Ted would be 57 this year. I say "would" because I haven't spoken with him for more than four years, and have no real proof that he's still alive. A couple weeks ago I got it in my head to ride my bike the 20 miles to his home that was being built at the time I saw him last. I don't even know if I got the address correct. I rang the doorbell, my forehead covered in sweat despite the coolness of the day.
Ted instructed me, for several years, on the organ, a beautiful tool landed here on this mortal coil from nowhere else but the heavens above--there can be no other explanation for its sound and existence in all of Christian liturgy. Its presence speaks of power and of glory and of forgiveness and of the grit that mankind waddles through on any given day. The triumph gets blown out of those pipes and into the souls of men.
Ted was raised by a housewife mother named Shirley and a Methodist priest father named Laird. He had a run-in with polio in his youth, forever damaging his ability to walk without discomfort, or with normalcy. These were the days when polio was thought contagious to any breathing the same air. Before the age of 10, Ted had spent almost two years in a hospital, in an air tent, away from touch, away from family, friends, love. A freak, thought of as a goner from the get-go. But he persevered. He has drawn two separate pictures in words of each of his parents to me. In one, they are the caring people you'd expect from a progressive faith, encouraging the rights of women and tolerance for those who were different. They were godly. Ted was different. In the other, they were distant, stoic figures, carved of marble, staring at him through plastic sheeting, distorted, distant. A childhood duality never fully overcome.
In spite of his crippled legs, he lunged heartily into physical therapy to increase his mobility and use. For years he would go, three times a week, to the therapist who would put him through the most mind-numbing pain possible, tortures with the hope of regrowth. With time, he was able to walk, his left leg shooting out wildly with each step, the ankle uncontrolled, his right bearing most of his weight. Even at the age of 53, you could still see him lose the battle to hide a wince when going up a staircase, a malady carried for decades. Music was a way to perform as admirably as any football star, and so it became his channel. The organ was his most prized target, the Brobdingnagian features bending to his nimble fingers like no jog ever would.
He went to school endlessly, his face forever buried in books on music, earning him two Masters degrees, both in the genre of music. A success story of a broken, raging youth piped into purposes of renewal. A renewal he never really met.
There's a bar downtown, here in Denver, called My Brother's Bar. "I'm gonna go grab a drink over at My Brother's," we'd say. It was like family, there: light, classical music through soft speakers, quiet conversations, good, thick beers on tap. Ted and I became regulars there, a pitcher of Newcastle or Guinness split between us, over which he would spill his fears. I became the therapist he never had, and he always paid for the drinks. Sometimes, after a particularly good conversation, he would drive us both to the church where he is organist, and we would play music, late at night, in an echoing sanctuary. Music talking to us through the instrument, calming the nerves. A conversation with the immortal. The church was called Hope.
Some nights, when the alcohol would remove from his mind all barriers, the weeping would be inevitable. He would talk of things he never could express before, and I, his closest confidant, would listen and support as much as I could. For when the music was inaccessible, he would reach for the bottle, in classic alcoholic mannerisms, to calm his blistering rage. "I'm gay," he told me once. "I've never been able to tell anyone that." My own sexuality was never in question, my ears apparently the safest thing he'd ever met. "I love you."
Ted never answered the door. Neither did Shirley, with whom he has lived since Laird's death in the 80s. He knew I could not give him the physical relationship he so desperately needed. No one, really, could. But I rode my bike to what I thought to be his home, and left a letter I had written the last sleepless night. In it, I included my new telephone number and address, that he might write back, or call. He has not. And I cannot blame him.
Four years have passed, and his tools have changed. It is likely that he still takes pay from the church where he was organist, likely still attends to his alcoholic needs from time to time. But when I could not be the channel he so desperately needed, the direction likely changed. I still wonder if his aged mother is still picking her careful steps through plush carpeted floors or if she, too, left Ted to deal with life alone.