Timothy didn’t tell his mother about what had happened, but he was all the more eager to hear word from Dr. Putnam about this mindfulness meditation person, hoping as fervently as he could allow
himself to hope that he or she would be available, affordable, and useful. The very kindness of the police officer—and of the boy he had pulled out of traffic—was harder on Timothy’s conscience than would have been the most unfair abuse from the most hardened and cynical of lawmen. He hardly felt that he merited the kindness; it felt to him like just one more debt that he owed to the universe.
He did not speak again to the boy he’d pulled out of the way of the errant car. He never even learned his name. In fact, for the next several weeks, he pointedly took a different route both to and from school and waited five extra minutes before leaving in the afternoon, just to avoid any possible encounters, any shows of gratitude, or—God help him—any wish that might be expressed by the boy to become his friend. He felt a bit guilty about this, since he was quite sure that the boy would want to convey positive thoughts and feelings and would probably feel bad that he wasn’t able to give a formal thank-you to Timothy, but if he knew how self-hateful Timothy would feel in receiving such a thing, the boy would probably have been willing to let it go. This avoidance might have hurt the boy’s feelings in some minor way, but that was just another bit of—relatively minor—damage that Timothy chalked up to himself.
Word from Dr. Putnam came late that Thursday evening, almost at a time that was unreasonable to call. Timothy’s mother—home and already having finished dinner and, with Timothy’s help, having cleaned up—answered the landline in their apartment, saying the doctor’s name in greeting when she recognized who it was.
Timothy, sitting in the living room, pricked his ears up when he heard this, though he tried not to be obvious in his attempt to eavesdrop on his mother’s end of the conversation. He knew she would tell him all about it in moment, anyway.
She sounded hesitant and puzzled, perhaps skeptical, at first, but as she spoke, it seemed she warmed to the doctor’s words. Timothy wasn’t too surprised—he knew quite well how reassuring, candid, and convincing Dr. Putnam could be. By the end of the conversation, his mother laughed without any apparent irony, and then thanked the doctor, writing something down on a notepad next to the house phone, before hanging up and turning to Timothy, smiling.
Timothy found himself almost ready to laugh, so pleased was his mother’s expression; he expected her to tell him a joke. His mother was a serious person, almost to a fault, but when in the mood, her sense of humor could be both incisive and quite hilarious, partly from the aspect of surprise it always delivered.
Instead of any joke, however, she just said, “Well, I’m not sure how he fenagled it, but Dr. Putnam talked this meditation person into teaching you for free.”
Timothy did not quite follow what his mother was saying, still trying to catch up with the lack of a joke. Or perhaps her words were the joke. Was she going to follow up telling him that meditation guru actually was going to charge a reasonable rate? Or was she going to say that the person would only work for a charge so exorbitant that both Dr. Putnam and Timothy’s mother had found it frankly ridiculous and dismissed the notion, laughing together and agreeing to go back to the drawing board?
If that were the case, though, why would she have written something down?
As a moment passed and no further words were forthcoming, Timothy prodded his mother with a grunt of, “Huh?”
This drew another laugh from her, and she said, “I know, right? Who the heck does anything for free in the world nowadays?”
Timothy waited for the punchline for another moment before shaking his head and saying, “Wait a minute. You’re serious?” He didn’t know what to think. He had a moderately dim view of people in general—at least some of the time—but first he’d encountered a truly understanding and positive police officer who could have arrested him but instead had sent him along with good wishes and even said he would try to look out for him…and now some stranger, a friend of a friend of his doctor, was going to provide training in meditation for free? There had to be some kind of catch.
“I’m serious,” his mother replied, chuckling again and looking down at the paper. “And he’s even going to see you on Saturday, so you don’t have to miss any more school.”
“Wait,” Timothy said, unable not to feel a bit suspicious. “What…why would he do that?”
His mother’s smile remained, but she must have guessed some of what was going through Timothy’s head, because her face took on a tinge of sadness as she said, “Well…there are good people in the world, Timothy. More than we probably ever realize. And…well, Dr. Putnam said that this guy is a very serious believer in the usefulness of what he teaches…even though he’s a ‘Hindu/Buddhist/Taoist atheist’ as Dr. Putnam said. I’m not sure how that works.”
Timothy had heard the words his mother used to describe the person to whom he was planning to go for instruction, and he had a vague idea of the meaning behind them—some more than others—but the combination certainly wasn’t reassuring. As far as he knew, there were conflicting religions involved in the description, including a final conflicting lack of religion. He was wondering what kind of scam artist, or worse what kind of truly believing fanatic, he might be falling toward.
Still, Dr. Putnam wasn’t a reckless individual, and he certainly cared about Timothy’s well-being, that much was clear. Even more so, Timothy’s mother would not readily expose her son to even a modest risk of dangerous ideas or people, of this Timothy was almost as sure as he was of gravity. With a deep breath, he said, “Okay…that sounds a little…weird.”
“I know,” his mother said. “But Dr. Putnam spoke to the man, apparently at some length, and he seems pretty interested in trying to see if he can help you. The meditation person, I mean. Well, Dr. Putnam, too, of course, but you already knew that. He was pretty convinced that the meditation person was more down-to-earth than you might think. And also that he seemed pretty sharp.”
Still trying to absorb this information, not really processing it yet, Timothy just asked, “And the guy thinks he might be able to help me?”
His mother shrugged, but she did so with a smile. “I guess we’ll find out. But at least it won’t cost us anything but time and gas money. I can even do a little shopping around the area when we go. I know about where it is, and it can be kind of fun to window shop there. And I think there’s a Wal-Mart nearby. Maybe we’ll get lunch.”
These last words were a little more dubious than their predecessors, since Timothy knew his mother disliked wasting money on things she saw as frivolous indulgences. But who knew, maybe the surprising fact that she wasn’t going to have to pay for Timothy’s training—if that was what one called it—had felt like a surprise lottery winning in her head, and she figured she could spend the money she was expecting to spend on him on something more pleasurable.
Timothy was conflicted. For her sake, he’d like for her to feel she could indulge in something that would make her feel happy. But for his own, he’d really just as soon be a net-zero cost to her. In his mind, this was about as good an outcome as he could hope for. He never would have told her this, but his greatest hope was to try to reach adulthood without being a crushing detriment to his mother. He wasn’t too optimistic about the prospect.
“Well…okay,” he said, not sure what to expect at all. Finally, he added, “I hope it helps. I’ll do my best and work hard at it.”
His mother gave another of her sad smiles that hurt Timothy to see, and she said, “I know you will, Timothy. You always do. You always make me proud.”
This, Timothy thought, was not just a little white lie but a gargantuan white lie. Still, he tried to take it as intended.