Timothy tried to put his mother’s ultimatum and her reactions—as well as his own feelings about the interaction—out of his head. He didn’t quite succeed, but at least he was able to become calmer about the situation. His mother, too, seemed to revert to at least a simulacrum of normalcy for the rest of the afternoon, a simulacrum that gradually morphed more and more into the real thing over the next day or so. She didn’t bring up the subject again, though for the rest of Saturday, at least, she didn’t seem to be trying to force herself to be cheerful.
Timothy, not able to forget for long, or to ignore the change those few minutes in the car had wrought, was pensive. His situation had subtly but drastically altered. Before, at an unconscious level at least, he had taken a species of comfort in the knowledge that, if things should become too much, if his rages became too frequent and more uncontrollable even than they already were, he had what his mother had called “an escape clause”. If he found that his rage was too completely the center of his life, stealing all deep pleasure from every other aspect of it, he could escape into permanent oblivion, choosing some method that would create the least possible mess and fuss, and his problems would end. It was not a happy notion—it never had been—but there were times when it was a profound comfort, and as he’d gotten into his teenage years, it had become more and more attractive. There had previously been no moral impediments to the idea, at least. He was not religious, though he knew there were religious people who considered suicide an unforgivable sin. He did not fear being consigned to Hell for having ended his own life; surely any kind of benign and compassionate God would have recognized the meaning behind his action and would at least not have punished him permanently for trying his best to protect others from harm.
Now, though, things had changed. Now he had an interdict far more potent than any biblical text or priestly exhortation. Now he had an oath that he had given to his mother, that he would never kill himself, not for any reason, ever. So, he had to become even more serious in his efforts to learn to control himself, to cure his rage if possible, and if not, at least to govern it. For now, the alternatives were not to control himself or to die, but to control himself or harm others in what he feared would be ever-increasing numbers.
He had to admit to himself that, though he understood his mother’s point that he could have himself committed or become imprisoned—perhaps as a consequence of his rage, someday—he thought death would have been preferable to such a choice. His desire was to be a good citizen, to contribute to the world, to be part of making it a better place in some tiny way. Going to prison, especially, was surely the hallmark of the failure of that intention. It was better than hurting innocent people, but that wasn’t saying much.
Maybe, just maybe—he allowed himself to think this, at least—he would find a way to control himself completely, and it would be something that could be taught to others. Maybe he could discover some secret to rage that would help the rest of the world to be a less angry place at some distant time. He didn’t allow himself to entertain such thoughts for long, but at least they gave him some added comfort in the situation in which he was now imprisoned, in which he must live as long as he could, all while trying not to explode and damage those around him.
He was far from sure that mindfulness would be the key to this, but it was at least promising. Mr. Maclean had certainly seemed to think it might be useful. Maybe, eventually, he would learn to do something like that meditation that fostered and encouraged loving, kind feelings toward everyone, and that could make his life immune to rage. It was difficult to conceive of that, however, and in any case, he thought it was probably good to start at the beginning, as he already had.
So thinking, he decided to be at least a little more aggressive about his meditation studies than Mr. Maclean had suggested. Though he didn’t try to meditate any more on Saturday, being afraid of the mental snowscape and that one little flash of the monster from his “sleep paralysis”, early on Sunday morning he set the timer on his watch to five minutes and tried to replicate the experience he’d had with Mr. Maclean.
He tried to remember the words Mr. Maclean had spoken—the soothing tones and quiet assurance, but most importantly, the instructions—and he found that it was reasonably easy to come close to the same effect. His folding metal desk chair was not as comfortable as the cushioned seat in Mr. Maclean’s place, but that turned out not to make much difference. In fact, he was intrigued to notice that the different feeling was something he was able to notice as interesting when he followed the remembered instructions to be aware of the sensation of gravity holding him in his seat, of the pressure of the chair against his legs, his back, and his buttocks.
As before, his mind wandered almost constantly in the brief five minutes, but he caught himself doing it at least, and was able to bring himself back to the breath. The first few times he felt desperate when he caught his wanderings, the new oath his mother had drawn from him creating a sense of urgency that, in the confines of his head, felt near panic.
However, he remembered Mr. Maclean’s words and corrected that. By the third time he meditated on Sunday, he was able to least not to be so forceful in his return to the breath, and he felt less distracted because of it, ironically.
Monday morning, he woke up a bit earlier than usual, and he set his watch for six minutes this time instead of five.
That morning, still recovering from sleep, he felt that his mind wandered even more, but in between, when he settled on the pleasant burning of the air passing through his nose, at times he again experienced a benign sense of the size of the internal landscape of his mind. The Antarctic wasteland that had dominated it Saturday afternoon had given way to a wide vacuum without temperature, an overarching black that became various other colors once he looked at it. It was not an intimidating blackness; it was more like the blackness of space than of a cave, an open, limitless expanse, in which he could travel, if he chose, toward nearly any destination, but in which—perhaps—there would be no limits on the speed or distance of his travel.
Of course, he recognized even this indulgence in thoughts about the space within his mind as a distraction, and he brought himself back to his breath, almost gently. It was hard not to feel both irritation at himself and a little bit of disappointment. Would it be so bad to explore that space? Who knew what he might find there? Might he find the answers to his problem, the source of his rage, and might he see that source as something almost laughably easy to correct?
Or might he instead discover the source of the monster that had tried to crush him on that one horrible night? Might he discover worse things still?
And again, he had left the breath. He pulled himself, a bit less gently, back toward it.
Then the timer went off, and he sighed as he opened his eyes.
That morning at school, before class, in the time when other students were puttering around, trying to copy answers from each other, sometimes legitimately seeking each other’s assistance with certain problems, other times talking about what had been on TV, about some video on YouTube, about some celebrity’s post on Instagram, whatever, Timothy decided to try to meditate in class. The chair at his desk was far from luxurious, but it was not really any worse than his folding metal desk chair at home. He found that resting his hands and forearms on the desk was rather comfortable, better than laying them in his lap, where they tended to feel a bit awkward.
He had no friends with whom he regularly exchanged banter, though he was polite and reasonably sociable, and he did not brush people off if they approached him. He simply avoided becoming anything beyond acquaintances with his classmates. People who were close to you tended to see you at your worst, he knew, and his worst was very bad indeed.
He closed his eyes when there were only about six minutes until the warning bell for class, wanting to keep with his regimen.
It was harder in class even to calm himself and begin to pay attention to the breath in his nose. There was so much noise and activity, there were smells—from the scholastic smells to the perfume and shampoo of girls, to the mild sweat of his fellow students, and presumably himself, and residua of the floor cleaner. He was surprised to find himself noticing it. At least he felt no compulsion to try to pay attention to what his classmates were doing. Though, as he finally did get at least a little bit into his breath, it occurred to him that someone in the class might notice that he was sitting there with his eyes closed, breathing gently and slowly, if not particularly deeply—Mr. Maclean had told him that was not necessary—and might rightly guess that he was meditating. It was not such a mysterious practice, after all.
Anyone disposed toward bullying, toward making sport of the unusual or the different, might be inclined to single Timothy out for his unusual behavior. That person might be inclined to tease him, perhaps to try to break his concentration, to see if they could get a rise out of him.
Of course, Timothy had at least something of a vague reputation in the school as being someone not to trifle with, but such a reputation was very much a double-edged sword. It was at times as likely to incite others as to deter them. Timothy wasn’t worried about being humiliated or hurt—certainly not the latter—but he feared his response to such a bully.
He suddenly realized how his mind had now wandered but was also surprised to realize that he had at last successfully avoided being distracted by the sounds of the class. But it was interesting to note how much he had invented his own anxiety, which he could feel when he paid attention—he felt the slight tension in his arms, in his chest and abdomen, in his face, a dryness in his throat—and that it had its source purely in thoughts of his own that had not originated in any external events. The noises of the classroom around him, becoming louder and more chaotic as class time drew nearer, had not changed in character. No one was approaching him. There was no sign or sound or sense that anyone might be sneaking up to put something in his hair while his eyes were closed, or to yell “boo” or otherwise to try to distract him. He was the one distracting him, his anxiety had come from his imagination, his pre-thought that someone might do such a thing.
He returned to the breath, feeling strangely light with this realization, though he could detect the residual tension of his concern. He wasn’t irritated with himself for the distraction. It was too fascinating to have come face to face with the way he had constructed his own tension.
When the warning bell took him out of his impromptu session, he felt himself smiling slightly.