared and did not understand.
For the first time in my life, I realized why people are afraid of
things they don't understand. Was Vicky some sort
of witch? I shuddered at the thought. She didn't seem dangerous, but now I was afraid of
her. This girl had
powers I could not comprehend. Did she have the ability to
read my mind? For that matter, what other shocking things
Vicky might subject me to if I continued to hang around her?
Was she going to introduce to the Realm of the Dead? Was I
ready for this? No way. I was terrified of her unseen
was also afraid to take on this poor girl's incredible loneliness.
As far as I was
concerned, I wanted to get as far away from Vicky as I could.
I just could not bear to face any more of the unknown right now.
Therefore as we approached her
house, I explained to
Vicky that I wouldn't be at Quaker Meeting next Sunday. I was
starting a summer job in Virginia in a few weeks and needed to go down
this coming weekend to look for an apartment. This was a
fib; I already had my Virginia apartment rented for the summer.
But I wanted a face-saving reason to avoid seeing this girl again,
at least not for a while.
Tonight's adventure into the
world of beyond was much more than I had bargained for. I
needed a chance to steel my nerves.
Vicky took this news in
silence; she clearly wasn't happy about my disappearing act. I
wondered again if she could read my mind. If so, then she
would know what a coward I was.
At that point, a mysterious
feeling came over me. I stopped the car.
Vicky looked at me. "This isn't my house."
"Yes, I know.
Don't be afraid. I
want to talk to you."
I had just been hit with
an overwhelming sense of guilt.
What in the hell
was wrong with me?
This young girl didn't have a
friend in the world, yet all I wanted to do was get away from
her because she scared the wits out me.
Vicky was just as scared
as I was. I
had to be the world's biggest jerk to leave her like this when she
was frightened and vulnerable.
A deep sense of shame flooded my consciousness.
Running from my irrational fear was the wrong thing to do. I was
better than that.
Now I took a deep
breath. I had just realized I had a job
to do. So I began to give my best 'Mrs. Ballantyne' impersonation.
In fact, I probably used some of the lady's exact words from two years
you don't know much about me, but I grew
up with intense hardship. Like you, I was an only child with a
mother who was lost in her own world. My mother wasn't able to care
for me and I had to grow up much too fast for my own good. I stumbled every
day, but I got back up and I made it this far. I survived my childhood and so
You have to be brave for your mother
and I recognize how hard this must be.
promise you things will work out for you. You have so much
love in you and you have so much going for you. You are so far
ahead of me at a similar age.
This is a
terrible phase that you are facing, but you will make it to
the other side. I am certain of that. Your life will get better so don't ever give up.
You have too much to look forward to."
I did a good job with this pep
talk. I could see Vicky was listening to me with the same
concentration as when I listened to Mrs. Ballantyne two years earlier.
Through soft tears,
Vicky nodded. What I said had reassured her. I had given
her exactly what she needed. We talked a while and I answered her questions
about my past. She was curious to know about my struggles with
my mother. Now I offered some of my life story the same way
Mrs. Ballantyne had offered hers.
The underlying message
was the same... If I can do it, so can you.
Vicky was fascinated to realize that she wasn't the
only person to ever be trapped in a depressing home. That was
a real comfort for her. I could see the tumblers of her mind
at work. Yes, if Rick could do it, maybe she could too...
When Vicky seemed strong enough, I started the car again. Soon we pulled up to the curb
of her row house.
Worried sick that her mother might see her crying, she
hurriedly dried her eyes. I smiled at the feeble effort.
The poor girl was so rattled she didn't realize her blouse was
soaking wet. I could only imagine what her mother would think
of me for making her daughter cry.
As I watched her, I thought
of my own crying spell that evening. Weren't we a pair? We had both had quite a cry tonight. Two unfortunate people trying to find their
way through difficult lives. No wonder Vicky was so drawn to me.
Somehow she must have known we had something in common. Maybe
it was that uncanny sixth sense of hers that had perceived our connection.
As we sat in the car, I could see her
sad mother watching us through the
second floor window above. I could not help but think how ghost-like the
appearance was. It was like she already had one foot in the grave.
No doubt the grim reaper
was standing right beside the woman. He was impatient to claim his next
I shuddered in fear. What is death? What
happens to us when we die?
I had never been anywhere near death
before in my life, but tonight I felt surrounded by it. This evening had
scared the absolute wits out of me. I was totally intimidated.
Vicky got out of the car.
She stopped at her front door and turned around. Vicky gave me the
strangest look. I could almost hear her calling to me, "Rick,
don't leave me."
A huge surge of
guilt raced through me. She was praying I wouldn't
abandon her to this situation, that I would give her some hope. I hated myself for being such a coward.
This had been a rough night for
both of us.
We were two lost souls
that had connected for this one brief moment in time.
I did not envy Vicky. Her
lonely ordeal would not be
I watched as
turned to greet her mother. The door slowly closed.
Vicky was on her own again.
on the Storm. Into this house we're born, into this
thrown." -- The Doors
I never saw
I spent that summer working at Uncle Dick's data processing center in Arlington, Virginia. When I returned to Hopkins to start my
Junior year, I
wasted no time visiting the Quaker
Meeting. I was disappointed to see that Vicky wasn't there. After making some inquiries, I learned that Vicky's mother had died and that Vicky
had moved to another town to live with distant relatives.
I regretted this sad news
for all sorts of reasons. I had given this strange experience
a lot of thought that summer. For one thing, I had several
questions to ask Vicky about Terry. I also wanted to apologize for being such
a coward that night. I was stronger now and wanted to console her
further if possible. I wanted to see how
she was holding up.
I wanted to speak with
Vicky for another reason. Over the summer, I had come to a
strange realization. I had been so lost in my own fears
that it never dawned on me that I had overlooked perhaps the
strangest coincidence of all.
long I had wondered if perhaps I had been chosen to play a role in
Vicky's life similar to Mrs. Ballantyne's role in mine.
Was it possible the unseen world had
sent me to Vicky to bolster her at a time of great need in the same
way the unseen world had once sent Mrs. Ballantyne to my side?
There was a clear parallel. Mrs. Ballantyne had once been shocked to
discover she was talking to a boy who had a background nearly
identical to her own. Then she turned around and rescued me
Now against all odds I
had met a young girl who walked a path nearly identical to my own.
To my surprise, I had suddenly realized Vicky needed me in the same
way I had once needed Mrs. Ballantyne. I had tried to take
Vicky under my wing and encourage her just like Mrs. Ballantyne had
bolstered me. After meeting me, had Mrs. Ballantyne
recognized my great need? Did she help me, a lost soul, for
the same reason that I chose to help Vicky, another lost soul? I
would imagine so.
Mrs. Ballantyne surely
recognized my pain and her heart went out to me. Thank
goodness I had found the same empathy within me. Talking to
Vicky like I did was the first truly decent thing I had ever done
for someone else. Too bad I had been such a coward. I
wished that some day I would be stronger and I could do better.
also wondered if I had been drawn to Mrs. Ballantyne when I
was a young boy in the same way Vicky had been drawn to me. Maybe we are drawn to certain people for
reasons we are not allowed to understand.
Mr. Salls immediately
came to mind. I recalled how I was mysteriously drawn to Mr.
Salls in a way totally different from any other instructor at St.
John's. I simply couldn't take my eyes off of him.
What about Mr. Salls?
It wasn't until much later in my life that I would learn Mr. Salls
grew up as an
only child living with his mother with little money and
little future on the remote island off the coast of Maine. Did
he feel trapped too? Was it possible he had been driven at the
same age as me to escape a dead end future?
Did Mr. Salls know we
were kindred spirits? Was there an unspoken
connection between us? Did Mr. Salls
watch me in German class knowing full well that I radiated the
same hungry intensity as he did when he was young? One can only
Mr. Salls - Mrs.
Ballantyne - Rick Archer - and Vicky. Broken homes, loss
of parents, loneliness, not much money, looking to education as the
best possible escape route... the parallels in our lives gave
us a very strange bond.
Now my mind drifted back
to Vicky. Thanks to that strangest
of nights, over the summer I could not help but think I had played a
brief but important
role in Vicky's life in much the same way as Mrs. Ballantyne and Mr. Salls were
meant to play a role in my life.
seemed to be so much more to this world than I could possibly
Vicky gone, we would never be able to compare notes. It didn't
matter. I had already made up my mind. I was certain I had been chosen
by the unseen world to help this young lady.
I concluded it had been
my karmic duty to "Pay it Forward".
There was an interesting
side benefit to my strange experience with Vicky. Following the
sťance incident, I understandably became even more curious about the
occult. I spent the entire summer reading more about Edgar
Cayce. Whereas my previous interests had been Astrology and
Reincarnation, my interests began to shift. I found what I was really drawn to was how Edgar Cayce
had helped all those people through his Readings. The more I read about Edgar
Cayce, the more I realized I wanted to contribute to the world.
This shift had begun the
night I had my talk with Vicky.
There was something
about my time with Vicky that had awakened an intense desire to help other
people. Call it my spiritual awakening.
My Sophomore year of
college had been characterized by loneliness and depression as I
wallowed in self-pity. Now that I had met Vicky, I realized things
could actually have been tougher than I had ever imagined.
Okay, I had problems, but they weren't insurmountable.
My experience with
Vicky had somehow elevated me. Thanks to Vicky, I had finally learned
the value of caring about someone else for a change. I decided to become a better
After reading about the
thousands of lives that Edgar Cayce had touched,
it crossed my mind that my time could be put to better use helping
other people as well. To my pleasant surprise, the main
outcome of my adventure into the occult had been the development of
a social conscience. Maybe it was time to
quit feeling sorry for myself and begin to find ways to
On the same morning I learned that Vicky had left
Baltimore, I also discovered there was a day care center at the
On the spot, I volunteered to help one
afternoon a week. It was a start.
would continue my reading project for another solid year.
One day to my surprise and delight, I read where Edgar Cayce
confirmed the existence of animal souls.
there is a phenomenon known as 'soul progression' where humans
progress through many incarnations. Cayce added the same thing is true for
animals. Cayce added that close contact with humans accelerates an
Wouldn't it be nice if
Edgar Cayce was right? I would like to think that my
years spent with Terry helped my dog fast-track
his own spiritual path.
Lord knows Terry was not only
incredibly smart, Terry had a loyalty within him that was profound.
I sometimes wonder if Terry was put on this earth to take care of me. For the nine roughest years of my
life, Terry was my constant companion. Terry was the best
friend I ever had. I would have never made it without
The 1970 incident
involving Terry remains
the only paranormal experience of my life. Unfortunately, since I have no psychic ability of my own, I have no
way of knowing what really happened that night. Whether I was
visited by the actual ghost of my dog I do not know.
In the darkness, I
saw and heard nothing. I felt nothing but cold air.
All I can say is that the
incident unfolded exactly as I have written and I do not believe
Vicky had any reason to trick me. Something highly out of the ordinary
happened; that much I am sure of.
Although I cannot
to the existence of an afterlife, the sťance experience with Terry gave me a
to consider an unseen world. Who knows? There
might indeed be more to what we call 'Reality' than meets the eye.