And the years marched on and on until another war was raging. Ella and Dan had only their youngest child left living at home, and he was beginning high school. Their daughter was in her first year of college, and Ted, the eldest, was on a break from university, traveling cross-country. He told his parents he was finding himself. They had no idea of what he was going through. Only later did they learn about his intense fear of being drafted and how he was handling the situation.
Like a crazy person, Ted had been using uppers and downers, speed and quaaludes. The goal was to fail the physical exam at the qualifying appointment, if he got drafted to the armed services. He couldn’t share this with his parents or his Uncle Marcus, who’d been a conscientious objector in WWII. His family, on both sides, was opposed to war, but Ted was certain they’d disapprove of his tactics.
Jack heard about his nephew’s plan, such as it was, when Ted visited him on the West Coast that fall. They were sitting at a lively seafood restaurant, overlooking the marina. Jack tried to convince Ted, instead, to enroll in a Canadian university as a way out of even getting drafted.
“A sure way to not have to be a soldier.”
“Not really interested.” Ted put down his fork. “I’ll just flunk the physical if it comes to that.”
Jack, pleased to have time with his nephew, dropped the subject. He hadn’t seen Ted in a long time, and this was the first time Ted was visiting on his own. Jack, searching for conversation to engage Ted, asked about what kind of music he liked. The response was, “I don’ know, all types.”
“We can go hear some folk, jazz, rock, whatever you want.” Sensing he shouldn’t push him too hard, Jack remembered just how difficult life as a young adult could be. Instead, he talked him into eating a little bit more.
After Ted had been staying with his uncle for a week, Jack asked him at breakfast, “What are you up to today?”
“This evening, when I get back from work, I’ll cook us some pasta and we’ll talk,” Jack smiled. “How’s that sound?”
During the day, Jack considered explaining his own path to his nephew, including admitting to Ted that he’d struggled as well. He’d encourage him to try different places to live and various jobs. He would assure him that becoming an adult took whatever time it took.
When he got home at 5:30, Ted was gone, as was his knapsack. There was a note on the dining room table: “Thanks.”
The next that Jack heard was ten days later. He picked up the phone to hear his sister Ella’s cracking voice.
“Ted died.” She was sobbing.
“No. No. That’s not possible.” Jack kept repeating no. Finally, Dan got on the phone.
“He was in a motel room, and he overdosed. His friend found him and called us. Come here, and be with Ella please. I hafta go ID the body and bring him back here.”
“I’ll be there. Soon as I can.”
Together, the family mourned—seven days, thirty days, a year, forever. The community tried to help. There was little to say and nothing to do. Teddy was impossibly young. He was engraved in the hearts of his family. To the community, he was a precursor to all of the youth in the US, in South and North Vietnam, in Cambodia and in Laos, who would lose their lives. In the ensuing decade and beyond, there was war and more war. Consequences of war—head and health heartaches, multiplied by casualties of war—untold in numbers.
Ruth Ticktin taught in WashingtonDC since 1977. Supporting shared stories, she’s the author of: WasAmGoing (NewBayBooks 2022), What’s Ahead? (ProLinguaLearning 2013), and a contributor of: BendingGenresAnthology (2018–19); Art Covid-19 (SanFedelePress)