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Written by Rick Archer 




  •   A surprising and quite welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws.  It is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.
  •   A highly improbable or extraordinary event that brings very welcome consequences.

Rick Archer's Note:

The Hidden Hand of God tells the story of how my life was dramatically enhanced by unexpected Acts of Kindness.  What is curious about these Acts of Kindness is that they were accompanied by unusual coincidences that challenged my sense of Reality. 

Please be aware this book addresses the issues of Fate and Divine Intervention.  Since the Existence of God is an area of doubt for many people, I do not wish to insult anyone's intelligence by claiming to possess special insight.  Nor do I expect the Reader to agree with every conclusion I make.  All I ask is for you to allow me to share the events that led to my unusual belief system, then decide for yourself what to think.



Our first chapter covers the worst crisis of my life. 

The time is my Senior year of high school, 1967-1968.  Following two extremely bad decisions on my part compounded by several tough breaks, I have just seen my dreams of college go up in smoke.  Adding to my misery, my mistakes were responsible for my cruel setback.  Filled with rage towards myself for sabotaging my future, I became mired in depression and helplessness.  Thoughts of suicide shadowed me like the grim reaper night and day.  How was I ever going to escape the trap I was in?

Our story concludes with a dramatic event that changed the course of my life.  To me, it was a Miracle.  However, in these sorts of matters, certainty is impossible.

I will let you be the judge.

Rick Archer



1959, Age 9, 4th Grade



Ironically, I owed my elite education to my father's mistress.  Should I thank her?  No, probably not.  She came very close to ruining my life.  In fact, her vindictiveness played a major role in my Senior year Crisis.


To understand this story, let's go back to 1959, the start of my nine year career at St. John's.  To be quite frank, I had no business being at this school.  My admittance was what most people would call a fluke.  St. John's is an outstanding private school located in Houston, Texas.  It is considered the top academic school in Houston, perhaps the state.  Due to its lofty reputation and limited class size, SJS is exceptionally difficult to get into.  It is also very expensive.  Given there was no possible way my father could afford this place on his middle-class income selling electrical equipment, what was I doing here? 

Did I know about the mistress?  No.  But something was definitely wrong.  My life had been pretty good until she came along.  Now I was miserable.  I was 9 when this woman's presence shattered my parents' marriage.  For the past year, my mother and father had fought like dogs virtually every night of the week.  It started when my father asked for a divorce without divulging the real reason (take a guess). 

When my mother said no, my father decided to make her acutely miserable.  His tactic was to criticize my mother in every way possible as a lousy mother and lazy housekeeper who lived a life of comfort while he worked himself to exhaustion every day.  Dad assumed he could make her so unhappy she would give up.

My father's nasty tactics made me crazy.  Listening to them argue each night, I turned into a sullen, deeply insecure kid.  As an only child with no family friends or nearby relatives, I had no one to turn to.  Forced to live alone in this house of horrors, I became very disturbed.  Sad to say, I acted out in school.  My grades were mediocre and I disrupted my 3rd Grade class so often that my parents were called in and read the riot act. 


Upset over my poor grades and severe discipline problems, my parents sent me to their psychiatrist.  After testing me, the doctor had a surprising solution.  What I needed was a stiff challenge.  Send me to St. John's and let the competition work its trick.  That is where his two boys went and they thrived.  Mom was for it, but Dad was against it.  Given my father's low opinion of my intelligence, he was stunned when I managed to pass the SJS entrance exam and receive an invitation to attend.  The thing to understand is that admittance to this school was highly coveted.  Even back in those days the waiting list was out the door.  But it meant nothing to my father.  Dad said forget it, there was no way on earth he could afford the tuition.  Let the kid stick to public school where he belongs.

Mom was fed up.  They had been arguing for a year and getting nowhere.  Sick and tired of the impasse, Mom stunned my father with an ultimatum.  "Pay Richard's costly tuition for three years and you can have your divorce."  Dad immediately balked.  He would have to go deep into debt to pay for this.  Mom countered with blackmail.  "Jim, I know about your mistress.  I will take you to the cleaners and ruin your life unless you cooperate.  Do the right thing for a change and let's put an end to this bickering."

It turns out my mother was bluffing.  She had her suspicions, but no proof.  She just "knew" in that instinctive way women sense things.  However, up till now she had said nothing.  Convinced my mother had the goods on him, my father turned pale white.   Unwilling to defy her threat to go scorched earth, my father caved in.  For the next nine years, St. John's School would become the center of my life.




1962, Age 12, 6th Grade



My father did not appreciate being blackmailed.  Feeling strong-armed into compliance, my father turned his back on me.  He was bitter at being forced to pay three years of tuition far beyond his means.  He saw it as a disgusting waste of money despite the fact that the psychiatrist's prediction came true.  I made the Honor Roll for nine years. 

Equally upset was the mistress.  As promised, my father married her, but what the shrew did not expect was being forced to keep working in order to help my father pay the SJS tuition.  Convinced my father had made a bad deal, the mistress was livid and did not mind saying so at every opportunity.  It galled her no end to realize every cent she earned was spent on my behalf.  Her honeymoon was budgeted, there was no money to buy a house and they had to delay starting a family.  Infuriated, the mistress took it out on me.  Lacking a backbone, Dad decided it was easier to abandon me than stand up to his domineering wife.  The wedge caused by her relentless bickering caused my father to limit our interaction to lunch four times a year.  I gained a school, but lost a father. 

For the next nine years, St. John's would be my sanctuary.  It was the anchor which kept me glued together while my mother fell to pieces after the divorce.  She quickly remarried, a huge mistake.  The new husband was an ex-con with a fondness for excessive drinking and passing hot checks.  He beat my mother several times when he had been drinking.  One night in desperation, Mom called my dog Terry for help.  One snarl from Terry put a quick stop to the violence.  As for the man's parenting skills, he tried to get me hooked on cigarettes and stole my cherished silver dollar collection to buy booze.  One day the cops came looking for him.  Although the marriage only lasted half a year, the misery continued due to my mother's neverending penchant for collecting losers and bringing them home to live with us.  You might think I am kidding.  Guess again.  My mother's desperate search for a man went on for nine years.

In addition to my mother's bad habit of picking up strays, she had trouble holding a job longer than a year.  My mother did not have a college degree.  When my parents married, she dropped out of college to support my father while he got his degree.  Her lack of credentials cost her dearly in the job market.  Due to her frequent unemployment, the bills mounted.  One way to solve the problem was to skip out whenever the unpaid rent grew too high.  We moved 11 times in 9 years.  The problems did not stop there.  Every three months or so I would come home to find the electricity turned off.  Or the water.  Or the gas.  I am fairly certain I was poorest kid to ever attend St. John's. 


Given my mother's emotional problems, she did not have much energy left over for me.  With many of her nights devoted to cruising the bars, I was often left alone to take care of myself starting at age 10.  Abandoned by one, neglected by the other, I had no parent to offer common sense advice on how cope with my underdog status at the rich kids school.  Here is an example.  I was consumed with envy at my classmates' lives of privilege.  It would have been nice to have a parent willing to remind me to look on the bright side.  Unlike a lot of kids in this world, I never went hungry and I always had a roof over my head.  Plus I was getting a great education.  Rather than appreciate what I did have, I grew bitter from daily reminders of how much better my classmates had it than me. 

It was obvious from my appearance that I came from a different walk of life.  Although we all wore the same uniform at St. John's, one look at my shoes was usually enough.  My chipped tooth removed any remaining doubt.  Given that my mother was too broke to have the tooth fixed for two years, it sent a clear message that money was scarce in my home.  By definition, every child at my school (but me) was well cared for.  Best clothes, impeccable social skills, contact lens, braces, the latest haircut, dermatologist, etc.  And here I go with the chipped tooth, hair that sticks up straight, cheap clothes, thick glasses, plus eyes that don't match due to my blind left eye. 

Starting in the 6th Grade I became low man on the social totem pole.  Fortunately I was never bullied.  Nor was I insulted to my face.  But I was ignored.  The moment my privileged classmates realized I wasn't one of them, it became tough to turn casual acquaintances into friends.  Academically I belonged at SJS, but socially I was out of my league.  Although I appreciated my wonderful education, I hated my loneliness.  Unable to play sports due to my blind left eye and untrained in the social graces due to my deplorable parents, I will be the first to admit I did not fit in at this school.  Over the course of nine years I developed a severe sense of social inferiority. 

A key event in my future Crisis took place at the end of the 6th Grade.  Dad's three year tuition ordeal was over.  No longer legally obligated to pay, my father told me his money was better spent placed in a college fund.  Referring to this as his "College Pledge", my father promised the money saved would be waiting for me when the time came.  Broken-hearted at being forced leave SJS, I begged him to change his mind, but got nowhere.  Fortunately I caught a last-minute lucky break.  Informed of my father's decision, Mr. Chidsey, the Headmaster, took note of my good grades and offered a scholarship.  This explains how I was able to attend St. John's for six more years till graduation.



September 1967, Age 17, 12th Grade


My Senior year Crisis was not the product of one particular event, but rather a complicated series of problems that snowballed.  The first problem occurred in September 1967.  Mr. Salls was the new Headmaster, taking the place of Mr. Chidsey.  We knew each other well.  Mr. Salls had been my German instructor for three years prior to his promotion.  Although we never spoke on a personal basis, I could tell he appreciated how hard I worked in his class. 

Mr. Salls made it a point to meet with each Senior early in the school year to discuss college preferences.  I had my heart set on Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  My beloved Aunt Lynn and Uncle Dick lived just across the Potomac River in McLean, Virginia.  I wanted to be close to them.  I had been working as a grocery sacker after school for the past two years.  By the end of my Senior year, I estimated I would have $2,000 at my disposal.  That was a lot of money back in those days.  That plus six years of savings in my father's College Fund should be enough to pay for Georgetown.  Or so I assumed.

For some mysterious reason, during our meeting Mr. Salls completely ignored Georgetown despite my explanation why this school was my one and only choice.  He insisted I also apply to Johns Hopkins, a college I had never heard of.  The moment I discovered it was a men's-only school, there was no way I was interested.  Due to my sense of inferiority, I was already fearful of rejection were I to ask one of the flawless debutantes for a date.  A serious case of teenage acne put a swift end to any remaining courage.  Given that I never had a single date in high school, the thought of going to a men's school was out of the question.  Sensing my reluctance, Mr. Salls took the extraordinary step of asking me to apply to Hopkins anyway as a favor to him.  I agreed to do so, but why was he bullying me?

I was very angry when I left his office.  Mr. Salls had made me promise to apply to a school I had no interest in.  The thought of wasting $75... two weeks of work at the grocery store... on a senseless application fee made me sick to my stomach.  It was standard procedure for my classmates to apply to ten schools, maybe more if they felt like it, but that was Daddy's Money.  This $75 was coming out of my own thin pocket.  I was so bitter that I unwittingly made a serious mistake.  I had intended to apply to the University of Texas as a backup option.  However, to save money, I decided to forget UT.  Using the money to apply to Johns Hopkins instead of UT, four months later I would deeply regret this decision.



NOVEMBER 1967, Age 18, 12th Grade

little Mexico


My error regarding the University of Texas was my first mistake.  I would make a second mistake in the coming Spring (we will get to that shortly).  The second mistake was so costly, I could not understand why I had taken leave of my better judgment.  Perplexed by my extraordinary stupidity, I asked myself what went wrong.  The best explanation was extreme stress related to an idiotic move on my mother's part.  This is the story of 'Little Mexico'.

Late in my Junior year, my mother finally found steady employment in Houston's famed Medical Center.  She decided to buy a ramshackle house in a largely Hispanic part of town.  Mom wanted to move here as a way to make her Mexican boyfriend Ramon more comfortable.  Given her shabby credit history, I have no idea how she persuaded a bank to loan her the money.

Say what you will about my father, but he deserved credit for his reliability on child support.  He never missed his $100 per month payment and was always on time.  My mother and I were extremely dependent on this money.  Its appearance would allow us to get the lights turned back on or make a much-needed visit to the grocery store.  In November 1967, for the first time in eight years, Dad's monthly check failed to appear.  This was serious.  Without my father's child support, my mother could not afford to pay her house note. 

My mother was so blind-sided, it took her two days to realize my father had not sent a November check because he was no longer legally obligated to pay child support after my 18th birthday.  Oops.  When she bought the house, my mother had assumed the child support would continue until I finished high school seven months down the road.  My mother was panic-stricken.  How would she ever make up the difference?


I stared at her in utter astonishment.  Well aware she had purchased this house with no margin for error, my mother should have had the sense to anticipate this child support problem.  Too late now.  I offered to make up the difference with my grocery store money, but my mother said no.  Without telling me, she had already cooked up a wild scheme.  My mother's solution was to invite Janie, 18, and Linda, 21, Ramon's younger sisters, to come up from Mexico.  They were expected to get jobs as waitresses in one of the nearby cantinas and pay rent. 

I was never told.  I found out when I came home one night to find the sisters had moved into bedrooms next to mine.  Within two weeks, Janie and Linda had boyfriends.  My mother gave their boyfriends permission to come live with us as well, a decision that included Enrique's 2-year old boy Manolo.  I was never consulted, probably because my mother knew I would scream bloody murder.

The ensuing culture shock flipped my world upside down.  I had grown up as an only child accustomed to silence.  Suddenly there seven other people in this house besides me.  This included my mother and six Mexican immigrants, none of whom who spoke English.  Given their fondness for loud Ranchero and Mariachi music, the place was a madhouse at night.  Given how hard the racket made it to study, College could not come soon enough.



JANUARY 1968, Age 18, 12th Grade

the Jones scholarship


At the turn of the 20th Century, a visionary named Jesse H. Jones proposed turning Houston's slow-moving Buffalo Bayou into a world-class ship channel.  It was a brilliant move.  The massive widening process was completed in time to allow ships from the new Panama Canal to visit.  Shortly after that came World War I with a massive demand for oil.  Thanks to the Texas Oil Boom, the Houston Ship Channel exported tons of barrels overseas.  This is how Houston became the Energy Capital of the world. 

Now a very rich man, Jesse Jones looked to his legacy by creating a scholarship fund.  Every year one graduating Senior from each Houston high school would receive a $4,000 stipend ($1,000 per year for four years).  I counted heavily on winning this award.  In addition to my good grades, I assumed my status as the poorest kid to ever attend SJS guaranteed I was a shoo-in.  However, I was worried something was wrong.  It was January and so far no one from St. John's had mentioned this scholarship to me.  The winners would be announced in March, so I was troubled by the lack of contact.  I should have asked someone, but I was acutely introverted at this time in my life.  As a result, I remained completely in the dark.


I was also worried about my father's College Pledge.  According to him, for the past six years he had placed money equivalent to the annual SJS tuition in a college fund.  If he had done what he promised, there should be about $10,000 waiting for me.  However, when I saw my father for lunch shortly before Christmas, he did not say a word.  Considering college was just around the corner, why was the important subject of college finance bypassed?  Bottom line, I did not trust him.  This is why I had gotten my grocery job two years ago.

Back in September when I substituted Johns Hopkins for the University of Texas, I did not know that state tuition at UT was dramatically lower than private college tuition.  I admit this level of naivete is tough to believe, but who was going to tell me?  My non-existent Padre?  Yeah, right.  Or Mariachi Madre?  I was so angry at my mother for "Little Mexico" we were no longer speaking.  Adding to my problems, I was what you would call a loner.  An only child stuck with an erratic mother, keeping to myself had become second nature long ago.  Due to my limited social skills and tendency towards introversion, friends were few and far between.  Although I was pretty good at book learning, things other people took for granted like knowledge about college tuition and how to find a girlfriend fell by the wayside.  Due to my ignorance, as of January 1968, I was stuck with only two options, the prohibitively expensive Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, equally expensive.  I focused on Georgetown.  Including room and board, it would cost between $20,000-$24,000 to attend Georgetown over a four year period.  This was such a staggering amount, I worried day and night if my father would come through for me as promised.


As it turned out, I did have one friend at St. John's.  David and I liked to play chess at lunch.  One day I got into a serious discussion with David about college finance.  I stopped breathing when David told me his brother's tuition at the University of Texas was $1,000 per year.

$1,000 per year at the University of Texas?  Georgetown was $5,000 a year!! 

I gasped.  This was Unbelievable!  I was so upset I nearly had a heart attack.  Why didn't anyone tell me this back in September?  Considering how worried I was, this bad news was more than I could handle.  If I had applied to the University of Texas as my backup option, I already had enough grocery store money to pay for the first year at UT out of my own pocket.  Even better, if I won the Jones Scholarship and got a part-time job, I would have enough money to attend UT for four years without depending on my father to come through for me.  Only one problem. 

It was too late to apply to the University of Texas for the next school year.

David's revelation sent me reeling.  If someone had told me that state tuition was dramatically lower than private school tuition, my college finance problems would be gone and I could relax.  Instead, due to my glaring ignorance, I was facing a monumental task.  Oh my God, why did I ever apply to Johns Hopkins when I should have applied to the University of Texas like I wanted to? 

As things stood, unless I could find a way to pay for Georgetown, I would be forced to miss an entire year of college. 

Given how badly I wanted to escape Little Mexico, this thought left me devastated.  Right now I was furious at Mr. Salls.  Why didn't Mr. Salls tell me how inexpensive tuition was at a state school when we met back in September instead of forcing me to apply to this stupid Johns Hopkins? 


My misery did not stop there.  When I suggested I could probably get a scholarship to Georgetown, David threw me a wicked curve ball.  To my alarm, David warned me not to get my hopes up.  David informed me that scholarship money was based on need. 

"Yeah, so what?" I said.  "My father doesn't know I exist and my mother is dead broke.  I definitely qualify."

"Rick, I hate to be the one to tell you, but your father makes too much money.  His substantial salary will be a deal breaker."

The recent years had been good to my father.  He was now one of the top electrical engineers in the country.  He designed the electrical systems for giant cranes such as the one used by the Space Center at Cape Canaveral to launch rockets into the stratosphere.

"I don't understand, David.  I don't live with my father and he no longer pays child support." 

"Georgetown still expects him to be responsible.  They will take one look at your father's salary and expect him to pay.

"But what if he refuses to pay?"

"Why would he do that?"

"Lots of reasons.  My stepmother hates my guts.  She would murder him if he spent one extra dime on me.  Besides, all he ever does is complain about how broke he is.  That is because he sends my half-brother and half-sister to private schools that are just as expensive as St. John's and pays full tuition.  He claims paying for them is why money is tight.  That's his way of saying don't expect any further generosity beyond the College Pledge savings.  I assume I will get whatever is in the College Pledge and that's it.  Furthermore, I can't imagine my father would cooperate in filling out financial aid forms.  How do I explain to Georgetown that my father refuses to help?"

"I don't know, Rick.  But I know Georgetown won't give you a scholarship if your father doesn't play ball.  Why should they take your word for it?  They hear sob stories all the time, so they expect financial forms to corroborate.  It sounds to me like you better hope your father was serious about that College Pledge."



february 1968, Age 18, 12th Grade

THE college pledge


Following my conversation with David concerning financial aid, over the next month I was filled with overwhelming anxiety over my father's promise to pay for college.  Not a day passed without that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that I might miss out on college next year unless Dad came through on the promise he made six years ago. 

One day in late February the school receptionist gave me a message to meet my father at the usual time and place tomorrow (my father never called me directly).  I was on pins and needles as I drove my car to the coffee shop.  Surely Dad was good for his word.  Why else would he set up today's meeting?  This was the moment I had spent the last six years waiting for.  Today I would learn the truth about my father's College Pledge.  I was skeptical and hopeful at the same time.  Over the past nine years, Dad had disappeared from my life.  Although his office was only a mile from my school, Dad preferred not to make time for the forgotten child.  Dad's idea of fatherhood was "Don't call me, I'll call you."  I had been told never to call unless it was an emergency.  At best I saw him for lunch a couple times a year.  I was no fool.  Deep down I knew he didn't care.  However, all would be forgiven if he would just come through for me today. 

As I walked into the coffee shop, my heart was pounding.  I prayed Dad had put that money into a savings account as promised.  If so, the nightmare of how to pay my Georgetown tuition would be over and I could finally calm down.   The phrase 'hoping against hope' was coined for this situation.  Would the father I had always hoped for show up today or would the father he had turned into appear instead?  I expected the latter, but you never know, maybe the man would come through.  I recalled his solemn promise from six years ago.

"Rick, I know how much St. John's means to you, but paying for college is so much more important.  This money will be there for you when it is time."

Dad was waiting for me in the reception area at the coffee shop.  He stood up and greeted me with the biggest smile on his face.  He shook my hand and gave me a big hug.  Hmm.  When was the last time my father hugged me?  This was a good sign.  Maybe there was hope after all.

A waitress escorted us to a booth and we sat across from one another.  As our eyes locked, I could barely breathe.  Six years I had waited for this moment.  The tension was unbearable.  When I saw him start to fish around inside his coat, I froze.  This was it.


Dad found what he was looking for.  He placed four $100 bills on the table. 

My eyes bulged.  Staring in horror, did this mean what I thought it meant?

"Dad, what is this money for?"

My father beamed with pride. 

"Look, Rick, it's Four Hundred Dollars! 

This is the money I've been saving for your college tuition!  I promised you long ago I would help.  I told you I would help you pay for college and I meant what I said!  This money will help you go to college!"

I was stunned.  Staring at the money in disbelief, Dad's $400 would barely put a dent in Georgetown's $20,000 price tag.  Oh my God, my worst nightmare had just come true.  This was the father I had expected all along.  I turned white as my chances of going to college next year seemed ever so remote.  Even if I won the Jones Scholarship, the annual $1,000 stipend did not come close to make up the difference.  Stunned by the realization I would probably not be going to college in the Fall, I could not breathe. 


If my father saw how upset I was, he did not show it.  In fact, my father was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.  I was bewildered.  What in the hell is my father so damn happy about?  There he was, sitting across the table beaming with triumph.  Dad was so pumped over his good deed, he looked like he was ready to don an Indian headdress and start dancing in the aisle, war whoop and all.  What is wrong with this man?  The way he was grinning from ear to ear, you would think Dad had just won the goddamn Father of the Year award.

I shook my head in disbelief.  What could this man be thinking?  I knew my father was a born salesman, but even Dad had to know he was stretching things here.  Oh lord, just look at him!  My father was as proud of himself as he could possibly be thanks to his amazing 2% contribution to my college fund.  I could not believe my father was doing a victory celebration over $400.

Just then I wondered if Dad was playing a joke.  Maybe he was pulling my leg.  Was he hiding more money in an attempt to build the suspense?  If so, it was working.  I was so tense I could hardly stand it.  Suddenly hopeful, I peered at him for clues.  But then I remembered this was not my father's way.  Dad did not have a sense of humor.  Sure enough, the moment he noticed my frown, he replaced his Happy Face with his Let's Get Down to Business Face.  I had my answer.  This was it.  Sick beyond sick, I stared long and hard at my father.  They say moments from your life pass through your mind in times of crisis.  The image that came to me was the vision of my mother and father arguing over sending me to St. John's during their divorce process.  I remembered what my father had said on the day I was accepted at St. John's.  Hiding behind a doorway, I listened as my father said he was totally against it. 

"Jesus Christ, Mary, that psychiatrist is an idiot.  What makes him think a boy who made D's on his last report card can handle academics at the toughest school in the city?   Our son can barely hack it in public school, so why should I spend all this money when we both know he will be demolished at St. John's?"

My father had good reason to feel that way.  After my lackluster performance in public school, Dad assumed competing head to head with the best and brightest would be too much for me.  However, just the opposite had happened.  As the psychiatrist had predicted, the academic challenge was exactly what I needed.  Although I had to study my butt off to keep up, I thrived on the challenge of proving I could hang with all these smart kids.  If ever there was money that was well spent, this was it.  What a remarkable difference St. John's had made!   My school had brought out the very best in me.  From an underachieving child in public school, I had been encouraged to reach my potential.  I would have never made it through the past nine years without the support I got from my gifted teachers.  Indeed, my education was the one bright spot in an otherwise miserable childhood.  From my point of view, St. John's had worked a small miracle.

One would think my father would be thrilled at how well things had turned out for his son and wish to honor his College Pledge promise.  But apparently not.  Not once in nine years had my father ever acknowledged the value of my school.  Too dumbfounded to speak, I gazed in shock at the money laying there.  I had planned on getting nasty with him if he disappointed me, but here at crunch time I was far too introverted to confront him.  Even though physically I towered over my soft, pudgy father, psychologically I was a dwarf in his presence.  I hated myself because I didn't have the guts to chew him out.  For six years, I had vowed to speak up if he stiffed me.  So much for false bravado.  Before I could summon the courage to protest, my father took advantage of my silence to drive another nail into the coffin. 

"I'm sorry, son, but right now my money is tied up with sending Joy and Charlie to private school.  Unless I get a raise and things dramatically improve in my finances, this $400 will be my only contribution towards your college education."

No surprise there.  I was already so numb, this news didn't affect me all that much.  I guess I had already anticipated he would say something like that.  The disgust I felt was overpowering.  In addition, I was paralyzed with disbelief.  How was it possible to have the lowest expectation for my father yet have him out-perform the worst thing I could imagine?  I am not sure why, but for some reason the $400 stung even more than no money at all.  The thought that my father was proud over $400 infuriated me.  Is that the best he could do after six years?  The sad thing is I was pretty sure what he had done.  There had never been a College Fund.  When Dad stopped paying child support in November, he had not told his vindictive wife.  Why risk another riot act?  Instead he pretended to keep paying child support.  This allowed him to systematically pocket the monthly $100 stipend over the past four months and use it for today. 

As the spirit drained out of me, I was disappointed beyond comprehension.  I wanted to chew him out, but that would just make things worse.  Feeling my anger grow, I was fearful of losing control.  Realizing I was on the verge of losing my temper, I could not sit here any longer.  Rather than scream at him, I reached over to pick up the $400.  It made me sick to touch the money, but despite my wounded pride, I needed whatever I could get.  Unable to remain civil, I stood up and said, "Thanks, Dad, but I've got a test to study for."

I stormed out of the building and threw the money on the passenger seat in disgust.  I seethed over my father's brutal insult as I drove away in my used VW Bug.  Without warning, my anger suddenly vanished.  It was replaced by grief.  My father's broken promise was more than I could take.  Beneath the anger and disappointment, I was very hurt.  In that moment, any remaining illusion as to my father's concern for my welfare died. 


The sad thing is I half-expected something like this would happen.  Some sort of eerie premonition had warned me about today.  I didn't see this dread as a psychic foretelling, but rather that my subconscious knew my father better than my conscious mind wanted to admit.  Well, not any more. 

The problem was that my father was deceptive.  He had his "Caring Act" down to a pat.  I met with him for lunch three or four times a year over the past nine years.  Dad was always friendly, always affable, always glad to see me.  However, today's cheap trick had opened my eyes.  It was all a disguise.  Before he began designing electrical systems, Dad had been an excellent salesman.  I suppose Dad's sales training paid off.  When you only see your kid three times a year for one hour, Dad could fake sincerity to perfection.

My father had once loved me.  I knew this for a fact.  But ever since he met the mistress, his love mysteriously evaporated.  Did I do anything to deserve this?  No.  For the past nine years I had been unfailingly polite and respectful.  Grateful for any attention he was willing to share, I never gave my father a bit of trouble.  Now after six years of uncertainty, today's betrayal had revealed for certain what kind of man my father really was. 



FEBRUARY 1968, Age 18, 12th Grade


As I drove back to school, I could not stop glancing at the $400 on the passenger seat.  Seeing those four bills stare back at me like a Betrayed Kingdom, I felt so worthless.  Most fathers would be proud of a boy who got straight A's, bought a car with his own money, worked 20 hours a week after school and never got into trouble.  My father was the exception.  Six years ago he stopped paying for St. John's because it was a waste of good money.  Now he claimed there was no money for me because his abundant salary was better spent sending Charlie and Joy to private school.  Hey Dad, do you want to explain why private schools are okay for them, but not for me?  Seriously, my father had to be the biggest hypocrite to ever walk the earth.  This was the day my father broke my heart.

Prior to my Senior year, St. John's had been my sanctuary.  For the past eight and a half years, my school was the only thing I had going for me.  I could point to several teachers who had gone far out of their way to offer counsel and encouragement.  However, when I returned after my father's betrayal, I suddenly hated my school with a passion.  It was a classic case of misplaced anger. 

The moment I walked into my next class, on cue the phrase 'everyone but me' starting playing in my brain.  Without a scholarship, I had absolutely no way to pay for Georgetown.  Unless I caught some sort of break, next year every classmate BUT ME would attend college.  The more I thought about it, the more upset I became.  Dating back to 1946, only four graduating SJS Seniors had failed to go to college, all girls.  Legend had it they were getting married, so why bother?  Easy to say when you're rich, but what about me?  As things stood, I was in line to become Number Five, a dubious distinction indeed. 


Taking a desk in the back of the room, I was so upset I was in tears.  Mrs. Anderson, my teacher, asked us to translate a long paragraph of German into English.  Since German was my best subject, as usual I finished first.  However, this time it was for the wrong reason.  My heart wasn't in it, so I gave a brief effort and quit.  So what?  Since I wasn't going to college next year, what was the point of trying? 


I felt so utterly hopeless.  With nothing to do, I surveyed my twelve classmates and wondered what college they would attend.  I started with Katina Ballantyne.  In my opinion, Katina had the best mother in school.  Over the past nine years, I had watched Mrs. Ballantyne mentor her seven children in the hallways many times.  Like Katina, every child was a class leader.  I was convinced the success of the fabled Ballantyne clan was directly related to their mother's brilliance. 

I also watched Mrs. Ballantyne dominate the afternoon Mother's Guild conversations.  The Mother's Guild was a group of SJS mothers who met several times a week to plan parties after home football games, proms, book fairs, fund raisers and social events.  Conducting their affairs in plain sight in the Commons Room, Maria Ballantyne was invariably a fixture in the center.  Very impressed, I considered her the most influential parent in the school. 

My hero worship had begun in the 4th Grade, my first year.  Following the divorce, I was incredibly insecure.  My mother's insane marriage to the abusive alcoholic caused me great anguish.  So did her manic-depressive behavior.  Seeing her racked with sobs, there were times I actually worried she might kill herself.  Other times I feared she would end up in the loony bin and be unable to care for me.  That was my biggest fear.  Just the thought of being forced to live with the bitter mistress would be enough to scare the wits out of any kid.  Due to my increasing lack of confidence in my own mother, I wondered what other mothers were like.  Enter Maria Ballantyne.  I noticed her poise.  I saw the respect given by her peers.  I took note how her seven children gravitated to her.  I was a near-orphan.  How could I not be attracted to this caring, energetic mother?

Given my troubled home, I saw no reason to apologize for my adulation.  I was a sad, miserable boy who meant no harm.  Due to my respect for her privacy, I would not dream of bothering her.  Indeed, during my nine years at SJS, not once did I approach her in any way.  All I did was watch from afar.  I would stand unnoticed in a corner and wonder what I could accomplish if I had Mrs. Ballantyne for a mother.  The thought of having an effective mother to motivate and advise me was a tempting fantasy to be sure. 


Every one of the seven Ballantyne children were a credit to their parents.  They were smart, athletic, and outgoing.  Greatly respected by everyone, they were named captains of their sports teams and voted as Prefects by the student body.

My classmate Katina was the perfect example.  A cursory glance at the 1968 yearbook said it all.  Katina was all-conference in field hockey.  She was captain of the volleyball team.  She played lead in The Music Man, she was a Prefect, she was in the choir, she was editor of the yearbook.  Katina was an honor student.  In my opinion, Katina was the most respected young lady in our class.  Despite all this success, Katina remained level-headed and even-tempered.  Extremely popular, I never once saw a streak of meanness or pettiness.  There were no airs, no snobbery emanating from this young lady.  Furthermore Katina's brothers and sisters were the same way... talented, generous, humble, no hint of arrogance. 

I watched Katina for the same reason I watched her mother... I admired both of them.  Unfortunately, following my father's snub, I caught myself staring at Katina with bitterness for the first time.  I did not want to dislike Katina; she was a sweetheart.  But I could not help myself.  Katina's father was a prominent doctor.  He was the first person hired when famed cancer research center M.D. Anderson opened its doors.  I resented Katina because she had come to school today secure in the knowledge her father's lucrative profession would send her to the college of her choice.  The same was true for the other eleven students.  My classmates did not give college finance a second thought.  But what about me?  My father's broken promise meant there was a good chance I would not be going to college next year.  I was incensed over the injustice.  Who at this school has worked harder than me?  Who needs college more than me?  The thought of being trapped at Little Mexico for another year was more than I could handle.  Given the unfairness of it all, my father's snub sent me reeling.  Everyone but me... 



SUNDAY NIGHT, EARLY MARCH 1968, Age 18, 12th Grade



"Women seem wicked when you're unwanted, Faces look ugly when you're alone."  -- The Doors, People are Strange

Following my father's betrayal, I was convinced the whole world hated me.  I told no one what my father had done, not even my friend David.  I walled myself off from the world.  Lacking a way to release the pressure of my college dilemma, my bitterness increased daily.  I was tormented with the thought that my classmates went to bed dreaming of fraternities and sororities while I would be sacking groceries at this time next year.

I hated myself, I hated my father, I hated my mother, I hated everyone.  It was me against the world and the world was winning.  In fact, the world was running up the score.  Every Senior but me had parents willing to take care of their children's college education.  This thought caused endless torment.  My father's broken promise was bad enough, but the knowledge that I meant so little to him hurt even more.  I brooded day and night over my miserable fate.  They say Depression is caused by anger turned inward.  That's probably true.  Unable to express my rage towards my father, my mind became twisted badly out of shape. 


The trigger for my second terrible mistake came Sunday night two weeks after my father's bad news.  I was upstairs studying for my Monday German test when I heard my dog Terry yelp in pain downstairs.  I was instantly alarmed.  Terry was getting older and increasingly fragile. 

Terry's cry was quickly followed by loud wailing from the two-year old Mexican boy who lived with us.  I raced down the steps at the same time as the boy's father came tearing out of the kitchen.  I did not see what happened, but my guess is the boy had pulled Terry's leg or kicked him.  No doubt Terry's cry of pain had scared the kid, causing him to holler in fear. 

Upset that Terry had been hurt, I was incensed when the boy's father had the nerve to accuse my dog of biting the kid.  Since he spoke in Spanish, I didn't understand a word he said.  However I got the message.  I was surrounded by the other Mexicans who lived there, all of whom took the father's side and glared at me as if this was my fault.  Considering the powder keg of anger inside me, I was ready to tear the father to pieces when Mariachi Madre appeared just in time to separate us. 


Furious that Terry was being blamed, I raised my voice and told my mother, "Terry didn't bite that kid.  There's not a mark or red spot on him.  I say that little brat hurt Terry."

With the child screaming like a banshee and five angry Mexicans glaring at me with hostility, my mother barked, "Richard, for once can we please skip the argument?  The kid will live.  Take Terry upstairs and be done with it."

Given the language barrier and lack of a witness, what was the point of arguing?  I decided to cooperate, but that didn't mean my anger was going to subside.  Seething in my bedroom, I found myself unable to resume studying for my German test.  I was so angry at my mother for this ridiculous Little Mexico situation, I was ready to burn the house down.  Just then all that infuriating Mariachi noise began blaring from downstairs.  Fiesta Time at Little Mexico!  Realizing it was futile to control my anger, I closed the German book and took Terry for a long walk.  A very long walk.  The strong chance I would still be living here next year was more than I could tolerate.  When I returned, I was too depressed to study, so I went straight to bed. 



MONDAY MORNING, EARLY MARCH 1968, Age 18, 12th Grade


Unprepared for my German test, I called in sick the next day.  Call it a mental health day, something I badly needed.  Mercifully, the house was quiet for a change.  No soccer games on TV, no singing and dancing to Ranchero music.  I opened my German book and began to study.  Unfortunately, I was still upset about last night. 

That is when I hit a roadblock.  20% of the test required a type of memorization I resented.  I had no issue with memorizing vocabulary, but I drew the line at memorizing the names of famous German authors and their widely acclaimed books.  Wolfgang Goethe, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, etc.  I didn't have anything against learning about these people.  In fact I enjoyed our class discussions about these men.  This was like English class where we discussed philosophy, psychology and other interesting ideas.  Friedrich Nietzsche was my favorite due to his deeply cynical views of life

However, in my opinion, this was not Language, this was Literature and I saw no need to memorize it.  That is what encyclopedias are for.  If they wanted to test us, better to have us write an essay in German about one of the men.  Bitter, I decided to cheat on this section alone. 


People do dumb things when they are mad at the world.  My father's broken promise was just the tip of the iceberg.  The animosity I felt towards my mother over her ill-advised decision to turn the house into Little Mexico had robbed me of any remaining patience.  I was worried about college, I wasn't sleeping well, I didn't have an appetite, my dog had been hurt and Little Mexico was a source of constant irritation.  It was impossible to study over the loud music and shouting voices.  I worried how they treated my vulnerable dog when I wasn't home. 

They say overwhelming frustration causes self-destructive behavior.  No argument from me.  When you can't hurt the person you are mad at, you hurt yourself instead.  All that anger has to go somewhere.  The stress I felt was so oppressive, I snapped.  I decided the world had been unfair.  Consequently, the injustice of it all entitled me to do whatever I wanted.  This gave me the right to make a bold statement.  This was the moment I decided to cheat on the Literature section of my German test.

"I, Rick Archer, hereby declare I am entitled to skip memorizing stupid stuff I will never need later in life."

It did not matter that no one would hear my protest.  I would do this for no other reason than to be perverse.



TUESDAY, MARCH 1968, Age 18, 12th Grade



When I awoke on Tuesday morning, one would think a good night's sleep would bring me back to my senses.  Nope.  I was still determined to go through with this ill-advised.  Prominent in my thoughts was the utter impossibility of being caught.  Just to be clear, I anticipated my teacher would allow me to take the test alone in a deserted classroom.  Considering this is what Mrs. Anderson had done in the past, no reason to expect her to change.  If so, I was absolutely certain there was no way in Hell I would ever be caught. 


As expected, during German class on Tuesday Mrs. Anderson told me to meet her later this afternoon in this classroom during my Study Hall period.  I liked Mrs. Anderson.  Always cheerful and very complimentary of my work, she was one of the many fine teachers who went out of their way to offer support.  I knew Mrs. Anderson liked me.  As well she should.  I worked hard in her class and gave her infinite respect.  This is why she trusted me.

At lunch time, I decided to cover my bet.  What if Mrs. Anderson changed her mind and asked me to take the test in Study Hall instead?  I would not dream of cheating in Study Hall with all those prying eyes.  My scheme depended on being totally alone in our German classroom.  Just in case, I briefly studied the information anyway.  In other words, I knew enough to get most of it right without cheating.  As it turned out, I made 95 on the test.  Had I not cheated, I would have made a 90.  In other words, this elaborate farce was worth 5 points.  But making a better grade was not the point.  I was cheating as a form of protest, a chance to thumb my nose at a cruel world.  Besides, there was no way on earth I would ever be caught, so who cares what I do.  This was my own private ceremony.

When I got to the classroom around 2:30 pm, Mrs. Anderson was waiting.  Handing the test to me, she said, "When you're done, just drop it off at the office."  Then she left the room.  Convinced she would not return, I decided to go through with my protest.  I sat alone behind a windowless closed door.  Our classroom was located upstairs in the most remote corner of the school.  Lacking a hallway, there was no passing traffic to worry about.  Nor would anyone visit the room at such a late hour.  Mrs. Anderson had indicated she wasn't coming back, so I had nothing to worry about.  Besides, in the unlikely event someone came up the noisy wooden stairs, I was certain to hear them approach.


Thirty minutes passed without a sound as I took the test.  I handled the vocabulary and translation segment without problem.  After finishing the Language and Translation part of the test, I turned my attention to the Literature section I objected to.  Okay, this is it.  First I answered the questions I knew the answer to.  Then I pulled out my book and quickly began to copy the five or six book titles and author names I did not remember.  Needing only a glance to refresh my memory, it would take one minute to open the book and close it.


20 seconds after I opened my book, a classmate named Bob Franklin threw open the door and walked in.  No warning, no knock, Bob just burst in. 

Oh my God, what is he doing here!?!  Had I heard Bob coming up the stairs or if he had knocked before entering, I could have closed my textbook ahead of time.  No such luck.  His sudden entry caught me red-handed.  However, maybe he wouldn't notice.  Although my book was wide open, I gambled he would assume I was in here doing homework.

Bob froze the moment he saw me.  By his startled expression, I could tell he had no idea anyone was in the room.  Embarrassed at interrupting me, Bob apologized.

"Rick, I am so sorry to barge in like this!  I'm sorry I didn't knock.  I didn't know you were in here." 

"Uh, it's okay," I stammered.  "What are you doing here?"

"I was in Study Hall with German homework, but I couldn't find my book.  The last place I saw my book was in this room during German class earlier today." 

Unfortunately, I was sitting next to the desk where Bob was headed.  Sure enough, I saw his book nestled in the storage space below.  As he approached, his path took him right past my desk.  Seeing him near, I panicked and closed my book.  Dumb move.  Noticing what I did, Bob made sure to look down.  When he saw the test on my desk plus the open textbook, his expression changed in a flash.  Based on his puzzled look, Bob was not sure what he had seen, but he could tell it didn't look right.  Bob did not say another word.  He grabbed his missing book, turned his back and abruptly left the room.  I sat there stunned.  I did not know if Bob would report me, but I definitely did not like the departing look on his face.

Oh my God, what have I done?  And how could I have ever been so stupid?


So much for the Faith and the Virtue, our school motto.  My Virtue was in short supply today.  St. John's had drilled the importance of the Honor Code into my mind the moment I entered the school nine years ago.  I knew for a fact they enforced this code seriously.  There had once been a star athlete who cheated on an exam and had been expelled.  Given that I had committed a serious violation of the SJS Honor Code, I expected to pay a very severe price if Bob turned me in.

It was not just the penalty that I feared, it was the look on Mr. Salls' face when he learned what I had done.  There was not a single person in this school whose respect was more important to me.  In a manner similar to Mrs. Ballantyne, the woman I admired so much, I had been powerfully drawn to Mr. Salls from the moment I first met him in my Freshman year of high school.  I would not call him a father figure.  He was too remote for that.  However he was definitely my favorite person to study.  A brilliant teacher who carried himself with the same dignity as an army general, I respected him more than any man I had ever met.  However, Mr. Salls also had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian.  Now that he was Headmaster, I had no reason to expect leniency.



MARCH 1968, Age 18, 12th Grade

the hidden hand of god


Deeply shaken, I quickly finished the test.  Afterwards I sat there trying to make sense of what had happened.  I was beyond incredulous.  There were two coincidences in play. 

What were the odds that Bob would forget his book on the same day I would take my makeup test in this room?  One in a thousand? 

What were the odds Bob would walk in at the exact moment to catch me?  One in a million? 

When the two coincidences were added together, the odds seemed astronomical. 


Oddly enough, I was more concerned over the Supernatural overtones of this event than I was regarding my inevitable punishment.  Yes, of course I feared the wrath of Mr. Salls.  But what about the Wrath of God?  I could not think of a single "Realistic" explanation for the split-second timing necessary for Bob to catch me. 

Bob's uncanny timing could not possibly have been more devastating.  I assumed Bob had been doing his homework in Study Hall.  Unable to find his German textbook, he checked out of Study Hall to retrieve it in our classroom.  Each period was 45 minutes long.  Bob had at most a one-minute opportunity to catch me.  So I suppose that gave him a one-in-45 chance.  But that was not the only curious detail.  Why would he forget his book TODAY?  Why didn't he notice it was missing earlier?  Why did he burst in rather than walk in like a normal person?  Why didn't I hear him stomping up the stairs?  After I added up all the reasons why this should not have happened, I concluded my calamitous downfall was a near-impossible event given the laws of probability. 

That left only one answer.  I decided Bob had been guided by the Hidden Hand of God.  Deeply suspicious that God had intended to teach me a lesson, I was in awe at the possibility I had just witnessed a case of Divine Intervention.  Full of goosebumps, I sat there in futile exasperation.  This was way too weird for an 18-year-old boy to handle. 


Starting with the curse on Adam and Eve for disobedience, I knew the Bible was full of stories where God had punished evil doers.  But why me?  It was not like I had hurt someone.  I was an insignificant kid guilty of nothing more than a serious case of bad judgment.  It was incredible to consider the possibility that I was being punished by none other than God Himself.  Well aware of the seriousness of this line of thinking, I took a close look at the circumstances. 

I had been completely alone in an upstairs room in the furthest, most distant corner of the school.  There was at most a narrow one minute window for someone to catch me.  No one but Mrs. Anderson knew I was in there and she didn't care.  But maybe I was wrong.  If so, did Mrs. Anderson send Bob to check on me?  No way.  The look of surprise on Bob's face when he walked in was genuine.  So was his apology for barging in.  Furthermore, why would I be under suspicion?  I was an Honor student.  German was my best subject.  Since I had not been caught cheating before, why go to special lengths to catch me now?

Besides, even if I was under suspicion, why would a teacher recruit a student to do the dirty work?  Why not just have Mrs. Anderson walk in unannounced and survey the situation?  Or better yet, if she was suspicious, all she had to do was insist I take the test in Study Hall.  Furthermore, how would Bob know when to bust in?  The door did not have a window and it was closed.  This second story room had windows, but someone would need a ladder to see in.  This was ridiculous.  I was just being paranoid.  Why would anyone feel the need to conduct surveillance in the first place? 

Given that no one was able to see into the room, how would someone guess what would be the best time to enter?  Should Bob come in at the 10 minute mark?  Or the 20-minute mark?  How would Bob know which of those 45 minutes to make his move?  If he guessed wrong, I would never have been caught. 

Furthermore, why didn't I hear Bob coming?  I certainly had no trouble hearing his stomping footsteps when he left.  Given how he barged into the room, Bob was in a hurry.  So how did he manage to come up those rickety steps in total silence?  Why would he tiptoe? 

Ultimately this event violated my sense of the Physical World so badly that I became deeply suspicious.  After a considerable amount of thought, I concluded this was either a freak coincidence or an extraordinary Supernatural Event.  So which one was it?


I was not a religious person at this time in my life.  I did not attend church and I was far too worried about my college problems to give God a second thought.  However, after being caught red-handed in a near-impossible way, I began giving God a great deal of thought. 

With the memory of that incident fresh in my mind, I wondered if Bob's sudden appearance was Supernatural in origin.  Was it possible for an invisible being, an angel perhaps, to telepathically contact Bob to orchestrate my demise?  Perhaps Bob had been guided to my room for the purpose of catching me cheating.  Although this scenario was impossible to prove, the likelihood of this coincidence was so remote I could not help but wonder if God had deliberately intervened to teach me a lesson.  (If so, it worked.  I have kept my vow to never cheat again.) 

There was something else that bothered me.  Given that it was uncharacteristic for me to cheat, where did that crazy idea to cheat on this test come from in the first place?  Let me put this another way.  When a robber needs money, he thinks of stealing.  He steals because he is used to stealing.  I was not used to cheating.  I only cheated because some weird thought had come into my mind.  It was scary to think this, but as things stood, I wondered if God or another invisible being put that dumb suggestion in my mind to cheat, then sent Bob over at the right time to catch me.   


Everyone assumes that "Divine Intervention" is wonderful.  However, maybe there is a flip side.  Has anyone ever considered Divine Intervention can also be used to teach hard lessons?  The Lord's Prayer asks God to lead us away from temptation.  However, based on this cheating experience, I had every right to ask if sometimes God deliberately leads us astray for His own purpose.  Comparing the race track story to the cheating story, it seemed to me I had proof that God intervenes in the affairs of man in different ways whenever He chooses to.  In Hindsight, I can report this bizarre incident marked the birth of my belief in Fate.  I did not reach this conclusion for many years, but the wheels were definitely set in motion right here. 

For those who are Non-believers, I admit there are valid psychological reasons to explain why I cheated.  So surely my guilty conscience is what caused me to pretend God planted the suggestion in my mind.  Think what you wish.  If skeptics prefer to dismiss this bizarre event as mere coincidence and write off my explanation as delusional thinking, that is their privilege.  But one thing remains clear.  I was out of my mind to take that risk!   What did I stand to gain by cheating?  I was gambling 5 points on a meaningless test versus nine years of stellar reputation as one of the smartest boys in my class.  The only reason I went through with it was the certainty that there was no way on earth I could be caught.  "No way on earth."  That sounds just like the Titanic, the ship that even God supposedly could not sink.   My guess is God can do whatever He wants. 

Self-destructive behavior is very difficult to understand.  Given the risk involved when compared to how little I stood to gain, what I had done was absurd.  In the days to follow I asked myself over and over why would I lose my mind like that.  All speculation aside, I am sorry to say I will never know the true origin of my foolish decision.  However, this was not an isolated event.  Some very strange things were soon to follow.  After a great deal of thought impacted by a lifetime of experience, I stand by my belief that this was a Fated Event created by the Hidden Hand of God.  I now believe there will be times in every person's life when we are rendered "stupid" as a way to teach us a hard lesson.  Let me add that illustrious writer J.K. Rowling has hinted at a similar belief. 

"Talent and intelligence will not inoculate anyone against the caprice of the fates."  -- J.K. Rowling



MARCH, 1968, Age 18, 12th Grade



As I feared, Bob did turn me in.  No surprise there.  I deserved it.  Moreover I would have done the same thing had the situation been reversed.  But here's what makes this story even stranger.  I was never punished.  That in itself is crazy.  Caught red-handed, there could be no doubt I was guilty.   Well aware what I had done was wrong, I was ready to accept whatever punishment Mr. Salls saw fit to deliver.  However, he chose to spare me.  The following day Dunham Jewett, Head Prefect, tracked me down in the hallway.

"Rick, there was an odd incident yesterday I have been asked to speak to you about.  You were seen with an open book while taking a German test.  I know how good you are at German.  In fact, I consider you such a great student that I cannot imagine someone of your TALENT needing to cheat.  Don't worry.  You may consider the matter closed."

Dunham patted me lightly on my shoulder, then walked away without another word.  Obviously he preferred not to discuss the matter further.  It was over in 20 seconds.  Paralyzed by shock, I fixated on the way Dunham had stressed the word 'Imagine'.   He made it sound like it was inconceivable to suppose I had cheated.  That was a very curious conclusion considering Bob had gotten a good look at my test right next to an open book turned to the subject material.   My mouth fell open at the sheer audacity of Dunham's approach.  He did not accuse me of cheating.  Nor did he ask if I had cheated, a question that would have really put me on the spot.  Instead Dunham had complimented me!  In his opinion, I was too smart to even bother considering the thought.  I scratched my head in confusion. 

What in the world is going on here?  After careful thought, I decided Dunham had acted on orders from Mr. Salls.  I based this on something Mr. Salls had said back in September during his pathetic attempt to interest me in applying to Johns Hopkins.

"Johns Hopkins University is on par academically with Rice University.  For that matter, Hopkins is just one notch below the Ivy League schools.  In my opinion, Johns Hopkins is a perfect fit for a student of your TALENT."

My "TALENT"...  Hmm.  Due to the curious wording, I assumed Dunham had been coached by Mr. Salls.  That made sense.  Only the Headmaster had the authority to let me off the hook.  Although I was relieved to escape punishment, that did not mean the guilt went away.  The shame was unbearable.  Mr. Salls had been lenient, but surely in the privacy of his own thoughts, I had deeply offended him.  My Headmaster was a stern man well known as a disciplinarian.  Painfully aware of other students who had been suspended or expelled, I did not understand why he had spared me.  Over the past three years, I had been one of the hardest-working students in his German class.  I did this specifically because I wanted so much to earn his respect.  Now in an act of blinding stupidity, I had surely lost that hard-earned respect.  The stigma was unbearable.  The guilt from letting this esteemed man down was so excruciating, I desperately wanted to knock on his office door, fall to my knees and beg his forgiveness.  Maybe if he understood, he would forgive me.  But I lacked that kind of courage.  Deciding I had burned my bridges here at St. John's, my thoughts turned to college as the only way to restore my disgraced reputation.  No one had ever needed a fresh start more than me.

I was going downhill fast.  Unable to play sports due to my blind eye, unable to date my pretty classmates due to my low social status, my face scarred from acne, forced to live in a madhouse, forced to work after school because my father was a jerk, the list was endless.  Indeed, St. John's had turned into High School Hell.  Every day I was consumed with bitterness towards my classmates for their carefree approach to college.  Everyone but me!  Over the past four years, the only thing that kept me going was the thought of college.  Why else would I study so hard while my affluent classmates partied?  Golf, tennis, shopping trips to the mall, beach houses, country clubs.  For me, college was the only way I could escape this terrible loneliness that enveloped me.  College meant escape from my mother, escape from Little Mexico, escape from feelings of inferiority whenever I compared myself to my ultra-confident classmates.  However, unless I could find some way to pay the exorbitant tuition at Georgetown, I was out of luck.

I have one striking memory from this time.  I suffered from an extreme case of tunnel vision.  For some reason, I felt like it was Georgetown or die trying.  After my father's betrayal, I had every right to be disappointed.  However, I do not know why my desperation was so intense.  So what if I couldn't pay for Georgetown?  All I had to do was sit out a year and reapply to the University of Texas for the following school year.  If I waited one year, by working full-time at the grocery store I could easily pay for UT out of my own pocket.  However, the thought of waiting out a year was unbearable.  So, you say, why not start in January in the second semester?  Here again, for reasons I will never understand, that thought never occurred to me.  I thought I was seeing an entire school year go down the drain. 

Determined to escape Little Mexico, my impatience rendered me psychologically incapable of accepting any alternative.  I deserved a scholarship, of that I was convinced.  But how was I supposed to obtain one?  My friend David had me convinced that Georgetown would not dream of giving me a scholarship unless my parents cooperated with financial aid forms.  In that case, my father's hefty salary was a serious deal-breaker to any claim I made of destitution.  I also knew for a fact my father would never cooperate.  As for my mother, given the bitterness I felt towards her, I did not want her help.  But how was I supposed to pull this off all by myself?  How was a teenage boy acting alone supposed to explain his bizarre home situation to some anonymous financial aid person at Georgetown? 

"Um, Mr. Georgetown, sir, it is true my father makes a boatload of money.  However, he uses that money to send my half-brother and half-sister to private school.  He has made it clear that I am on my own.  My father has no intention of helping me." 

"I'm sorry, young man, but how am I supposed to know you are telling the truth?  Money doesn't grow on trees.  If you wish to be considered for scholarship, tell your father to fill out the forms like everyone else.  We need to verify your status."

I imagine Mr. Salls could have solved the problem.  He had contacts with college administrators across the country.  However, I was certain I had burned my bridge with the the cheating incident.  I did not dare go anywhere near him.  God forbid, what if he asked me to explain the cheating incident?  Bottom Line, I was totally on my own.  Which was a real problem because my batting average hovered at zero.  Nevertheless, I had to try.  Desperate to find a way to pay for Georgetown, I cooked up a grand scheme called "Foot in the Door". 

Here is how the plan worked.  I could not afford to pay tuition for an entire year at Georgetown.  The breakthrough came when I realized I did not have to pay for the entire year at once.  Since I had barely enough money to pay for one semester, I would use every last cent to enroll at Georgetown and take my chances.  At some point I would make an appointment to speak to a Georgetown financial aid officer in person and beg for a scholarship.  If the man said no, at least I tried.  But I did not believe that would happen.  I was certain my good grades plus a heartfelt face-to-face would convince someone I was telling the truth and decide to help. 

$5,000 tuition plus $1,000 room and board was $6,000 a year.  That was way beyond my reach.  However, $3,000 for one semester was a possibility.  $2,000 in savings, my father's $400, plus $1,000 per year Jones Scholarship.  Even if the Jones Scholarship was broken in half ($500 per semester), I was close enough to enroll for one semester in September 1968.  Age 18, I assumed I could do this without needing my mother's permission.  Since I saw this plan as my only way to escape my home situation, it was worth the gamble.  If worse came to worst, I would drop out after one semester and ask Uncle Dick for a Spring and Summer job at his computer company.  In the meantime I would apply to the University of Texas for September 1969, the following school year.  Or for that matter, I could apply to the University of Virginia using resident status.  If I going to waste a year, any place was better than sticking around at Little Mexico.

Looking back, this was actually a fairly good plan.  However, first I had to win the Jones Scholarship.  Not a problem.  I was a shoo-in.  Or so I assumed.  Unfortunately I was plagued with the same premonition of doom that had haunted me prior to my father's $400 rebuke.  As the clock ticked down, the fact that no one at my school had said a word to me felt like a very bad omen.



THURSDAY, MARCH 14, 1968, Age 18, 12th Grade

the Jones scholarship outcome


My dread was justified.  On Thursday morning in mid-March, I gasped as I read the newspaper announcement that Katina Ballantyne had won the St. John's award for the class of 1968.  Stunned, this terrible news cut like a knife through the heart.  There goes my last chance to go to Georgetown.  Considering I already thought the world was being unfair, my sense of injustice was off the charts after this latest reversal. 

Considering Katina came from a wealthy family, what on earth was going on?  This made no sense.   Grasping for any kind of reason to explain why I had lost, I turned white when a horrible thought came to mind.  What if Mr. Salls had done this to punish me for the cheating episode?  Why bother with a nasty cheating scandal?  Bad for the school's reputation.  Easier to punish the loser by denying him the scholarship that rightfully should have been his and put Katina's pretty face on the next SJS Alumni magazine.

Oh my God, what have I done to myself?  My last chance to pay for Georgetown next year was gone and it was my own fault.  All that work down the drain.  Consumed with self-hate, I fell to pieces.  Little Mexico, my father, my mother, the cheating mistake, and the ignorance of not applying to a college I could afford were bad enough.  But the worst was saved for last.  With every fiber of my being set on going to Georgetown next fall, I was stunned to discover my senseless cheating mistake had eliminated my last hope.  Distraught and unable to forgive myself, I sunk into catatonic depression.  I told absolutely no one.  I did not tell David nor did I did not tell Mr. Curran, my teacher friend who was very concerned about me.  I did not tell my mother; she had no idea what was going on with my life.  I was completely alone on this.

In Hindsight, what scares me is how utterly mixed up I was.  People wonder at the high rate of suicide in high school and college.  I hate to say it, but it makes perfect sense to me.  Young people lack perspective, especially those like me with no one to turn to.  They don't seem to realize that bad fortune often turns around if one can be patient and keep working through hard times.  I was a tall, strapping boy who possessed self-discipline and a powerful work ethic.  I was about to graduate near the top of my class at the toughest school in Houston.  Given these blessings, it did not make a bit of sense that I was thinking of ending my life.  Indeed, I had a bright future ahead if I could just weather the storm.  However, I was my own worst enemy.  Filled with hate towards myself, the pressure was killing me.  It was all I could do to carry on. 

Over the next week I went to school, I went to work, I went to bed.  I spoke to no one unless forced to and brooded constantly.  Suffering through the worst depression of my life, if anything my state of mind just kept getting worse.  Indeed, my mood was so precarious, I teetered on the precipice of a nervous breakdown.  Let me tell you something.  Self-hatred is an incredible burden.  All I thought about was my desire to hurt myself.  I cringed as thoughts of suicide drifted in and out of my mind.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not suppress those thoughts.  I was so badly defeated at this point that one more mishap would have surely pushed me over the cliff.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not escape my misery. 

Six days after learning that Katina Ballantyne had stolen my last-gasp chance to go to college, the strangest thing happened.  Just when things seemed the worst, the last person I ever expected to see appeared in the doorway at my grocery store.  It was Katina's mother. 

Do my eyes deceive me?  Am I so screwed up that I have begun to fantasize?  However, as the woman came closer, sure enough, it was her.  Mrs. Ballantyne had just walked in my store. 

This cannot be happening! 

I was so stunned, I immediately went on Supernatural Alert.




Chapter two: 



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