“Don’t put your foot on the brake!”
Come Sunday morning, after an eight-hour shift for Corb the night before, and a Saturday spent cleaning and putting together a rough draft of the epilogue to Late Night Show between episodes of Top Chef , we were ready to enjoy the day, and also, celebrate Ashes 14th birthday. But fate had something more entertaining in mind, unfortunately.
I glanced into the rear view mirror. Corb was looking grim.
We decided to go birthday shopping in the morning, and arrived at the homestead around 12:30, to pick up Theo. Ashes was going to her grandparents for an early dinner, but Theo preferred to spend the afternoon playing Zelda with me. The afternoon sun was burning high in the sky as we left the house.
I noticed the shuddering in the ‘stang about three minutes into the trip, and glanced nervously at my gas gauge. “We’re running low,” I warned Corb, as we passed a crummy little gas station to our left. “Should I stop?”
“Just keep going,” he said, turning up his nose at the gas station. “We should be able to reach the Cumbies.”
But the car kept shuddering, and it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to make it anywhere. Nervously, I checked the busy traffic and turned the car around, trying desperately to return to the gas station that we had rejected. But with every foot that we traveled, our prospects dimmed, and finally, with an eighth of a mile left to go, and the gas station barely in sight, the car came to a complete halt.
“What are we going to do?” asked Theo, in the back.
“Your dad’s going to drive, and I’m going to push,” said Corb, opening up the passenger’s side door.
“I’m going to help,” volunteered Theo, climbing out of the back seat.
Which brought us to where we were: I was sitting in the driver’s seat, being yelled at by Corb to keep my foot off the brake, as he huffed and puffed, moving the Mustang forward on a slight incline, an inch at a time. I watched nervously, glancing at the road in front of us, and then moving my attention back to the rear view mirror. Corb's forehead was drenched in sweat, as he leaned down and hunched his shoulders forward.
He stopped, for a moment, and moved to the sidewalk. I watched him walk a bit, taking in deep gasps of air, and then move back to the rear of the car.
He pushed for another minute, and then stopped. I actually placed my foot on the brake, this time. He moved back to the sidewalk and sat down. I sat there patiently, giving him a moment.
And then, suddenly, from the mirror, I saw him close his eyes and tilt his head back. And then, I saw his body crash down onto the concrete sidewalk, his head, slamming down to the ground.
“Corb, what are you doing?” asked Theo, standing next to him.
Alarmed, I watched as Corb started to twitch and shake, moving about like water approaching a rising boil. Something was seriously wrong. Disregarding the traffic, I opened up the car door and moved around to the sidewalk, where Theo was nudging Corb with his hand.
“Corb, are you okay?” I asked. Theo repeated that. Corb started to moan, and lifted himself up.
“What just happened?” he asked, lifting up his head, and moving into a sitting position.
“You passed out!”
“I feel like I’ve been asleep for hours,” he said. “I was having this great dream. How long was I sleeping?”
“You weren’t sleeping. It was only a few seconds. Let’s get you up and into the car, okay? We’ll get you something to drink.”
“Dad,” asked Theo, “What are we going to do about the car?”
By this point, the gas station was practically within spitting distance. “I’ll get Corb a drink, then I’ll take care of the car, sweetie. It’s going to be okay.”
Together, we supported Corb as he raised himself up, and walked him to the car. He slumped into the seat, clearly exhausted, his hair matted in sweat. I closed the door and then I grabbed Theo’s hand, and we started to make our way to the gas station.
The owner of the gas station was a chubby guy with a thick Spanish accent that was difficult to decipher. It took me a few minutes to explain our predicament, but once he understood, he looked around his space, and handed me a half empty bottle of apple juice. “Go to bathroom,” he said. “Rinse this out. Oh.” And he grabbed an empty plastic container. “And take this, too.”
Together, Theo and I cleaned the containers, and then filled them with gasoline. Theo held the bottle of Sprite that I had purchased for Corb. We headed back for the Mustang. I looked over anxiously, but Corn was actually getting out of the car as we approached.
Theo handed him the bottle of Sprite. “Drink this,” I said, and then glanced down at the containers of gasoline in my hands. “Don’t drink that.”
The three of us moved to the gas tank, and unscrewed it. After locating a piece of paper in the back of the car, we fashioned a makeshift funnel and started draining the containers of their contents. The paper filled with gasoline quickly, but surprisingly, didn’t leak much.
Ten minutes later, we were on our way home. All of us washed our hands, the minute we got into the apartment. After that, Corb lay down on the couch, to rest.
That evening, as we celebrated Ashes’ birthday at the Olive Garden, I received a call from my sister Kerrie, looking to reschedule the outing with my parents. “Oh,” I said, at the end of the conversation. “How is Tommy doing?”
“He’s still a mess,” she said. “Mal has already decided what she wants out of the divorce. She wants all of his 401(k) and $1,500 a month.”
“Well, the 401(k) is just ridiculous,” I said. “Who’s going to get custody of Jack?”
“I think it's going to be joint custody.”
“Hmmm. Well, that’s close to what I pay,” I said.
“But, Teddy, you’re paying for two kids.” And I thought, yes, but he’s making more than I am, too.
But I decided to change the subject. “Weird that she would already know what she wants from a divorce. She just told him Thursday, right?”
“I hope he gets a good lawyer.”
“He’s not, Teddy,” said Kerrie. “He says they’re going to a mediator. And he’s not sure where he’s going to live, either. He’s staying at friends houses, right now.”
“Something’s not adding up,” I said to Corb, long after I had ended my conversation with Kerrie, after a delicious meal at the Oliver Garden, surrounded by friends and family. "Why would Tommy just give up his house like that, and why would he just agree to everything that she wants, like that? And why can’t he live there, until he figures out where to go?”
“Maybe Mal’s not the one who was cheating,” said Corb. “It sounds more like he did something that pissed her off, big time.”
“But to know what she wants from a divorce, already? Weird.”
“Ted, she comes from money,” said Corb. “Those people have the settlement figured out before they get married.”
A pause. “Ted?”
“I don’t want to die,” Corb said. “I’m too young to be thinking about that.”
“You’re not going to die,” I said. “We don’t even know that it was a seizure."
Another pause. "It was really scary, though. Watching you fall down the way that you did...and then, moving about...”
“I don’t want to have any more seizures,” he said.
“Did you ever hear about President McKinley?” I asked. “He was devoted to his wife, but she suffered from epileptic seizures all her life. And there’s this story that one time, at a dinner party, they were talking to a guest, and she started to have a seizure. Without missing a beat, he took his dinner napkin and placed it over her head, until the seizure was over. When she composed herself, she took the napkin off her head and joined into the conversation, as if nothing had happened at all.”
“That’s horrible!” he said, and we moved onto to another subject.
That night, as I turned out the lights and moved into bed, Corb moved his leg over my body and grabbed my shoulder. The evening routine. “Ted?” he asked.
“If we’re at a party and I had a seizure, you wouldn’t place a napkin over my head, would you?”
I laughed. “No, Corb. I wouldn’t.”
I reached for his hand. “I do. I promise. No napkin.” I paused for a moment. “However, if there are any coats nearby...well...”
Corb's calling a doctor today.