“Ted… what’s wrong?” I asked.
Ted bit his lip and swallowed. Was he trying to hide tears? My first thought was that someone close to him had died. I prepared to offer comfort.
“Um… I have some… bad news,” Ted said, almost murmuring.
I stepped back and let him stumble by me as he made his way to the couch. I’d never seen him look so upset. I was getting very worried.
“Ted,” I said as I sat down beside him on the couch. “Talk to me. What happened?”
“Can I get a drink?” Ted asked.
I fixed him a quick Scotch on the rocks. He sipped it slowly and waited, as if letting the calming effects of the alcohol work their magic. Finally, he spoke again.
“I went to the doctor today,” he said. “You know that my back has been hurting a lot since the last race.”
“Yes,” I said. He’d mentioned it once or twice and I could tell it pained him, but Ted was not the sort to complain about anything.
Ted took another sip. “The doctor said the damage is much worse than I thought. I have a bulging disc. If I fall on it again or even put much strain on it then it might rupture.”
I shook my head and reached out to touch his hand. “It’s ok. They can fix that, right?”
“Yeah,” he said. “They can do surgery on it. But I’d be out of competition for at least six months. And then it might never be the same again. If I took another nasty fall it could shatter and that would give me all sorts of pain and mobility issues. I’m in a pretty bad spot.”
I rubbed his hand and he looked at me sweetly. The pain in his eyes was evident and sharp. I hated to see him in such misery. I wanted to help him, to fix this. But even if I’d given him the money (which he probably wouldn’t have taken) for the best surgeon out there, there was only so much doctors could do for an injury. Still it might be worth a try.
“Will insurance cover the surgery?” I asked.
“My insurance is so basic… it might cover some.”
“What if I knew of a way to get the rest of the money?” I said.
He sat his drink down and rubbed my hand with his other hand. It was a nice intimate gesture. Ted even smiled at me warmly.
“Honey, I appreciate that,” Ted said. “But even if I did the surgery tomorrow and then I went against doctor’s orders and continued to race, with me being out that long and my performance thus far—the racing commission said they would revoke my pro card. This is basically a career ending situation. I’m done. That’s it… I’m done.”
It was so sad. And so unfair. Ted was a good man and a good driver. Why was this happening to him? There had to be something I could do.
“Don’t say that. We can find a way. We will just put our heads together and find a way.”
“No,” Ted said. “This is probably the best thing. In fact, I think I’ve been fooling myself. I missed my shot. I’m too old and I am not good enough. I don’t belong out there. I think I’m just going to let it go and find something else.”
It was inspiring to see the way he was handling this. I wondered how much of that was put on for my benefit.
“Too old? You aren’t even thirty yet.”
He smiled and nodded. “In this sport, or any professional sport it is starting to push things at that age. I know guys who do it longer, but those guys are blessed on another level. I have to face the facts that if I was going to get that brass ring and climb to the top, I would have done it by now.”
Hearing those words come out of Ted’s mouth really got to me, how down he actually was. Usually he kept his feelings tucked away, but here he was baring his soul to me. It was touching that he trusted me that much. I wanted him to trust me and I knew in my gut that I could trust him.
“So, what are you going to do now?” I asked.
He sighed and grabbed his drink off the coffee table. He took a sip, let the scotch swill around in his mouth and then swallowed slowly. “I don’t know. This is really all I’ve known my whole life. It’s all I’ve prepared for. But now I guess I’ll have to find a new passion, a new adventure and set my sights on that. I’ll be ok. I’ve got a little bit of money saved. That gives me some time.”
I scooted closer to him and laid my head on his chest. He felt warm and reassuring. I wish I could have the same effect on him, especially right now when he was hurting so badly.