Charles, here is a sample chapter that illustrates how I used Dr.
Hilton to tell the story of my childhood years, high school, and
then my college experiences as well. For example, in the draft
that you read, this was Chapter 16. Now it is Chapter 28
because I used the first 12 chapters to talk about Vanessa and
Fujimoto. Now I have entered therapy so to speak and Dr.
Hilton is trying to figure out why I had so many problems upon my
arrival at Colorado State.
One of the nice things
about this explanatory device is that it is actually true, but maybe
not quite to this extent. This man did exist and we did indeed
spend five months probing my past.
I am curious to see if
you think this is an effective device. If you have any
suggestions, please share.
Written by Rick Archer
Dr. Hilton looked at his
watch. "We've still got some time, Rick. Why don't you
finish your story?"
"Yes, sir. Give me
a moment to think what happened next. Ah, the moment Mrs. Ballantyne
concluded the story of her childhood, she looked me
straight in the eye."
"Rick, as you have
surely guessed, I have told you my story for a reason. Your
unusual background reminds me very much of
my own childhood. I had it tough. If it
weren't for all sorts of lucky breaks, I might be waiting on tables in a Greek restaurant
today or taking dictation. You sack groceries?
Well, guess what? When I was a kid, I was no stranger to washing
dishes or waiting on tables. I had a very humble start in
But I made it out of there. If I can overcome adversity, then I bet you can too. In
fact, it looks to me like you are well on your way. You are one of
a kind. I have been around St. John's a long time and I have
never heard of a student working a full-time job after
school. Never. St. John's students have every privilege
imaginable, so I never expected to see a young man like you
earning money for college. Things are tough for you now, but I strongly
encourage you to hang in
there. You have too much going for you to stop now."
At this, Dr. Hilton smiled
broadly. "I like this lady. It sounds to me like she came
along at the perfect time."
I nodded. "Mrs.
Ballantyne was something else. As she intended, her
story inspired me. Everything she said made complete sense. Here was a woman who had
struggled as a
child, but had found success nonetheless. Her tough
breaks had made her tougher. Maybe this could explain where all
self-assurance came from. If she could make it,
I could too. I received that message loud and clear.
However, I found this
entire conversation very unsettling. How strange was this
turn of events? Our stories were virtual carbon copies with
one major difference. Mrs. Ballantyne was at the top of the
St. John's totem pole while I was at the bottom. Who would have ever guessed that the
most prominent mother at St. John's had come
from the same miserable starting point as me? I could not get
over the fact that
Mrs. Ballantyne spent her entire childhood playing tennis while I
played basketball. Or that Mrs. Ballantyne never dated in high
school. There were coincidences piled on top of
Furthermore, which of us was more
surprised to meet the other? At the time, I wondered why
my mentor was willing
to share so much personal information with me. After giving some
thought, I have to believe Mrs. Ballantyne was just as shocked
to hear my story as I was to hear her story. Never in
her wildest imagination would she have guessed there was a boy at St.
John's whose story paralleled her own difficult childhood.
Keep in mind that all
attention she was giving left me mystified. I was hardly some clever
kid wise beyond his years. Far from it... things went over my
head all the time. Although I never realized it at the time, I
imagine Mrs. Ballantyne realized just from looking at me that I was
in great pain. Once she discovered the reason, she felt an instant kinship and wanted to
help. Why else would she
voluntarily share the sensitive details of her life story with a boy
who was a complete stranger?
However, none of these
explanations occurred to me at the time. All I knew was that I felt very privileged to be
taken into her confidence. Unfortunately, once she reached the conclusion of her
I expected Mrs. Ballantyne would leave. Not so. Mrs.
Ballantyne was in no hurry.
She was not finished.
The third phase of our
parking lot conversation took a form of counseling. I did not
understand this at the time, but Mrs.
Ballantyne was very intuitive. I have to believe that her mother's instinct
kicked in. Due to her great empathy, she sensed I was reeling and she made a snap decision to do something
"So, Rick, now that you
are about to graduate, what do you think about your time at St.
I answered her as truthfully
as I could.
"Mrs. Ballantyne, I love
St. John's more than anything in the entire world. This school
has been my saving grace for many years to the point of replacing my
own parents. I think my teachers are wonderful and I know I'm
getting an incredible education. I guess my regret is that I
don't feel a part of my classmates. I sit in the Senior
Lounge and listen to their stories, but I feel like an eavesdropper.
I never say anything and I never feel like I belong at my own
"It can't be
easy fitting in with students who lead a totally different life of wealth and
privilege. That reminds me of the days when I was shunned by
the Galveston high society."
She nailed that
observation. I found myself nodding in agreement. She
might be rich, but she understood poor.
"You are right,
I feel completely outclassed. The girls don't know I exist and the boys mostly ignore me.
I feel badly
out of place and I've turned into a complete hermit. If it
wasn't for class discussions and a couple of friends at lunch, I
could go a whole day without saying a word. I am such a loner."
"Why don't you
participate in sports? You are tall
and you move like an athlete. I bet you could make a lot of friends
Ouch. Damn it, Mrs. Ballantyne
had just hit another major nerve.
This one hurt a lot, so I had to pause and take a
deep breath. Okay, she asked, so here goes. I explained how my blind left eye kept me out of football.
Then I added how much I
wanted to try out for the basketball team, but then I decided it was
better to keep my job after school.
I glanced at her.
She smiled and indicated I could keep going. Now I confided
how much I regretted never trying out
for the basketball team. I
said it was the hardest decision I ever made and
how it ate me up inside. I thought I was a really good player,
but I didn't trust the coach. I explained that I needed
this job too badly to risk throwing it away for a coach that did not
am sure I made the right choice, I am
still miserable about it. I hate missing this one last
opportunity to play a sport that I love so much. I have something
to prove, but I will never get the chance. The regret
has torn me apart for four long years."
Mrs. Ballantyne nodded in sympathy.
"I know my children
love sports. Whatever season it is, football, field
hockey, doesn't matter.
Playing sports is the highlight of their day."
"That is exactly my
point. I can see how much your son Dana loves to play football and how
much pleasure it gives him. Same thing for Katina and her
field hockey. I would give anything to play
sports like your children do, but I am so completely
on my own that I am forced to find a way to get to college."
"The way I see it,
Rick, you had a hard choice to make, but you made the right
choice. College has to be your first priority."
This was absurd.
Who is this woman? My own mother didn't know the story about my basketball
agony. Isn't it odd that Mrs. Ballantyne was the only
person I ever confessed my
disappointment to? As our conversation
reached the twenty-five minute mark, this woman
had learned more about me
than any other
person in the entire school except for Mr. Curran, my English teacher.
And even he didn't know about the
All this attention was working wonders.
asked the right questions and
said some very kind things. I actually wondered if
she was a mind reader because she
seemed to anticipate my answers. For the first time in ages, I had actually
begun to smile a little. Not only did it help to get these
problems off my chest, it made me feel good to be recognized
and complimented by this woman I respected so much.
During our talk, I developed a great appreciation
for her ability. Mrs. Ballantyne had the gift of empathy.
I imagine her own difficult childhood had made her unusually
sensitive to my problems. She knew what I was feeling because
she had been there too.
had long admired Mrs. Ballantyne without really
knowing why. Now that I had encountered her remarkable
nurturing skills first-hand, I realized that my instincts about her were accurate
She exuded so much spirit that I was
starting to cheer up. I could
not believe how much better I felt."
Dr. Hilton nodded in
agreement. "I find this story to be remarkable. Mrs.
Ballantyne gave you quite a lift. So how were you feeling at
"Dr. Hilton, I felt
like I was Cinderella. I was a despondent, bedraggled kid
who had lost hope. Suddenly my fairy godmother
materialized out of thin air to help.
I could tell Mrs.
Ballantyne was deliberately trying to reach out to me. Her intervention was doing wonders for my battered
self-esteem. In fact, now that I had met her, I suppose if I had to ask for one
person in the world to come cheer me up, I would ask for Mrs.
Ballantyne. However, there was one
problem. In the Real World, Fairy Godmothers only show up in
dreams and fairy tales.
However, this was no fairy tale.
Mrs. Ballantyne was standing here doing everything in her power to
encourage me. The most gifted mother I had ever met had
seemingly appeared out of nowhere carrying a magic wand. Her
very presence defied all credibility.
created a profound wave of eeriness. Mrs. Ballantyne had no
business being here, did she? How was it possible that my childhood
idol had come to my rescue on a day when I needed her more than ever? And why was she giving
me so much attention?
I cannot emphasize
enough just how naive I was. The things I tell you were things
I never understood at the time. Over the past six years, I
have thought about this conversation so many times that things have
begun to make sense. However, on that fateful day in March
1968, I was completely bewildered by the intensity of our
I felt like our
conversation was way beyond the ordinary. Typically an important woman would not give me the time of day, but
it was obvious Mrs.
chosen to take me under her wing. What on earth was the
highest prestige woman at my school doing talking to a nobody kid in
the middle of nowhere? Since I believed I was totally
unimportant, I could not comprehend why this busy,
serious woman had zeroed in on me. My gratitude was
boundless, but I was also in shock.
The truth is that I was
not 'unimportant'. Underneath my shell beat the heart
of a really good kid who had been knocked down hard. I give Mrs.
Ballantyne a lot of credit for recognizing an emergency and stepping forward
to handle the situation.
Wrapped tight inside my inescapable straitjacket of tension,
bitterness, and isolation, this lady had appeared at the exact
moment when my life was beyond
my control. Seemingly out nowhere this lady had discovered a
strange boy in great need of help. With an empathy born of her
near-identical childhood, she sensed what I was going through.
Knowing from experience that I would get through this if I could
just regain my confidence, she had made a snap decision to
offer counsel. To be standing with her was amazing. Mrs.
Ballantyne had the uncanny ability to encourage me. I was a
drowning boy and she breathed self-respect back into me. From the moment I met her, my misery began to dissipate.
This was all very unsettling.
Was this real? Was I dreaming? Just to be sure, I looked around the
parking lot. No, I wasn't dreaming.
With each question and each compliment,
Mrs. Ballantyne was able to draw me out of my shell. Just talking to her
made me feel like my grim existence was something I could handle.
Her compliments gave me a confidence I had not felt in some
I was a lost kid who needed praise in the worst
way imaginable. I needed someone to share my problems with.
I needed someone to pat me on the back and tell me to hang in there.
I needed someone to
promise me things would work out despite the gloomy skies.
Most of all, I needed a mother.
Yes, I needed a mother
in the worst way possible. I think you and I can agree on that.
But not my own mother.
I think we can agree on that as well."
Dr. Hilton nodded.
"Yes, I definitely agree. This woman is remarkable. So I
have a question. Let's pretend a
genie appeared and offered you a choice of any woman in the world to
drop by and play 'Rick's Mother for a Day'."
I smiled ruefully.
"You read my mind, didn't you? That's exactly what I was
thinking. Who would I have picked?
The woman standing before me, of course. Mrs. Ballantyne had been my secret
choice as the best mother at St. John's for the past nine years. Therefore the presence of Mrs. Ballantyne
seemed like the answer to some unspoken wish. I needed Mrs.
Ballantyne more at this moment than at any
other time in my life and... poof!... here she was.
I was not the most worldly
kid nor was I raised in a religious environment. However, thanks
to recently reading that weird Edgar Cayce book, I vaguely knew about prayers and miracles.
Mrs. Ballantyne's presence felt like the answer to my prayer. That
is exactly how I felt. There had to be a reason this woman was here.
Her presence seemed too important for this meeting to be an accident.
In fact, her presence felt like a miracle. I
was in awe as I wondered if there was a supernatural element to this woman's
However, my childlike
mind still could not
understand why was she giving me such an abundance of attention.
Twenty-five minutes ago, this woman did not know I existed and here she
was counseling me as if I were her own child. That made no sense.
Furthermore, why now?
For nine years, I had fixated on this lady. Not once had this woman noticed me
at a small school with confined spaces. It was beyond
improbable that 1,000 glances on my part had failed to produce any
recognition, yet here in the midst of my worst childhood crisis, Mrs. Ballantyne had
arrived willing to help.
That was very difficult for me to believe possible.
I had no answers to my
questions. All I knew was I needed an effective mother right now
more than any time in my entire
And here she was!
Like a wish
come true, my dream mother had paid
me a visit. Better yet, she had volunteered to help without being
Mrs. Ballantyne had earned
my trust with her heartfelt life story. I realized this was no
phony society maven standing before me but rather an honest to goodness
caring woman. There was no pretense about her at all. She
was clearly concerned about me, so I let my guard down completely.
There I was, a tough, awkward, lonely kid who was terrified of being
hurt, yet remarkably I trusted this woman I barely knew with my rawest emotions.
You know how it is when the
dam breaks, Dr. Hilton. I'm sure you have seen it many times. I started babbling without
out all sorts of things...
how unpopular I was, how poor I was, how lonely
I was, how I had never had a date in my life, how ugly I felt
due to my scars. All
sorts of terrible emotions surfaced as I
went on a rollercoaster ride of painful feelings. One moment I was
happy to be talking to her, then I was hurting. One moment I
was bitter at the world, the next moment I was tired
of feeling sorry for myself. I was also scared. Most of all I was
scared. Every day I tried to be tough, but right now I was a scared
little boy who needed his mother. I somehow felt I could
trust Mrs. Ballantyne, so I told her everything... except for
the Forbidden Subject of course.
I had to hand it to
Mrs. Ballantyne. She allowed me to be vulnerable and pitiful
yet somehow found a way to allow me retain my dignity. Mostly she just
listened. That's all it took. Her soft touch was
dredging up a considerable amount of the terrible poison I kept
bottled up inside.
She had that constant smile of encouragement. She would nod to let
me know she wanted me to continue.
Ballantyne's concern meant a lot to me.
For a young man who felt
like a total outsider, the thought that the most important parent at my
school actually cared about me was a precious, mind-boggling experience.
words and presence were having a powerful healing effect on me.
However, in the process of sharing so much pain, I was starting to lose control. I could barely
contain the flood of pent-up emotion that was welling up inside
Tears began rolling down my cheeks and I was having a really hard
time to avoid crying out loud. I felt so exposed, so
vulnerable. I could not believe I had revealed all these
to a lady I barely knew. I was terrified I would start
sobbing at any moment. I was right on the edge of
completely breaking down."
the Twilight Zone
Dr. Hilton had a concerned
look on his face. "I imagine you had a lot of trouble controlling
your tears. To think of all the frustration you kept bottled up,
how did you keep from crying?"
"The weirdest thing
happened. Just when I was about to break down in tears, an
overwhelming desire to ask Mrs. Ballantyne about Katina's scholarship
emerged. That snapped me out of it in hurry. Suddenly my
mind was in chaos. Do I say something or not? I felt
threatened because there was a good chance I would lose my temper or
my composure if I brought this subject up. I did not want to embarrass myself in front of
this dignified lady.
However the Forbidden Subject
refused to go away. Of all the people in the
world I had to lose my scholarship to, why did this cherished prize
have to go to this particular woman's daughter? That in itself
was weird beyond weird. Right now the woman
standing before me undoubtedly possessed the answer to the most
burning question of my life. All I had to do was ask the
question and she could put an end to my ceaseless questioning. But
did I have the guts to ask?? How could I ask her to explain
how her daughter got
that scholarship without risking losing her friendship?
feared I could not ask
that question without alienating this kind lady who had
But I had to know!!
Dr. Hilton, at this point a bizarre Civil War
erupted in my mind. I'm not quite sure what terms Sigmund Freud
would use, so I will use my own terminology instead. At this point
my mind split into three parts. I was the Referee who listened
intently as the Porcupine demanded an explanation and the
Puppy Dog pleaded not to bring that subject up.
Meanwhile at the same time
as this internal debate raged, I was
still busy pouring my heart out to my friend. My consciousness flipped back and
forth between talking to Mrs. Ballantyne and monitoring this internal
conflict. I was having a hard time
keeping it together. At the moment, the Porcupine was
winning the struggle. The Porcupine demanded
an answer to the highway robbery that had jeopardized my college
hopes. I was getting closer and closer to bringing the Forbidden
Subject into the light of day.
Now I felt elements of
the Grudge resurface. The Grudge was the Porcupine's best
friend. The Grudge lived in the
unhealthy, cynical side of my mind. The Grudge warned me this woman was not my friend and that
this whole conversation was a trick. The Grudge claimed this woman had
Mr. Salls and now she was playing the same trick on me. An element of fear
emerged. As my suspicious side kicked in, the tears stopped. Was
Mrs. Ballantyne taking me for a
ride? If so, it would break my heart. I prayed she was
the kind of woman I thought she was. Good lord, I hated being
The Grudge told me
to knock all this Fairy Tale crap off. The Grudge claimed
this meeting was no
accident and that I was a giant sucker to believe so. The Grudge said it
was absurd to think that the mother of the girl who received the
scholarship just one week earlier had shown up here by accident.
The Grudge was certain this woman had an agenda born of rich
people snobbery and had come
here on purpose to toy with me. The Grudge insisted I turn the tables and demand to know
how this wealthy woman had persuaded Mr. Salls to give my
scholarship to her daughter.
The Grudge wanted me to tell this
lady that rich
people shouldn't push poor kids around.
Meanwhile the Puppy Dog kept
pleading that this woman was genuine. The
Puppy Dog tried to point out my new friend had no idea who I was
when we met, so this meeting could not have been deliberate.
And with that,
facet of my
consciousness emerged. Like an out of body experience, some sort of
All-Knowing Twilight Zone voice appeared to announce the utter improbability of what was
taking place. This All-Knowing voice reported this entire
conversation had just entered the dimension of science fiction.
I nodded involuntarily.
The part of my mind I call "Me" was really getting spooked by the utter
improbability of this encounter. There was a surreal quality to this talk.
There was no rational way to explain why the
single person I considered to be
the finest mother on the planet should emerge out of thin air
here at the grocery store at such a critical time.
Even if Mrs. Ballantyne was
here just by accident, how could I explain why this busy women would go out
of her way to
take a lonely, miserable kid under her wing?
There was no earthly reason why the person I held
for my Jones Scholarship problems should emerge out of thin air
for questioning... except here she was.
There was no way to explain how weird
it felt that the same woman could be both my greatest hero
and worst enemy at the same time.
This woman had no business even being
in this place.
There was the Doppelgänger
issue. How was it possible that the most important woman
at my school and the least important student could have virtually
How was it possible that
two people who did not know each other had somehow made this
peculiar discovery upon our very first meeting?
How was it possible for Mrs. Ballantyne to go nine years
without noticing me, then literally adopt me the first time
The timing of her appearance was uncanny. Mrs.
Ballantyne could not have appeared at a more important time
if she had tried.
In other words, I had become acutely aware this entire conversation was
being overshadowed by a
series of highly improbable coincidences. Everything about
this conversation... the significance, the remote
place, the timing, our unusual shared
background, the intense degree of her
interest in me... was weird.
Although this moment
was definitely "real", it was hard for me to accept it as real.
Whatever was happening defied all laws of probability. This
felt like it belonged in the realm of the
Noticing that Dr. Hilton
looked stunned, I stopped there. It took a while, but Dr.
Hilton finally found his voice.
"Rick, I have been
practicing therapy for over thirty years. In all my years,
I have never heard anyone describe a situation as weird as
Dr. Hilton shook his
head in disbelief.
"If I didn't know
better, your encounter with Mrs. Ballantyne sounds like
something out of the Twilight Zone TV series."
"I could not agree more.
I have often thought the same thing."
Dr. Hilton continued.
"The Twilight Zone dealt with
bizarre situations where normal, everyday people were
inexplicably placed into weird, highly
unlikely situations. Your story feels like it was drawn
from a scene in a Twilight Zone episode. What do
you suppose Rod Serling would say about you?"
"I don't know, let's
give it a try."
"Picture a confused young man
who has experienced a recent series of deeply painful disappointments. One day
as if by magic, a mythic woman appears from the ether to console
him. This young man is unable to comprehend the forces that
have brought her to his aid.
Baffled by the woman's eerie
presence, the young man
has begun traveling through
another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of
mind. It is a dimension as vast as space and timeless as
the Cosmos itself.
The boy stands in the middle ground between light and shadow, between science
and superstition. He is suspended in a place of mystery that
borders on the pit of man’s fears and
the threshold of infinite knowledge.
The young man is totally
bewildered as he faces a situation beyond his understanding. He accepts this is no figment of his imagination, but the
implications are frightening. Deep down he
knows he is facing a different kind of Reality for which he is totally unprepared.
Unbeknownst to him, this boy has entered
Dr. Hilton laughed.
"Good job, Rick. I see you were a fan of the
Twilight Zone as well. You channeled Rod Serling
"It was no accident.
Back when I was in college, I wrote a short story for English
class based on this incident. My Rod Serling speech was
part of the dialogue. Not only did I get an 'A', my
teacher complimented me on my vivid imagination. Who needs
imagination when all I have to do is recall my childhood?"
So where did you go with your personal Twilight Zone
"With the arrival of
my Twilight Zone personality, my
consciousness split into a Four Ring Circus. The
part that was 'Me' continued to act as referee between the 'Grudge/Porcupine' versus 'Puppy Dog'
tug of war while
simultaneously assessing the Supernatural concerns raised by the
Twilight Zone personality.
The part that was
"Me" watched in confusion as one voice after jumped in to offer
an opinion on this inexplicable conversation. First I listened to the
miserable Puppy Dog beg the Grudge and the Porcupine not to attack Mrs.
Ballantyne. Then the angry Grudge took over and argued this woman should
be held accountable for jeopardizing my future.
Then the All-Knowing
Twilight Zone personality spoke up and the other voices
hushed in awe. With the
Twilight Zone theme music playing in my head, the All-Knowing voice
said this could not be happening, this had to be a dream, time
to wake up.
The Grudge would
jump back in,
tell Twilight Zone to shut up, then demand that 'Me', the
Referee, should confront the woman.
"Go ahead, ask her, damn it! Ask that woman to explain how Katina
got that scholarship. She knows. Go ahead, Rick, show some
guts and demand an answer!"
The Puppy Dog
interrupted to plead, "No, no, Rick, don't saying anything! This woman has been wonderful. She has
pried things out of you that no one ever cared enough to ask
She has shown unbelievable kindness. Please don't bring up this subject;
you will lose her friendship forever!"
And then the
Twilight Zone music would return and the All-Knowing part of me would
intone, "Moments like this cannot possibly take place in
the Real World. This chance meeting defies all laws of
probability. At some point you will awaken
and realize you have imagined everything."
voice had a good point. There was nothing that felt 'Real'
about this conversation. Everything that was
happening defied all laws of probability. Except for one
thing... this was not a TV episode of Twilight Zone."
Dr. Hilton nodded.
"Amazing story. However, I have a question for you."
"What is that, sir?"
"Please don't be
offended, but are you being completely truthful with me?"
I smiled. "No,
I'm not offended. I don't blame you for asking one bit.
As God is my witness, this entire conversation took place exactly as I have
Dr. Hilton smiled.
"I hope you would say that. Something very strange was
definitely taking place. I am not sure I can make sense of
it all. Is there more to your story?"
"Yes, sir. As the debate raged
on in my mind, I was a huge mess. Here I was trying to hold
back tears, talk in a reasonable manner to Mrs. Ballantyne,
moderate the fierce argument in my mind, and contemplate the
mysteries of the Universe all at the same time. My head
was spinning. Good grief, I had more personalities to keep track
of than Sybil!
The pent-up emotion
of the Grudge won the battle. No surprise there... my
Jones Scholarship pain was far too great to subdue. As
much as I liked talking to Mrs. Ballantyne, I could not drive
the scholarship issue out of my mind. After all, my entire
future had rested on winning that award. Furthermore,
a single week had passed, I still had far too much energy on
that loss to suppress my troubling thoughts.
I was dying to ask
Mrs. Ballantyne to tell me why I had lost that Scholarship. If
cheating on the German test was responsible, I had to know. If it
was Katina's leadership angle, I had to know. Maybe Mr.
Salls owed Mrs. Ballantyne a huge favor. Whatever the
reason, just tell me and put me out of my misery. I was
desperate to know the answer.
a rich kid had been
selected over a poor kid for a scholarship based on need?
There was something I was missing, of that I was certain.
could just understand the reasoning, I believed I could move on.
I was certain Mrs.
Ballantyne could answer that question. So I opened my
mouth to speak.... but no words came out!! I
literally choked as the words got stuck in my throat.
I was incredulous.
Some part of me had kicked in and put on the brakes... probably
the fearful Puppy Dog. At this stage of my life, I was
terrified of confrontation. I was an introverted kid with no
experience at dealing openly with adults. No matter how
angry I was, I
was far too fearful to bring up an
inflammatory subject like this with a powerful woman. If I
crossed her, I believed Mrs. Ballantyne could slice me into a
million pieces. So far I had seen no evidence of her
legendary sharp tongue, but I was certain it was there if I
approached this the wrong way. I definitely did not want to
offend Mrs. Ballantyne.
conflict, our conversation came to a halt.
My soft tears had
briefly dried up, but now they returned. Feeling helpless,
I stared down at the pavement with tears of frustration watering my
tightly crossed my arms over my chest and shuffled my weight from one
foot to the other to deal with my anxiety. I had just failed to
confront Mrs. Ballantyne over the most burning issue in my life.
Painful memories of the lost scholarship, my father's rejection,
my bitterness towards my mother, and my years of social
isolation flashed before my eyes. This conversation had
touched on way too many raw nerves. I believed if I said
one more word, I would burst out crying,
something my pride desperately wanted to avoid.
I was on
the verge of sobbing when
next words nearly
knocked me off my feet.
know that my daughter Katina was awarded the Jesse
A bolt of lightning
flashed through me.
Did Mrs. Ballantyne really say
I felt like I had
been shocked with a cattle prod. Just when I was on the
verge of crying, I was jolted back to attention. As my flood of
self-pity vanished, my
eyes grew wide with disbelief. The coincidence was
Did Mrs. Ballantyne know this subject was
exactly what I had just been thinking about? Did this
woman read my mind? Furthermore, I could
not believe Mrs. Ballantyne
had the guts to bring this
out in the open. Immediately the Twilight Zone music started playing
again. This had to be a dream. If this was
a dream, when do I start flying?
Mrs. Ballantyne had
just escalated the inconceivability of our conversation
into some sort of distant universe. My mother and
father never talked directly about problems in this manner.
No one... repeat no one... in my world had the guts to
openly discuss a subject as controversial as this. No one, that is,
except Mrs. Ballantyne. She was fearless.
Feeling all kinds of anger and suspicion, the Grudge quickly
jumped back in the saddle and immediately began to instigate. Did Mrs.
Ballantyne have something to do with stealing my scholarship
after all? The Grudge could not believe Mrs. Ballantyne had
the nerve to shove the damn thing right under my nose.
I shook my head in
Maybe the Grudge was right. Maybe Mrs. Ballantyne was
after all. But then the Puppy
Dog swept in to reassure me Mrs. Ballantyne had meant no harm.
Calm down and see what she had to say.
As I listened to the
Puppy Dog, I began to regain control. The anger had come and
gone. So had the tears. These negative emotions had
been replaced by intense curiosity. Why be upset?
Mrs. Ballantyne is about to give me
what I wanted all along!!
I was disappointed
in myself. What a shame I had
lost the courage to bring up the subject myself, but thank goodness Mrs.
Ballantyne decided to broach the subject on her own. Oh well,
maybe now I would finally learn what the hell had gone wrong. I stood up straight
and began to make eye contact again. I was very surprised
that the Grudge had quieted down. Where did all that
anger go? I
rarely lost my temper, but when I did, my temper usually took a
long time to cool off. Not today. My anger had
come with a passion, then mysteriously left."
Dr. Hilton spoke up.
"What was going on with you at this point?"
I decided the Puppy Dog was right. There was nothing in the
lady's statement to suggest she was trying to hurt me or brag
about her daughter's conquest. However, the real reason my anger
dissipated was peculiar. So peculiar, in fact, that I
actually laughed out loud. Truth be told, I was too stunned by
the 'Totality' of Mrs. Ballantyne to be angry. I had never met anyone like her in my life.
I did not know what to
make of this woman. This conversation had become weirder than
UFOs and alien abduction. I was so shocked that Mrs.
Ballantyne had brought up the Forbidden Subject at the exact moment I
had been thinking about it that I just stared at her with a mixture of confusion
To me, Mrs. Ballantyne was like a creature from another planet
who comes to earth to tell everyone to stop all the
bickering. This woman had
powers I had no explanation for.
Spinning like a top in
every direction, I simply surrendered. I gave up and looked around
for some sort of white flag to wave. I had the exact same
feeling one might have if Zeus or Hera had strolled down from
Olympus to speak to me.
In particular, I was
so surprised at the perfect timing of her statement that I actually
wondered if she was psychic. How was this possible?
At the exact moment I had stumbled trying to bring up the topic of
Katina, she had brought up the issue herself. I could not get
over the uncanny timing."
Dr. Hilton said, "There
are all kinds of curiosities in this conversation, but that one
doesn't surprise me. You have already told this lady how
desperate you are for money and it doesn't take much for her to
guess that you might have energy on her daughter's scholarship."
"Dr. Hilton, I
completely agree. But at that point, I was so confused that I
guess she caught me off guard. Most of all, I could not
believe her boldness in bringing up the Forbidden Subject.
I was a confirmed basket case over this
damn Scholarship Robbery. Didn't she realize I might be
unstable? After all, I towered over the woman. What
if I was a hothead? What would she do if I lost control
and shoved her or lost my marbles and started raving like a maniac? Most people would
err on the side of caution. This was definitely a subject to be avoided, but not Mrs. Ballantyne.
Like I said, the woman was fearless.
I was too tongue-tied to respond, Mrs. Ballantyne did not bother
to wait. She simply started to tell her side of the
"Rick, people at
St. John's are completely fooled by my family. My
children and I laugh about it all the time. So many
people think we are rich that it has become kind of a joke
to all of us. Big house, fancy neighborhood and all
those children at the school... they assume my husband Jay
must be as rich as King Midas. Nothing could be
further from the truth. The only reason we live in
River Oaks is my brother George made it possible.
My husband does make a good income,
but his pay is fixed because he works for the University of
Texas. Jay studies cancer at MD Anderson. His
Research salary is nowhere near as lucrative as people
think. In many ways,
this research situation works against him because it caps
his earnings considerably. Opposed to the kind of
money physicians can make in private practice, Jay has no
obvious way to expand his cash flow.
and nice home, my husband's salary can only stretch so far.
In other words, Rick, there are degrees of rich. The
Ballantyne finances are strictly budgeted. Money is
very tight at home."
Seeing me stare at
her with incredulity, Mrs. Ballantyne laughed in amusement.
"I have seen
that look before and I know what you are thinking, but I am
serious. We have everyone fooled. When my
oldest son Michael first went to St. John's, he came home
convinced he was the poorest kid at school. He and I
argued all the time, but
kept saying right
up till the day he graduated, he was the poorest kid at St.
John's. All his brothers and sisters took his side.
You may not believe this, but even my
own children think we are poor. Since everything is
relative, in some ways it is true we are out of our league compared to
the wealth of
other families at St. John's.
However, I have learned to keep my mouth shut, so no one knows
that every one of my children are on scholarship."
Dr. Hilton, I almost
fell over at this point. I may have been too flustered to
speak, but my mind still worked. That was the most fascinating
piece of information I had ever heard. This was the first time I
had ever considered the possibility that even rich people
have to struggle to make ends
Mrs. Ballantyne had more
to say on the subject.
"This might come
as a surprise, but every child in my family is
receiving financial aid. Katina is on scholarship at
St. John's just like you."
A huge tingling
feeling came over me. Mrs. Ballantyne was right... I
was shocked. I had no idea.
you become a father and raise children, you will begin to
understand that is very expensive to give a child a good
education. But you will also remember your St. John's
education and realize that a good education is the most
important gift of all besides love. Yes, my husband is
a successful doctor, but if people only knew! Based on
my husband's salary,
it would be impossible to
SEVEN children to an expensive
private school like St. John's without
I saw her point.
Recalling how my father complained about the trouble he had
paying for my half-sister and half-brother to attend private
school, it had to be exorbitant to give seven children a quality
education at the same time. Mrs. Ballantyne
had just explained why my father was so cheap with me.
Deadbeat Dad refused to help me because the two children that
mattered required his last dollar to attend private school.
This was quite a revelation.
Ballantyne was so animated, I could tell
she had considerable energy of her own on this subject.
Not towards me, mind you, but towards someone. If I didn't
know better, she was getting a burden off her chest at the same
time as she was enlightening me.
"College is far
more expensive than St. John's. My oldest son Michael
is already in college at Stanford. You have no idea
how expensive Stanford is. Thank goodness Michael is
brilliant... he is on scholarship. So is Dana.
Now Katina is ready for college as well. After that it
will be Marina, then Christie, then George, then Lisa. I
lose sleep wondering how we will afford their education.
Things can be so complicated!"
"What do you mean by
'complicated', Mrs. Ballantyne?"
will need help with her Vanderbilt tuition next year in much
the same way that you will need help. The problem is
that college administrators look at our River Oaks address
and my husband's position at MD Anderson and jump to the
same conclusion as everyone else... 'The Ballantynes must
Mrs. Ballantyne was
correct. If I assumed they were rich, no doubt everyone
else did as well.
makes me so mad. I am sick and tired of having people
take one look at my Zip Code and figure they know everything
there is to know about me. If I hear one more administrator
throw how rich we are in my face again, I will scream.
I argue with them all the time. For some reason, all
these men can do is see one child at a time, the one who is
applying to their school. So they tell me my husband
makes far too much money to justify a scholarship.
Can't these men divide by seven? How hard is that?
Believe it or not, Jay's salary will make it difficult for
Katina to get a scholarship at Vanderbilt. Thank God
she won the Jones Scholarship. It is a huge blessing.
I have never felt so relieved in my life."
At that statement, I
did a serious double-take for three different reasons.
First, this conversation was too weird for
Second, my father had
irritated me ever time he tried to
explain how he could barely afford to send his kids to private
school. I think he was trying to tell me the same thing as
Mrs. Ballantyne, but he seemed oblivious to the fact
that he wasn't going to get any sympathy from the kid who the clear loser in the situation. However,
Mrs. Ballantyne's case, she wasn't oblivious like my
retrospect, I think she brought this subject up specifically
because she had guessed the plight I was in.
Third, Mrs. Ballantyne had just pointed out her
husband's salary was a handicap to Katina's dreams in the exact
same way that Deadbeat Dad's salary crippled my own hopes of
getting a scholarship. For the first time, I began to
understand that Katina was in a similar fix to me. I
finally had my answer. Katina had a father whose
paycheck undermined her chances of getting a scholarship.
I would have never guessed this in a thousand years.
The one thing Mrs.
Ballantyne did not explain was her own role in Katina's award.
It didn't matter. Although I remained convinced that her
political clout had something to do
with Katina winning that scholarship instead
of me, my sense of fairness had been restored.
long as Katina needed the money, I could not think of a more
worthy candidate. Well, besides myself, of course.
My burden was gone.
All this time I was under the assumption that rich and
greedy Mrs. Ballantyne wanted Katina to have the prestige.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. I felt
embarrassed... and so was the Grudge. I suddenly realized I didn't care any more
that I had lost the scholarship. As my mind adjusted to
the new facts, I realized I had no right to blame Mrs.
Ballantyne for anything. She had simply done what a good
parent is supposed to do which is to look out for her children.
As for Mr. Salls, I now understood that Katina was equally
If someone else had to win, I was glad it
was Katina. I had always liked her. Katina was the
kind of person you could build a world around... decent,
responsible, talented. Just like her mother.
And what had I
contributed? Not much of anything. I was too busy
working after school. Oh well. I shrugged. The
matter was over.
Now that Mrs.
had drained all my negative energy on the Forbidden Subject,
this meeting had turned into a Sunday School lesson. 'And
the truth shall set you free.'
I liked Mrs.
Ballantyne so much my loss didn't matter any more. I was
very impressed by how direct she had been with me. All my
parents ever did was avoid talking about things. I could not help but think of all the damage my
father had done to me by avoiding the touchy subject of college.
Or how my mother had destroyed me by refusing to discuss her
financial problems that led to Little Mexico.
comparison in parenting skills was like night and day. I
had just been given an object lesson in how effective parents
It had been a
privilege to witness how this lady handled a sensitive
subject. Her performance had a dramatic effect on me.
By caring enough to openly discuss this risky subject,
had immeasurably softened the blow of losing the scholarship.
That meant a lot. I really wanted to hug her, but decided
that would be inappropriate. So I settled for smiling and
nodding to let her know I was okay with everything she had said.
my surprise, I was a different person. I stood up
straight and my eyes were dry. There was not a shred of
anger in me. The chip on my shoulder had vanished, at least
for today. My ability to speak had
returned as well. I smiled and said, "You know what, Mrs.
Ballantyne, I am glad Katina won that scholarship. I wish
I had won it, but it's okay. I really appreciate that you
took the time to help me understand."
And I meant it.
I spoke from my heart. I was okay. I wasn't mad any
more. The world wasn't such a bad place after all.
Forget the Abyss, it was time to move on. Even if Houston
Community College was my next stop, I had my whole life ahead of
me. One little detour would not keep me down.
The sincerity of my
words about Katina meant a lot to Mrs. Ballantyne, I was
sure of it. Bless her heart, she gave me the oddest smile.
Perhaps Mrs. Ballantyne had felt a little guilty. She
probably had no idea there was some kid out there yearning to
win the same award that had gone to Katina. Maybe she
secretly agreed that her own children were the poorest ones in the
Mrs. Ballantyne was a good woman. What a magnificent
gesture it had been to take me into her confidence today. Now that the messy
scholarship issue was cleared up, Mrs. Ballantyne had the
perfect opening to
exit. To my surprise, Mrs. Ballantyne still wasn't
"Rick, I know
you must be worried about money for college, but I wouldn't
worry too much. With your grades, I imagine whichever
school you choose will seriously consider you for a
scholarship. I think you have a great chance."
Now my eyes grew
wide again. WHO IS THIS WOMAN? The words 'psychic'
and 'omniscient' crossed my mind again.
A 'great chance'
at what? Did she know something? Almost afraid to
breathe, I asked, "What do you mean, Mrs. Ballantyne?"
Mrs. Ballantyne was
more than happy to elaborate.
of my own children,
I know quite a bit about
scholarship money works. In my experience, the
combination of great grades and great need will guarantee
you at least some scholarship money at any well-endowed
college in America. I imagine college loans will
bridge any further gap.
I say relax.
You need not worry. I
would bet the farm
that whatever school you apply to will take care of you.
Stop worrying about money. It will take care of
I simply stared at
her. I wasn't convinced. Mrs. Ballantyne probably
didn't know that my father's salary would be a serious handicap
to overcome in getting a scholarship. Yet I felt
encouraged nonetheless. Maybe she knew something she
wasn't at liberty to tell me. Had Mr. Salls told her
something? One could only hope. However I dismissed
the thought as wishful thinking. More likely she was just
trying to cheer me up.
Ballantyne finished explaining how college scholarships worked,
was done. Mrs. Ballantyne grasped my right hand and squeezed
with both of her hands. Then she
gave me a big smile, then got in her car. I made sure to close the door
for her. Before she drove off, Mrs. Ballantyne rolled down the window.
"Please don't worry about the money, Rick.
I promise things will
work out for you."
I stared as she pulled out of the parking lot with a sense of awe.
It was like watching the Lone Ranger ride off into the sunset.
'Who was that Masked Man?'
last words echoed in my mind... "I promise things will
work out for you."
Ballantyne left, I stood there in the
parking lot trying to make sense of it all. Our
conversation had lasted 40 minutes. Amazingly, no
one from the grocery store had come looking for me. That
in itself was kind of odd.
I was incredulous at
what Mrs. Ballantyne's pep talk had accomplished.
The weight of
the world had been lifted from my shoulders. The
grudge over the Jones Scholarship
was gone. My bitter envy towards my
classmates had dissipated. Even my fears about college
tuition were gone. I was amazed to discover my nasty
cesspool of hate and suspicion had been magically drained.
I could barely believe how relieved I felt about everything.
I had a sense of optimism for the first time in ages.
My darkness was
pure admiration for Mrs. Ballantyne. I thanked my lucky
stars for the good fortune to finally meet this dynamic lady.
Mrs. Ballantyne was quite a person. Today she had
accomplished a miracle. Now for the first time I finally
understood why I had watched her for all those years."
Dr. Hilton smiled.
Ballantyne was a remarkable woman. Did you ever see her
"Yes and no. Yes,
I saw her a couple times at St. John's from a distance, but for some
weird reason our paths never crossed again. Mrs. Ballantyne
saved my life, then immediately disappeared from it as well."
"What about her
mysterious brother George?"
"You caught that too?
I was burning with desire to ask her about him. She made it
clear that it was George who had the money, not her. Now I was
fascinated to find out how the impoverished son of an illiterate
Greek immigrant made his fortune. Unfortunately, I never got
my chance, so I guess it will have to remain one of those mysteries.
In the meantime, now you
know the story that changed the direction of my life."
Through her simple
act of kindness to take pity on a struggling kid, Mrs. Ballantyne had saved my life.
Some people might
call what took place a Miracle. I would agree with them.
Speaking from the perspective of 68 years, I will acknowledge I
spent my entire life believing a higher power sent Mrs.
Ballantyne to help snap me out of my depression. No
other explanation makes any sense.
The easiest way for me to explain the
impact of Mrs. Ballanyne's visit would be to compare her intervention to that
Clarence, the angel in Jimmy
Stewart's "Wonderful Life".
Clarence was sent to help George Bailey in his hour
of greatest need.
As for me, I was spiraling out control. At that moment, I felt
like the whole world was stacked up against me. For that single
critical moment in my life, I needed Mrs.
Ballantyne just as much as George Bailey needed Clarence.
Once Mrs. Ballantyne
touched me, my burden was gone.
In my opinion,
this meeting was something arranged by the Hidden Hand of
God. This was Supernatural Event 13. Five Stars.
A MEDITATION ON
Coincidence is a small miracle in which God
chooses to remain anonymous.”
-- Irene Hannon
| 1974: January
|| I begin five months of therapy with Dr. Hilton
| 1973: December
|| Rocky Mountain Menstrual Cramps, Vanessa leaves for
Portland, I receive a 'D' in Interviewing, Jackie reveals
the truth about Vanessa
|| Love Affair with Vanessa begins,
showdown in Fujimoto's office, Vanessa makes one excuse after another
I meet Vanessa, Portland Woman song (17), butting heads
Interlude, Arlene, Mental Hospital
|| Mr. Salls asks me to apply to Johns
Stupidity regarding child support check (09), Little Mexico, Cheating in
Eve blowup with mother,
Father's Christmas Snub,
Foot in the Door Strategy,
Off Limits Chemistry Restroom, Father's $400 insult,
Caught cheating in German
(10), Lost Jones Scholarship to Katina, The Abyss, Mrs. Ballantyne and I
fail to connect at SJS for 9 years (11),
Accidental Meeting with Mrs. Ballantyne at Weingarten's (12)
|| New identity forms at Weingarten's, I buy a car
|| Locker Room fight,
of weights appears (07), George Broyles is paralyzed, Second skin
Father denies third skin operation, Weingarten's job (08)
1964-1965: 9th Grade
of Mr. Salls, Acne
Attack (05), Basketball strike on swollen face (06), First skin
1963-1964: 8th Grade
unconscious playing football due to blind eye, quit 8th Grade basketball
Caught stealing at Weingarten's,
Granted full scholarship to SJS, Summer Basketball Project, Discovery of chess book (04)
Ballantyne joins my class, Illness at Boy
Scout camp leads to invisibility, I feel I don't belong at
SJS, Uncle Dick pays my tuition at SJS
Mom's suicide attempt at the bayou,
Terry runs away in Hurricane Carla, Blue Christmas (03)
1960-1961: 5th Grade
Dad remarries, Obsession with the St. John's
Mother's Guild, Comparisons between my mother and
Mrs. Ballantyne begin
1959-1960: 4th Grade
Divorce, 4th grade at St. John's,
Mom begins to fall apart, Dad abandons me for his girlfriend
Nine Years at St. John's School
Cut my eye out
(01), Near Death with Stock Car (02)
|| Born in Philadelphia