No one knows where Ted is these days. Our freshman year of college he stayed on the sidelines. A strange guy. Painful, tasteless sense of humor. A couple months into the first term us guys were standing in a semicircle in the student commons speaking idly about the young women in our class. One smirked at the rest of us. “Well, I don’t know about y’all, but I know who I’m looking at.”
“What’s her name so I make sure I don’t compliment her on her ass?” Ted’s voice came from behind us like a watermelon heaved over a fence onto a picnic table. We turned in unison to face him. He’d been sitting listening to us for who knows how long. He stood to exult in our imminent laughter, wearing an expectant grin that went from one side of his face all the way to the other.
I took a stand for young women everywhere.
“Dude, what? That’s not how you talk about them! They’re our sisters!” I used a tone of voice you’d use for housetraining a dog.
Ted’s grin crumpled. He slung his backpack over his stooped shoulder and left the room without a word, his face red like I’d whacked him with a newspaper. The guys stood together and watched him leave. “That guy…” I said, and I waited for the others to take up my dudgeon.
“You know he’s, like, adopted, right?” One guy was a friend of one of Ted’s roommates and knew more about Ted than any of the rest of us.
“What’s that got to do with anything? He acts like a creep.” The guys shrugged.
So, that was Ted: a creep. His jokes were awkward; his views were blunt and graceless. People would turn around and find him staring at them. He seemed bereft of basic social awareness. He had academic troubles and heard often from the student discipline board. Sometimes someone would invite Ted to bring something to a barbeque, where we would ignore him, cringe if we thought he might crack a joke, and let him leave without saying goodbye.
Thus went by that year of college. We spent it reading Augustine and Calvin and Shakespeare; we sang Bach and Howells and Tallis in the choir; we talked of Christendom and our Christ-starved, Christ-haunted American culture; we spoke Latin to one another.
A week before finals one of Ted’s roommates mentioned that Ted seemed in a bad way. “Can someone talk to him?” Nodding, I volunteered and we drove over to the apartment. I knocked on the door to his room.
“Ted, can we talk?”
I pushed open the door. He was sitting against one wall; stuck in the opposite wall was a knife he’d been throwing. Empty ramen packets and soda bottles and dirty laundry. Porn on his desk he no longer cared to hide. The air was motionless, stale, redolent of armpits. Here was what his year of college had looked like.
I knelt. “What’s going on, man?” Never had I sounded so friendly. He did not respond. He only glowered at the wall opposite. There was a galaxy of knifepoint nicks in the rented drywall. In the cheap lamplight, I thought I saw tears forming in the lower rims of his eyes. And I thought I felt myself softening towards him. I touched his shoulder and gently repeated something I’d heard in a sermon that we all should be telling one another.
“You know that God accepts you in Christ, Ted,” said a guy who’d spent all year rejecting him. “If you need to talk, you can talk to any of us,” said he who’d gone all year without offering a single kind word. “We’re here for you if you need us,” said one who might've given Ted the time of day if Ted were anyone else.
He shrugged my hand off his shoulder. “Go away,” he said.
I stood up. “It’s your choice, man. But the offer stands.”
On the drive back to our place we consoled ourselves with pious discussion of the dark spiritual place he must be in and so on and so forth. But when I got to my room that night, I pondered my words to him. They felt like chalk in my mouth. I deserved to choke on them. As for Ted, I’ve already mentioned that no one knows where he is these days.