Maria Ballantyne
Home Up Inferiority



Written by Rick Archer


- Maria Ballantyne


Mrs. Ballantyne was the mother of seven students at St. John's.  I first noticed Mrs. Ballantyne in the 4th grade.  I had no idea who she was, but she definitely caught my attention.  It seemed to me that Mrs. Ballantyne dominated the conversation in the SJS Mother's Guild.

The memory of the nasty woman who had practically taken my head off with her scorn had a lingering effect.  Although I didn't let that woman's rude dismissal stop me from peeking in, I did become manage to become more surreptitious.  I found an observation post in the shadows behind an entrance to the Commons Room and watched from afar.

If I got an occasional dirty look from someone who noticed me, I learned not to stick around. I would simply disappear before they could say anything.  No one ever bothered me again.

There was a always group of women milling about this room in the afternoon.  Sometimes 10, sometimes 40.  I had no idea what their names were or who their children were.  Except one - Mrs. Ballantyne.  Her full name was Maria Ballantyne, but to me, she was 'Mrs. Ballantyne.

When Mrs. Ballantyne spoke, the other women seemed to gather around her.  I assumed she was their leader.  I didn't know if Mrs. Ballantyne was mean like that woman who had ordered me to leave, but I did know I was impressed by her stature.  Everything seemed to revolve around her.  I found myself very drawn to this woman. 

As I watched her perform on center stage, I was star-struck.  From that point on, whenever I noticed the Mother's Guild in the Commons Room, the first thing I did was look for this lady.   Even if I had only a few minutes left to get to my next class, I would risk being late just so I could watch Mrs. Ballantyne in action a little longer. 

An attractive woman about 5' 3" tall, Mrs. Ballantyne had dark brown hair and a dark complexion thanks to her Greek heritage.  Whenever I saw her, Mrs. Ballantyne was always at the center of the group.  She was the most dynamic and powerful woman I had ever seen in my life.  I stopped paying attention to the other women and began to concentrate only on her. 


Any time I spotted Mrs. Ballantyne, I would stop and hide somewhere so I could study her for a few minutes.  However, I never once came anywhere near Mrs. Ballantyne.  After that other lady had chewed me out so badly, I kept a discrete distance from all these women lest they bite.  As for the mean woman, when she was around, I retreated deeper into the shadows.

I loved watching Mrs. Ballantyne in action.  Over time I thought I detected a difference between Mrs. Ballantyne and the other women.  For one thing, she seemed very down to earth.  She smiled a lot and radiated warmth.  I liked the way she laughed and took charge. 

It seemed to me that Mrs. Ballantyne was most socially gifted person I had ever come across.  She exuded confidence.  Warm and outgoing, Mrs. Ballantyne struck me as the go-to lady at every one of these afternoon Power Conclaves.  As far as I was concerned, with all those other women buzzing around her, Mrs. Ballantyne was the Queen Bee.

I had no idea why this lady was so special, but Mrs. Ballantyne seemed to know everyone.  She was a social dynamo of the highest order.  It struck me as unusual that Mrs. Ballantyne was the only 'mother' I ever noticed.  After all, there were at least 50 different women who floated in and out of these circles, but none of made an impression on me.  Other than that woman who had been mean to me, I have not a single memory of another mother who made an impression on me.  I was mesmerized by her.

Oddly enough, three years passed before I actually knew Mrs. Ballantyne's name.  In the 7th Grade, there was a new girl in my class named Katina Ballantyne.  One morning I saw Katina get out of a car along along with several brothers and sisters.  When a woman got out of the car to give instructions, I looked to see who Katina's mother was.  I surprised to see this was the same lady I watched all the time in the Commons Room. 

Mrs. Ballantyne seemed to be a constant fixture at my school.  I estimate I saw her at St. John's two or three times a week for all the nine years I attended.  Mathematically, that rounds out to 1,000 different encounters or so.  Did we ever speak?  No.  Not one single time.  Despite my stated admiration for this woman, not once did we ever meet at St. John's.  And yet Mrs. Ballantyne would turn out to be the reason I wrote this book.  


One day I asked Katina why her mother was at school all the time.  Katina told me her family had seven children at the school, more than any other family.  I was astonished.  No wonder Mrs. Ballantyne was at my school all the time!

Most of the time I would spot Mrs. Ballantyne in the Commons Room, but she was also the only mother who ever seemed to appear in other parts of the school.  I would see her striding down the hallway corridors side by side with Headmaster Alan Chidsey or deep in conversation with E.K. Salls, the Assistant Headmaster.  Since I didn't see the other mothers doing the same thing, this definitely set Mrs. Ballantyne apart from the other women in the Mother's Guild. 

Through the grapevine, I learned Mrs. Ballantyne had a reputation at my school as an effective go-getter.  I have a hunch that for the most part Mrs. Ballantyne used reason, charm and persuasion to accomplish most of her projects.  However, Mrs. Ballantyne was also rumored to have enormous will power.  It was said she could be very controlling at times, even forceful.

One day I used my invisibility to inadvertently overhear a conversation about Mrs. Ballantyne's iron will.  There had been a fierce argument between Mrs. Ballantyne and one of her daughters (not Katina) concerning a young man the girl was dating.  Mrs. Ballantyne didn't approve because in her opinion the young man was too old for her daughter.  The daughter, strong-willed like her mother, completely disagreed.  The ensuing battle led to considerable thunder and lightning in the Ballantyne home.  That story convinced me I never wanted to cross swords with this woman.

Based on this story, I suppose Mrs. Ballantyne had a sledge hammer in her tool kit in addition to her assortment of persuasive charms.  No surprise there.  I am not quite sure how else one accomplishes things in life without asserting one's will when necessary.  That is why some people are called 'leaders'. 




Mrs. Ballantyne was married to Alando 'Jay' Ballantyne, a physician who researched cancer at Houston's renowned MD Anderson hospital.  Together they raised a truly remarkable family of seven talented children - Michael, Dana, Katina, Marina, Christie, George, and Lisa.

During my time at St. John's, the Ballantyne family was the most famous family in the whole school. There were many talented individuals at St. John's, but no family could possibly rival the Ballantynes.  To me, the Ballantyne family was the SJS answer to the Kennedys.

Having developed my unusual fascination with their mother, I extended my watch list to the three Ballantyne children closest to me in age.  Dana was two years ahead of me, Katina was in my own grade, and Marina was one year behind. 

Like their mother, Dana, Katina, and Marina were friendly and warm to everyone.  They were down to earth and thoughtful of others.  Despite their enormous talent, not one of them displayed any egotism whatsoever.  I observed that Dana, Katina, and Marina achieved tremendous success in academics, athletics, and leadership.  They all excelled at one school activity after another.  Dana was not only the football captain, he was far and away the best player on the team.  Marina was Head Prefect of her class and Katina was a Prefect as well.

It was my observation that these three students deserved their accolades.  Although I had no direct interaction with Dana, Katina, and Marina, from my close vantage point, I could see all three of them conducted themselves with extreme dignity. 

Dana, Katina and Marina received the respect of their peers because they deserved it.  No snobbery, no airs, no pretensions.  In nine years, I never saw a single incident where a Ballantyne child acted in any way other than exemplary. 

In my opinion, like their mother, the Ballantyne children were born leaders.


They accomplished extraordinary things and they did it the right way - they earned it.  I am sure they weren't perfect, but I never saw a single reason to relinquish my high regard for them.

I feel compelled to state my interest in this family was benign.  Watching my three dynamic classmates was something I did only because I admired them.  Due to my own feelings of inadequacy, it is no surprise I was drawn to them as role models.  I wanted to know why the Ballantyne children were so successful.  Maybe if I watched, I could learn how to get my parents to like me. 

Katina was the only member of the Ballantyne family I ever spoke to.  She was a very warm person who was nice enough to say hello every now and then.  However, Katina and I never had a single conversation that went beyond schoolwork. 

As for Katina and her siblings, I respected their privacy the same way that I respected the privacy of their mother.  Keeping my observations discrete, I doubt seriously any of the children ever realized my unusual scrutiny and curiosity about their family. 

In the end, it all boiled down to this.  The Ballantyne children were a credit to their parents.  Every time I saw the pride on Mrs. Ballantyne's face, I always wondered why I never saw a similar look of pride on my father's face or my mother's face.

I speak frequently of my growing sense of inferiority during these years.  My parents' lack of pride in me contributed directly. 




From the moment I first spotted Mrs. Ballantyne in the 4th grade, I was transfixed.  The 4th grade became the 5th grade and the 5th grade became the 6th.  With each new grade, I resumed my silent watch and with each new grade my respect for this woman deepened. 

Over time I came to greatly admire Mrs. Ballantyne.  To begin with she was the clear leader of the Mother's Guild.  She was the alpha lady in a group of women who were typically used to being in charge themselves. Then I noticed how well she interacted with her own children. 

I do not remember when it happened, but I finally realized why I could not take my eyes off this woman.  Mrs. Ballantyne had become my fantasy choice as the woman I wanted to have as my own mother.  She clearly had her children's complete respect.  I came to the conclusion that Mrs. Ballantyne was not only the most socially talented woman I had ever seen, she was also the best mother.  I could help but compare Mrs. Ballantyne to my own mother.  The stark contrast was disconcertingly unfavorable to my own beleaguered mother. 

I was eleven years old.   My support system was about as thin as it could be.  I had a wonderful aunt and uncle who lived near Washington, DC, but that was a long way away.  I had a Quaker family named the Clarks who had been kind enough to take me on a trip to Colorado last summer, but they lived on the other side of town.  I had a father who had turned his back on me to attend to his new family.  I had no neighborhood friends since we were always moving.  I was trying very hard to be a big boy, but it was really tough sometimes.

Left to fend for myself, I wondered what it would be like to have mother who took care of me.  Based on what I saw at school, Mrs. Ballantyne seemed intimately involved in every detail of her children's lives.  As an extremely lonely little boy, it isn't surprising at all that I would be attracted to this dynamic Greek woman who radiated warmth and concern. 


Fortunately, I had a realistic side that understood these daydreams were nonsense and that right now I was in a precarious position.  I understood that I was totally dependent on a mother who was perpetually lost in her own problems.  Poor Mom.  Struggling hard to make ends meet and dealing with her own loneliness issues, she was not much of a mother to me. 

However, Mom was all I had.  If I lost her, I had no idea what would become of me.  I was deeply afraid someone would make me go live with my father.  I hated Stepmother, so the thought of being placed with him make me sick.  I was almost certain the first thing Stepmother would make me do was say goodbye to Terry.  Then she would tell my father to remove me from St. John's immediately as a waste of money.  Then she would treat me with her usual hostility out of resentment for being stuck with me.

Therefore, as bad as things were in my home, it doesn't take much imagination why I strongly preferred to be with my mother.  She wasn't much of a mother, but at least I knew she cared about me.  I had no similar illusions about my father.

Right now Mom wasn't inspiring any sense of security.  One day Mom started crying.  I did not know what the issue was, but she was badly out of control.  A real foreboding took hold of me.  It did not help that the world was very gloomy outside.  At the moment, it was pouring torrential rain.   Suddenly, without warning, my mother got off her bed and rushed out of our apartment.  When she did not say a word to me, I was frightened.  I was not about to let her leave me in that condition, so I followed behind undetected.  I was instantly drenched, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.  Not with her like this. 

As I followed Mom in the rain, I could tell something was terribly wrong.  What was she crying so hard about?  Now she came to the edge of a swollen bayou and laid face down on the wet grass.  Covering her face with her hands, Mom sobbed her head off.  Her body was wracked with pain, but I didn't know what to do.  Should I go and try to comfort her?  Or should I just monitor the situation?  I opted to stay hidden and keep watching.  However, if she moved one step closer to that bayou, I was ready to tackle her. 

I would say a good fifteen minutes passed.  Finally my mother slowly rose to her feet.  Mom was so wet and muddy she resembled a Swamp Monster.  Thankfully she seemed a little stronger.  Hiding behind a tree to watch, I was gratified to see her head back towards our apartment.  The rain was washing most of the mud off her, so she didn't look quite so scary anymore.  As Mom entered the apartment project, I figured she was coming home, so I took a different route and sprinted back to our home.  I was in the shower when I heard the door shut.  Mom never knew I had been spying on her.  I preferred to let her to keep her dignity.  I know she would not have wanted me to see how forlorn she was. 

As a footnote to this strange story, my mother's reckless decision to go visit her brother Dick in Northern Virginia at Christmas time took place a few months after this event.  My mother's life was in crisis, but she never confided in me what the issues were.  However, years later she did tell me she had once considered suicide.  She said the horrible thought of me being forced to live with my father was the only thing that changed her mind.  When Mom mentioned suicide, I have to believe she was referring to this incident.  There was a real strong chance she considered jumping into the swollen waters of that nearby bayou.  Thank goodness she changed her mind.  Mom wasn't much of a mother, but she sure beat the alternative. 


My mother's manic depressive behavior caused me untold anguish.  There were times when I feared she would end up in the loony bin and be unable to care for me.  Although I knew Mom was a good person, she simply wasn't a very good mother.  Mom couldn't keep a job and she couldn't pay her bills, but her worst downfall was her inability to balance her needs with my needs.  In particular, her penchant for acquiring total losers and forcing me to live with them was a source of serious ongoing tension between us. 

I grew up fast at age 11.  I got myself to and from school on my bike, I took care of Terry, I fed myself when necessary, and I did my homework without any prompting.  I was alone much of the time, but did not complain.  However, my independence did not cure my loneliness.  I was full of self-pity for being stuck with Mom.  Due to my increasing lack of confidence in my mother, I could not keep my eyes off of Mrs. Ballantyne.  I would notice Mrs. Ballantyne's poise.  I would see how well she was liked by her peers.  I would take note of how her own children gravitated to her. 

At these times I would be overwhelmed by all sorts of wishful thinking.  Given my troubled home, it should come as no surprise that I developed a serious case of hero worship for Mrs. Ballantyne.  I suppose my fixation was a little creepy, but I was harmless.  I respected Mrs. Ballantyne's privacy completely. 

Not once in all those years did I ever approach her in any way.  I was just some pitiful little kid standing in a corner who figured no one cared if I watched.  I would wonder what I would be like if I had someone like this dynamic woman for a mother.  Since I was a near orphan, how could I not be attracted to such a caring, energetic mother?  I would conclude every viewing with the same wistful lament.

"Gosh, why can't I have a mother like that?"




I longed for a strong mother like Mrs. Ballantyne.  Through her actions that I observed at school and the accomplishments of her children, I developed a great appreciation for Mrs. Ballantyne's talent.  Due to her strong outgoing nature, Mrs. Ballantyne was by far the most public of all the St. John's mothers.  It seemed to me Mrs. Ballantyne was everywhere.  Not only that, every time I saw her she seemed to be cheering for her children in some way or another.  I wistfully noted the impact a strong mother can have on her children's lives.

I placed Mrs. Ballantyne directly at the top of the Motherhood totem pole.  As for my own mother, although I assumed there were some mothers worse than her, I never met one to confirm that suspicion. 

I think my mother loved me, but as I grew older, she didn't like me very much.  Not that I blame her.  I was a moody, sarcastic, sullen kid.  I was so full of resentment towards my mother that I doubt I was pleasant to be around much of the time.  You know, I wish I could tell some sweet, tender stories about my mother, but I just can't think of any.  We had some good moments, but we were never close.  Mom wasn't the sort to confide in me nor was she the sort to ask questions about my own affairs.  My overriding memory was that Mom left me alone a lot.  She either left the house to chase men or she didn't mind if I went to my bedroom to study.  As I rack my memory, I cannot recall a single school activity my mother ever participated in at my school.  The only time I can ever remember my mother visiting the school other than to drop me off was high school graduation.  She certainly never patrolled the SJS hallways like Mrs. Ballantyne did. 

My mother did several inexcusable things during our time together.  Her worst mistake, of course, was her continued insistence on bringing those awful men into my home.  I protested no end, but she refused to stop doing it.  My mother did not appreciate my outspoken hostility.  She responded in what the therapists call 'passive aggressive' ways.  Of course the most blatant thing she did was continue to bring men home with her.  She knew that infuriated me.  But she also had a very sick way of retaliating... Mom would occasionally let Terry out of the house to do his business despite my strict insistence that she let me handle this. 

If Terry the Terrible had one major failing, that would be his insatiable sex drive.  Yes, even dogs have that particular downfall.

One afternoon in the 5th grade I came home from school.  Mom was home early and Terry was missing. 

"Where is Terry?" I asked in fear.

"He scratched the door, so I let him out.  Don't worry, he'll be home soon enough." 

I was instantly furious with my mother.  My dog would not dream of running away from me, but with my mother, it was a different story.  Most of the time, Terry would come back in the house willingly, but today he was off to the races.  So I got on my bike and began the search.  Typically Terry was just a few blocks away and I would round up my escaped dog within 30-60 minutes.  However, this time was different.  I could not find Terry anywhere.  Two hours later it was dark, so I gave up.  When I returned home, as I feared, Terry had not returned.  I gave my mother a look that could kill for doing this to me. 

I did not sleep well.  To my dismay, the next morning, Terry had still not returned.  I was so worried.  Terry had never been gone this long before.  Was he hurt?  Did he get hit by a car?  Did the dogcatcher get him?  That afternoon I searched the neighborhood in vain.  I was forlorn.  Terry had been gone for over a day. 

The following day was more of the same.  No Terry in the morning, afternoon, or night.  I was sick out of my mind.  I could not eat, I could not study, I was consumed by the fear I would never see my dog again.  When I awoke, I ran outside to call for my dog, but there was no sign of him.  At this point, I gave up all hope.  I went back inside to prepare for school, but I was so upset I could barely move.

Just minutes before I left for school, I heard distant barking outside.  I looked out the window and saw a pack of six dogs running together at the far end of the block.  One of those dogs had dark fur and looked like it might be Terry.  I burst out the door and chased the dog pack.  They were pretty far ahead when, son of a gun, two dogs stopped and began to fight.  I was glad for the fight because it allowed me to catch up to the dog pack.

The fight was fierce.  Those dogs had their teeth bared and they were growling as they went for each other's throats.  I ran faster hoping against hope.  Sure enough, one of those savage beasts was Terry.  He was fighting so hard he did not even notice me.  Terry had the upper hand, but this fight needed to end now. 

I screamed "Terry!!!!!" at the top of my lungs, but to my surprise Terry did not respond at all to my demonic scream.  So without any hesitation I dove right in between them.  It never even dawned on me that I could get hurt.  I grabbed Terry's dog collar with my right hand and pushed the other dog away with my left foot.  The two dogs were completely shocked by my attack.  They both stopped fighting to see what this giant new threat was.  I pulled Terry away, but to my surprise, Terry struggled to keep fighting!   Oh my god, what strength!  That rotten dog struggled like mad to get loose.   While Terry and I wrestled, the other dog was smart enough to get away while it could.  Seeing the other dog use the opening to escape, Terry was desperate to attack again.

Finally I had enough of this.  It was time to assert my authority.  "C'mon, Terry, fun's over.  Time to go home." 

Gee whiz, Terry still wouldn't budge!  He kept straining to get back to that other dog.  That is when I noticed the other dog had used the opening to go hump a nearby female dog.  Aha!  So that's what this was all about.  This dog pack was all about a bitch in heat and I had interrupted Terry's valiant effort to obtain mating rights.  If I was in a better mood, I would have felt sorry for letting Terry's opponent exploit the situation in such a maddening way.  But right now I was not at all sympathetic.  This damn dog of mine had put me through hell. 

With that, I picked Terry up off his feet and carried him home in my arms fireman style.  He struggled a bit more, but I was too powerful.  Now Terry tried reasoning with me.  Terry gave me the funniest, most pathetic look.  Using telepathy, I knew exactly what he was saying... 'C'mon, Dad, look what that other dog is doing to my girlfriend!  Let me go so I can kick his ass!'

"Tough luck, Terry, no more Call of the Wild for you today.  You're coming home with me, damn it!"

I noticed the further we got, Terry's urgency seemed to diminish.  Finally he gave up and licked my face.  I am sure it had to be humiliating for him to be dragged away from his conquest and carried home, but I could not have cared less about his tender feelings.  Damn dog.  He had been gone for two and a half days.  I should have had him fixed for what he had just put me through.  Would have saved me a lot of grief.

Terry was the original escape artist.  The dog had a strong sense of independence and loved to go roaming on his own.  Most of those escapes came on my mother's watch.  Terry pulled the same trick on my mother at least a dozen times over the years... she would let him out and he would take off.  Then I would be in agony until I could find Terry or wait for him to eventually return home. 

To be honest, I did not know how I would live without my dog, so every escape was a source of supreme bitterness on my part because I blamed my mother for taking chances with my dog.  I accused Mom of doing it deliberately, but she always denied it.  I didn't trust her.  My mother knew damn well that dog was the most important in the world thing to me, but she let him out the door anyway and then blamed the dog for running away.  Her excuses infuriated me, but what could I do to stop her?  I did not have a forgiving nature, so over time the bitterness grew to the point where I became very cold to my mother.

The Call of the Wild incident was the longest time Terry was ever gone, but there was another incident that was even worse.  The most painful experience came at a highly dramatic time.  It was 1961 and a monster Category 5 hurricane named Carla was headed our way. 

I was age 11 at the time and in the 6th Grade.  The TV was on non-stop.  Together we listened to the weatherman's dire warnings with growing apprehension.   As I would come to learn, most hurricane warnings do not amount to much.  I believe more often than not the weatherman manipulates our fear so we will stay tuned through the commercials.  However, these warnings about Carla were no hype.  I could sense genuine concern in the weatherman's voice.  He made me believe this hurricane was something far different than the rest.

The man was right.  I remember this powerful hurricane oh so well.  Not only was Carla the most intense hurricane to ever hit Texas, Hurricane Carla would go down as one of the ten worst hurricanes in American history.


During its approach, the experts labeled Carla the storm of the century.  Get to safety.  Heeding the warnings, my mother decided to take Terry and myself over to her latest boyfriend's house near Texas Southern University.  His house was ten miles east of our apartment.

Mom said she did not want to be alone in this dangerous storm without a man around for protection.  I rolled my eyes since I wasn't convinced this was the real reason for our visit.  However, I didn't protest.  I was scared enough that for once I gave her the benefit of the doubt.  Terry came with us.

Sure enough, Hurricane Carla was something else.  Since Carla made landfall near Victoria 120 miles to the southwest, Houston was mercifully spared a direct hit.  However the Bayou City got the dirty side of the hurricane.  That meant lots of rainwater and powerful winds. 

Carla was quite a storm.  Those winds howled and the rain pounded on the roof mercilessly.  However, we were safe inside the house.  Around 10 pm that night, I decided to take a bath. 

Unbeknownst to me, Terry immediately began scratching at the door.  This was his signal to go outside, so Mom inexplicably opened the door.  Sure enough, Terry took off straight into the hurricane.  He wanted to explore the dangerous and exciting climate outside in the worst way. 


I had just gotten in the bath when I heard the screen door slam shut.  I froze.  I had a bad feeling about that sound.

I jumped out of the tub, wrapped a towel around me and raced into the kitchen.

"Where's Terry?!!!!!"

"Oh, I let him outside.  He'll be back in a minute."

My eyes grew wide as an overwhelming panic came over me.  Without hesitation, I burst out the door despite the wind and torrential rain.  I was drenched in an instant.  I didn't care.  After all, all I had on was a towel. 

I screamed, "Terry!  Where are you?!"   

The pouring rain and wind didn't even register on me.  All I wanted was my dog back.  I screamed his name over and over again, but there was no sign of Terry.  I peered vainly into the dark.  Terry was nowhere to be seen in this windswept darkness.  Knowing my dog like I did, I was certain Terry had no intention of returning soon.  In his mind, no doubt this was the best storm ever!!  What a great adventure! 

I was certain that Terry had planned this.  That damn dog!  Terry knew I would chase him to end of the earth, so he waited... that's right, he waited!... till he had an opportunity to con my mother instead.  Terry would never defy me, but he had no respect for my mother.  While I had absolute control over my dog, Mom had no control whatsoever.  Fat chance of her chasing him, right?

Oh no.  Not this again. Terry was long gone with no intention of returning anytime soon.  Where in this god-forsaken night was my dog?  My heart was numb.  I was paralyzed with the fear of losing my dog forever.  The painful memory of the agony he had put me through during last year's Call of the Wild suggested this was a serious crisis. 

Trembling with grief, I stood there calling his name for a good five minutes.  The entire time I thought to myself, "Terry, please come back to me, I beg you.  Please don't do this to me again." 


It was no use.  There was no way I could chase him, not at 10 pm with this drenching rain and these dangerous winds whipping debris in every direction.  I didn't know which way he went and it was pitch dark.  Without shoes or clothes, I had no chance of finding him.  This was hopeless. 

So with the heaviest heart I have ever felt, I went back inside.  It was time to confront my mother.  I was incredulous at what she had done. 

"Mom, Terry is my dog!  Why would you do something like that!?"

I really lost it.  I became angrier at my mother than any time in memory.  I screamed at my mother, "Goddamnit!  You have absolutely no right to let my dog outside without me around!!  How many times have I told you this?  Don't you understand that Terry could be in danger?"

Those were strong words from an 11 year old kid.  Ordinarily my mother would have lashed back, but this time she was strangely silent. 

I stared at my mother in disgust. 

"Just how stupid can you be?  What if the dog gets hurt?  What if the dog gets lost?  Did you bother to think how I will feel if he doesn't return?"

"Don't worry, he'll be back in minute, you'll see."

"Oh, bullshit!  You know damn well Terry took off into the night."

The anger within me was rising to a dangerous level.  Fearful of losing further control, I turned in disgust and went to my room.  What was she thinking?  My mother knew the tricks that dog was capable of, so why wasn't she more careful?  This was an unknown neighborhood 10 miles from our apartment.  What if the dog got lost and couldn't find his way back to this house?  Seriously, for an intelligent woman, there had to be a wire loose in there somewhere.

I was sick with terror that I would never see my dog again.  I did not sleep that night.  I went nearly insane with worry.  Every fifteen minutes I went back outside and called for my dog.  I was so pitiful.  I was sick beyond sick with worry and grief. 

How would my dog ever survive this wild night??  How would he ever find his way back to a house he had never visited before in a strange neighborhood?

The hurricane's force abated by morning.  The moment there was light, I was out in the neighborhood calling for Terry.  The dark gray foreboding sky was the perfect reflection for my grieving mood.  As I walked around calling Terry's name in vain, I could not believe the devastation around me.  Huge trees had fallen to the ground.  Tree limbs, leaves, and all kinds of debris covered the landscape. 

Many of the streets were flooded and impassible.  Not that it mattered.  With the city still hunkered down, there wasn't a moving car in sight.  I was absolutely the only person moving around in this deserted world.  Terry was nowhere to be found.  Noticing the nearby bayou was swollen beyond belief, I worried that my dog had drowned in that bayou.

Under the dark cloudy skies, I continued wandering in different directions around the neighborhood.   Hours on end I covered miles and miles without any shred of luck.  I would check back in every now and then to see if Terry had returned in my absence.  No luck.

I continued my non-stop search for Terry from 7 am till 6 pm.  It was getting dark now, so I decided to give up.  After an entire day of disappointment, my heart was heavy with dread.  My best friend in the entire world was gone.  I did not think I would ever see him again.  I was forlorn and grief-stricken.

I had dark thoughts for my mother.  Needless to say, this incident was typical of my childhood.  Terry was my dog!!!  Knowing my dog loved to escape, she had no business putting my dog at risk.  All she had to do was tell the dog to wait five minutes and I would take Terry outside myself.  But no, like a thoughtless idiot, she opened the door and out he went.

When I returned empty-handed, Mom said it was time to give up.  The dog had been gone now for twenty hours.  Mom said there wasn't much point in waiting any longer for his return, so let's go home.  I didn't want to go, but Mom said that if Terry did show up, her boyfriend would take him in and give us a call.  Reluctantly I gave up the search.  


Please understand that Mom loved the dog too.  She was very kind to Terry and the dog was loyal to her as well.  I could tell Mom was crestfallen, so despite my overwhelming fury, I stopped chewing her out.  What good would it do?  It wouldn't bring my dog back, would it?  I cried softly all the way home.  I hurt so bad.  My body ached with grief.  How would I ever survive this loss?

When we pulled up to our apartment, I was shocked to see Terry sound asleep on the porch.  Not once this entire day had it ever occurred to me he might have come here.  This was insane!  Our apartment was too far away!  Heck, I couldn't have found this place on my own, so how did Terry do it?  Wasn't I supposed to be smarter than him?  This was the first time it ever dawned on me my dog had powers I could not even conceive of. 

At first I worried Terry might be dead.  He didn't even look up as our car pulled in.  I rolled down the window and screamed "Terry!!" at the top of my lungs.  To my relief Terry lifted his head.  It took him a while, but he slowly got up.  Good.  Serves him right.  That damn dog was totally exhausted from his adventure.  But then I was worried that he was hurt or something. 

Fortunately that stupid dog was just sore.  The moment I got out of the car, Terry came back to life.  He launched himself into mid-air and I caught him up in my arms.  Terry was not a small dog, so he practically knocked me down in the process. 

It was a joyous reunion to be sure. 


Oh, did I cry.  I cried my eyes out.  When I finally calmed down, I took a good look at him.  What a mess!  Terry was really bedraggled.  His hair was matted and tangled up with an assortment of grass, mud, twigs and leaves stuck in his thick coat.

He was also very hungry.  As I put his food down, the joy I felt was indescribable.  I just couldn't stop crying.  Through profuse tears, I chewed him out fiercely for putting me through that ordeal.  "How could you do that to me, you stupid terrible dog!" 

I continued to sob giant crocodile tears with relief as I watched him eat.  Terry could not have cared less about the agony he caused me, so I still wasn't done being mad at him. 

"You stupid dog!  You are the worst dog ever!  I am so mad at you!  I'm going to make you sleep in the yard tonight on the muddy wet grass!!  I hope you are miserable!  I've made up my mind for sure.  Tomorrow I'm going to have you fixed.  Serves you right!!"

After his meal, it was time for his bath.  Terry licked my face to apologize and I started crying all over again.  Terry slept in bed with me that night with my arms wrapped tightly around him.  The thought of losing my dog was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. 


By morning I started to recover from my ordeal.  I wasn't going to give that damn dog a single compliment to his face, but privately I was incredulous at Terry's accomplishment.  Our neighbor said Terry had been sleeping there on our doorstep all afternoon.  I was amazed.  Left to my own devices, I myself could not possibly have made the same trip without a map.  Starting from that other house, I did not have the first idea which direction to go.  So how did Terry know which way to go? 

I was impressed.  Terry had accomplished something that I could not match.  Yes, using maps or asking for directions, I could have done it.  But without help, there was no way I could have found my way home from where we had spent the night, much less during a hurricane.  Ten miles is quite a distance under the best of conditions, but Terry's journey had taken place in the dark of night amidst a blinding, drenching storm.  Where did this homing instinct come from?  How did he ever find his way back under those conditions? 


We recall I cut my eye out with a knife when I was five.  For some reason, they bandaged both eyes.  While I lay blind in the hospital bed, I asked Aunt Lynn to continue the book I had been reading, Lassie Come Home.

It was a story about a collie that crossed Scotland on her own.  A poor family had sold Lassie to a man who took the dog to his farm a hundred miles away.  He proceeded to mistreat the dog badly.  Lassie missed her boy and his family, so the dog escaped and began the long journey home.

I cried buckets as Aunt Lynn read the story.  Hearing me cry, poor Lynn didn't know whether to stop or continue.  She tried to stop, but I begged her to keep reading.  I could not bear not to know what happened next.  Aunt Lynn was sobbing the entire time.  She later told me she couldn't decide whether her tears were for poor me or for that poor lost dog in the book. 

Despite my tears, that story had seemed ridiculous to me.  Good story, but total fantasy.  No dog can possibly travel hundreds of miles without getting permanently lost.  Now after what Terry had done, I changed my mind. 

How my own collie found his way home in that storm is one of the great mysteries of my childhood.  Terry made me believe every word of that book.

Looking back, I can safely say that Terry was the smartest dog I have ever known.  There would never be another dog like him.  Terry was the main reason I held on to a spark of decency during the tough times ahead. 

Lassie Come Home


So what does this story have to do with Mrs. Ballantyne?  Not a damn thing.  Except that perhaps one begins to understand why I yearned for a mother who would help me grow up the right way, someone I could trust, someone who might encourage me, someone like Mrs. Ballantyne. 

Instead I was stuck with a mother who deliberately infuriated me with her passive aggressive cruelty.  There were times during my childhood when I absolutely hated my mother.  The Hurricane Carla incident was so senseless, I never forgave her.  She knew Terry meant the world to me.  She knew I loved that dog with every fiber of my being.

And yet she still opened the door.  Unforgiveable. 

I fully admit I grew up twisted and bitter, but you know what? 

I had my reasons!


part one: CHILDHOOD





  1955   Cut my eye out (01), Near Miss with the Stock Car (02)
  1959   Divorce, start 4th grade at St. John's, Mom falls apart, Dad abandons me
  1960   Feelings of inferiority begin to develop vis a vis the Mother's Guild
  1961   Dad refuses to send to SJS beyond 6th grade, Granted half-scholarship to SJS
  1962   Illness at boy scout camp leads to invisibility
  1959-1968   St. John's


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