Home Up

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 life.

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 her 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 coincidences.

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 this 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 personal story, 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 about it. 

"So, Rick, now that you are about to graduate, what do you think about your time at St. John's?"

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 school."

"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, ma'am.  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 that way."

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 like me. 

"Although I 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 basketball decision.

All this attention was working wonders.  Mrs. Ballantyne 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.  I 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 all along.   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 this point?"


"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. 

This thought 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 conversation. 

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. Ballantyne had 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 time.

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 appearance. 

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 childhood. 

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 asked. 

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 hesitation.  I blurted 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. 

Mrs. 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.  Mrs. Ballantyne's 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 of me.  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 awful secrets 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?   I feared I could not ask that question without alienating this kind lady who had befriended me.

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 sweet-talked 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 so confused!

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, suddenly another 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 partially responsible 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 identical childhoods? 

 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 we met?

 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 entire conversation felt like it belonged in the realm of the Supernatural."


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 this."

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 The Twilight Zone."


Dr. Hilton laughed.  "Good job, Rick.  I see you were a fan of the Twilight Zone as well.  You channeled Rod Serling to perfection."

"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?"

"Good point.  So where did you go with your personal Twilight Zone episode?"

"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 eerie 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 about.  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."

This All-Knowing 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 described it."




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, since only 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.  Why had 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.  If I 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.  Paralyzed with 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 eyes.  I 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 Mrs. Ballantyne's next words nearly knocked me off my feet.

"Did you know that my daughter Katina was awarded the Jesse Jones Scholarship?"

A bolt of lightning flashed through me. 

Did Mrs. Ballantyne really say that?!? 

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 uncanny.  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 dangerous subject 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 consternation.  Maybe the Grudge was right.  Maybe Mrs. Ballantyne was a snake 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?" 

"As Referee, 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 and awe.  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.   

Noting I was too tongue-tied to respond, Mrs. Ballantyne did not bother to wait.  She simply started to tell her side of the story. 

"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. 

Despite my family's seeming affluence 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 Michael 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 meet.  

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.

"Someday when 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 simultaneously send SEVEN children to an expensive private school like St. John's without financial aid."

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.

Mrs. 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?"

"Katina 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 be rich!'"

Mrs. Ballantyne was correct.  If I assumed they were rich, no doubt everyone else did as well.

"Well, that 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 words! 

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 father.  In 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. 

As 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 deserving.  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. Ballantyne 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.  The comparison in parenting skills was like night and day.  I had just been given an object lesson in how effective parents operate.

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, Mrs. Ballantyne 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.

To 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 whole school.

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 finished. 

"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. 

"After taking care of my own children, I know quite a bit about how 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 itself."

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.

After Mrs. Ballantyne finished explaining how college scholarships worked, her work was done.  Mrs. Ballantyne grasped my right hand and squeezed it affectionately 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?'

Mrs. Ballantyne's last words echoed in my mind... "I promise things will work out for you."

After Mrs. 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 replaced by 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.  "Mrs. Ballantyne was a remarkable woman.  Did you ever see her again?"

"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."




Rick Archer's Footnote:

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 have 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 of 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 Coincidence is a small miracle in which God chooses to remain anonymous.-- Irene Hannon







002 003 004 005 006 007 008 009 010
011 012 013 014 015 016 017 018 019 020
021 022 023 024 025 026 027 028 029  

  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
  1973: November   Love Affair with Vanessa begins, showdown in Fujimoto's office, Vanessa makes one excuse after another
  1973: October   I meet Vanessa, Portland Woman song (17), butting heads with Fujimoto
  1973-1974  Colorado State
  1972-1973  Interlude, Arlene, Mental Hospital
   1967-1968: 12th Grade  Mr. Salls asks me to apply to Johns Hopkins, Mom's Cosmic Stupidity regarding child support check (09), Little Mexico, Cheating in Chemistry,
 Christmas 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)
   1966-1967: 11th Grade  New identity forms at Weingarten's, I buy a car
   1965-1966: 10th Grade  Locker Room fight, Set of weights appears (07), George Broyles is paralyzed, Second skin operation,
 Father denies third skin operation, Weingarten's job (08)
  1964-1965:  9th Grade  Profile of Mr. Salls, Acne Attack (05), Basketball strike on swollen face (06), First skin operation
   1963-1964: 8th Grade  Knocked unconscious playing football due to blind eye, quit 8th Grade basketball team, Caught stealing at Weingarten's,  
 Granted full scholarship to SJS, Summer Basketball Project, Discovery of chess book (04)
   1962-1963: 7th Grade  Katina 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
   1961-1962: 6th Grade  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
   1959-1968  Nine Years at St. John's School
   1955  Cut my eye out (01), Near Death with Stock Car (02)
   1949  Born in Philadelphia


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