Timothy didn’t try to meditate during lunch or between classes. The latter breaks were too brief, and he did have a few other boys with whom he tended to eat lunch. Though he was relatively taciturn, he took part at least somewhat in their conversations, and he behaved fairly normally. He’d discovered that keeping separate completely, drawing off into a shell, would be more likely to single him out for just the sort of behavior that might lead to him exploding. So, he cultivated acquaintances with whom he could interact superficially and briefly, but with whom he resisted becoming closer, not planning to do anything after school or on weekends, saying his family situation wouldn’t allow it.
That night, though, after dinner, he once again set his timer for six minutes, sat in his chair and closed his eyes.
He found that having food in his stomach was a real distraction, because it made his mind feel foggy and groggy, almost stupid. He had a hard time paying attention to his breathing, even when he tried to use the fact of his full belly as a focus. Still, he was able at least somewhat to keep himself seated, feeling his breathing, feeling the threatening torpor of a large evening meal.
After that meditation, he decided that he would try in future to wait until well after dinner to do so again or try to get it in before dinner. Or maybe he should simply try not to eat so much at dinner, or to eat different things. He wondered what might be the best kind of food to avoid the distracting gloopiness in his body. Perhaps he would ask Mr. Maclean about it.
On Tuesday, he set his alarm for seven minutes, and he did his breathing first thing in the morning, before classes, and before dinner instead of after. He considered trying a fourth time after, but he again realized that the feeling of a full stomach—though he’d eaten a little less than the night before—was detrimental.
On Wednesday, he set the alarm for eight minutes, and before class started eight minutes before the bell. If he kept up the increase, he was soon going to need to come to school a little earlier. Or maybe he would just hit a practical wall and decide only to do so much before class. There was never quite as deep a sense of focus in class; he always caught himself being more distracted by his fear of social issues than ever by his own straying thoughts—though when he thought about them, he always finally realized that the perceived social issues really were merely his thoughts, and he hadn’t had any issues with his classmates. This revelation continued to surprise him and to intrigue him. This was surely something worth learning about, and a habit worth trying to break. Anticipating trouble could make it more likely to happen; Timothy was not too young to realize that.
On Thursday his timer was nine minutes.
On Friday it was ten minutes.
He found that it wasn’t really any more onerous to try to focus on his breathing for ten minutes than for five; though he continued to catch himself becoming distracted over and over again, it wasn’t too disheartening, and he was even becoming a little gentler with himself when he did catch it. And he had never found sitting still to be hard, at least not since he’d been very small.
As Friday evening closed, and Timothy finished a last, extra ten-minute session just before bed, which he found nicely conducive to relaxing for sleep, he was also mildly excited to go visit Mr. Maclean the next morning, despite what he had been through after the meeting the previous week. In his mind, he did not associate his traumatic oath to his mother with Mr. Maclean, though the man had been a kind of trigger for it. Instead, he saw it as a mere happenstance, something that might have occurred earlier, if Dr. Putnam had spoken with his mother directly about his thoughts, or later in some other circumstance. And he noticed this as a fact in his mind, and that in itself was interesting, too.
Timothy’s mother was polite and pleasant with Mr. Maclean when she brought Timothy to the Vipassana Center. He’d been a bit nervous that she would have a negative impression of the man, and would show it, because Maclean had been the one to reveal to her Timothy’s thoughts that had so horrified her. However, that didn’t seem to be the case. In fact, she was more relaxed by a significant margin than she had been on their first meeting, which Timothy supposed made sense. Perhaps she might even be thankful to Mr. Maclean for having revealed to her such an important piece of information, which Timothy’s doctor had not shared.
Timothy told Mr. Maclean that he’d been increasing his meditation time by a minute a day, which had not been specific to the instructions but hadn’t been forbidden. If he’d worried that the man would be disapproving, that worry was unrealized. If anything, Mr. Maclean was impressed and pleased, and he asked Timothy to share with him what, if anything, his experiences had entailed that he thought worthy of sharing.
Timothy told him most excitedly about his recognition that he was the source of his own anxiety about people possibly teasing or bothering him while he doing his meditation before class—such as it was—and how interesting it was to realize that his own thoughts could trigger the feelings he so strongly felt.
Mr. Maclean looked at him intently for several seconds after that revelation, and then with his tiny smile he said, “That’s a really deep insight into what’s going on in your own mind, and after only a few days of meditation. I’m pretty impressed. And it’s also quite true. Many of the sources of our own suffering are purely born of things we imagine or anticipate…of thoughts that arise within our minds. In fact, the Buddhists say that all suffering is born of such thoughts, attachment in particular, and that the goal of meditation is to become free from attachment and free from suffering because of that. Of course, then they also say that, if you can do that, you’ll break free of the cycle of karma and rebirth, and will be able to avoid reincarnating, but we don’t need to entertain notions like that to agree that suffering comes from how we think about things, not from the things themselves. Or, as Shakespeare put it…I think…‘there’s nothing good or ill but thinking makes it so’. Something like that, anyway. Or as Milton put it, ‘the mind is its own place, and of itself, can make a Hell of Heaven, a Heaven of Hell’.”
Timothy had heard of Shakespeare, of course, and he thought they were going to be reading one of the man’s plays later that year in his English class, but he wasn’t aware of Milton. However, something about Mr. Maclean’s words and quotes didn’t quite seem correct to him.
“But…people suffer all the time because of things that they aren’t thinking,” he said. “I mean…if someone gets sick, or if they get in an accident, or someone beats them up, it’s not because of what they’re thinking. Unless you think that everything that happens is, like, invited by people because of the way they think, but that doesn’t make sense to me.”
“No, nor to me,” Mr. Maclean replied. “Though there are forms of the notions of karma that really do claim that all suffering in your current life is because of some kind of karmic debt from a previous life. But I don’t see any reason to take that assertion seriously.
“But there is a real distinction, certainly in meditation practices, and Buddhism and the like, between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical thing…it’s a message, sent from one part of our body to our brain, and it’s important. Pain—and avoiding it—helps keep us alive. But suffering is a subjective state, and it can happen when the body is not in pain at all…it can happen in the physically healthiest person in the world, in fact. Surely, you’ve heard of rock stars and successful businesspeople who have every worldly comfort and joy that anyone could possibly hope for, and yet are deeply miserable. Think of the musicians and movie stars and so on who end up destroying their lives through drugs, who can’t maintain relationships, who make everyone around them miserable. Some of them even kill themselves, like poor Robin Williams did a few years ago.”
Timothy didn’t like to dwell on the subject of suicide, so he didn’t follow the thread of celebrity self-destruction. Instead, he asked, “But isn’t pain and suffering really just…two kinds of the same thing?”
“Not necessarily,” Mr. Maclean said. “Physical pain is a signal of dysfunction, at least when it’s working right, and it’s an important fact. We’re built not to be able to ignore it easily, and for good reason, but when looked at from outside, it’s just a signal, just a message, being interpreted by the brain. There are meditators who actually are able to use specific feelings of pain as a focus for their attention in meditation, as you’ve been doing with your breath, and it can—in some of them—even become fascinating. I wouldn’t want to encourage someone to be too enthralled by pain as a focus of experience, though it is intense, but to be able to see it for what it is, as a state of mind reacting to a state of body, and it can be very interesting. And that can, sometimes, take much of the actual suffering out of the experience of pain.”
Timothy blinked a few times before saying, “That’s…I think that’s way past anything I could ever do.”
“Maybe,” Mr. Maclean said. “I certainly don’t find it easy myself, and I’ve spent a lot more time meditating than you have. But at times, on retreat, you can find yourself sitting and start getting an uncomfortable feeling in your back, or your legs, your knees, your neck, whatever…and if you’re already in the right state, you can find that the discomfort is much less difficult because you’re not fighting it. Fighting against pain, struggling not to feel it, to push it away, is another kind of attachment, or so the Buddhists would say, and that’s what makes you suffer.”
Timothy, worried about offending the man, said, “You don’t sound like you really believe that all the way.”
Far from being offended, Mr. Maclean smiled more broadly and responded, “Well, I may be expressing a bit of sour grapes in my lack of persuadability on that. I’ve never quite been able to achieve that level of distance from the fact of my pain, at least not for very long at a time, so I develop automatic arguments against it. Sort of like someone who’s allergic to cats and so decides that they just don’t like cats, they aren’t a cat person, cats are not good pets, and so on. It’s justification after the fact. In actual fact, I do find the statements about attachment and resistance to pain being the source of at least a lot of our suffering when we’re in pain to be convincing. But it’s a very high hurdle to put that fact into practice and use it. Maybe if I had some kind of chronic pain—if pain were my ‘normal’ state of being, you could say—I’d get enough practice in that I could reach that point. But I think I’m just not that skilled.”
Timothy tried to digest the man’s point, which he supposed made sense. Turning things back to his own case, he asked, “What do you think about…about anger or about rage and meditation, or…or attachment I guess?”
The smile disappeared from Mr. Maclean’s face, and he rubbed his lips with a finger a few times before saying, “That’s an interesting question. I’ve been thinking a bit more about it since we met, and since Dr. Putnam spoke to me about your situation. It seems to me that we might take a similar approach to your rage and anger—maybe to rage and anger in general—that we’ve just been talking about with pain.”
Timothy, confused, asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well…in general, I would say that anger, for most people, is the equivalent mentally of suffering, not of pain. In fact, you could almost say that anger is a kind of suffering. Most of the time, when people are angry, especially when they stay angry about something, it’s because they’re ruminating on something. They’re trapped in their thoughts about what made them angry, and they identify with those thoughts, they follow them and repeat them to themselves, replaying the events they see as causing the anger, reminding themselves of whatever the perceived insult or injustice was, all the while not realizing that they are the ones who are making themselves angry…or at least are perpetuating it. No one can avoid ever getting angry about anything—or so I suspect—but it is possible not to stay angry, if a person can just look at their own thoughts and see the ones arising that are maintaining their anger. And, as you’ve probably begun to learn at least a little, once you pay attention and recognize a thought as a thought, as something just arising within your consciousness, it loses its persistence. It floats away along with the feeling of anger, though the physiology of anger can take a little longer to diminish.”
Timothy found this at least mildly interesting, but he didn’t think it applied to his own situation. His experiences were not ones in which he was ruminating on something and staying angry. His anger tended to be more like an explosion, something that occurred suddenly and catastrophically, and mulling things over and dwelling on the negative was the least of his problems in those moments.
Mr. Maclean seemed to know this, for he went on, “Now, your situation is rather different from that kind of thing. I mean, there’s a reason Dr. Putnam thinks it’s a medical problem. You actually don’t come across as an angry person in general. I’ve seen and met angry teenagers. At one point, I probably was one. You’re not. There’s not a trace of pouting or grumpiness or ‘bad attitude’ on your face, not since I’ve been interacting with you. Your posture’s open, your gaze is direct, you’re leaning a bit forward. You don’t seem like an angry sort of person.”
Timothy, embarrassed to be described in the terms Mr. Maclean was using, and not to have realized the little details of his own expression and seated position, fidgeted a bit, but he decided that to try to change his way of sitting would be silly and even more embarrassing. Trying to focus instead on what the man was saying, he responded, “Well…I mean, I’ve kind of tried not to be an angry person, you know?”
“Yes, I think I do,” Mr. Maclean said. “It’s rare to see such a young person who’s obviously been thinking about self-improvement at such a level, but I know your situation, your issue, has made that important to you. And to go back to what I was saying…I think your ‘rage’, your episodes have more in common with physical pain than they do with suffering in the Buddhist sense. They seem to be something that arises on its own, in a way, almost like…like a mental cramp, maybe, like seizure of some kind.”
Timothy said, “They checked me for seizures before, though. I guess I don’t have them.”
“No, of course, I didn’t mean that literally,” Mr. Maclean said with a small laugh. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be unclear. I just meant that they seem to happen to you, at a different level to the way thoughts just happen, though that is what thoughts do. Maybe they’re more akin to…to a feeling of nausea, say, when something’s bothering your stomach. A deep process that intrudes itself, much more so than ordinary thoughts do. If you want to hear a silly analogy, which probably betrays more of my own nerdy background than I might be wise to share, your situation reminds me just a little bit of The Hulk, the comic book character. Are you familiar with those comics?”
“Uhh…not with the comics,” Timothy said. “But I’ve seen some of the movies. He’s the big, green, super-strong guy, right?”
“Right,” Mr. Maclean said, chuckling in a way that was clearly self-deprecating. “And though he’s obviously just a fantasy character, there are interesting parallels. The man, Dr. Banner, is a scientist—pretty level-headed, very smart, all that. But with the right triggering events, something that makes him particularly upset or agitated or, of course, angry, the Hulk comes out of him, a creature almost entirely defined by rage, and completely outside of Dr. Banner’s control. And he is incredibly destructive, powerful, not able to be reasoned with. And his actions utterly disrupt Dr. Banner’s life. But he certainly doesn’t cause them consciously.”
Timothy could see where Mr. Maclean’s point was, but he didn’t really like the comparison. He thought that comparing himself to a comic book character sounded in some ways too egotistical and in other ways too dismissive. He was worried that Mr. Maclean, or he himself, wouldn’t be able to take his issue seriously when thinking about it that way. And his situation, his problem, was terribly serious, especially since the oath he’d taken the week before.
He considered telling Mr. Maclean about that, but decided it wasn’t really a good time.
Habitually deferential to authority figures, which he considered Mr. Maclean to be, Timothy said, “I guess I see what you mean.”
“Okay,” Mr. Maclean said, watching Timothy closely. “Well, not to try to stretch the analogy too far, but I think in one of the movies at least, Dr. Banner tried to engage in various kinds of meditation or something similar, to see if he could control and prevent his anger from ever occurring…or at least of putting it more under his conscious control. Now, it’s not a good idea to generalize from fictional evidence, of course, since fiction is fiction, and may have nothing at all to do with the real world. But I think that perhaps meditating, as you’ve already begun doing quite well, might at least let you learn to identify mental states that tend to trigger your personal…well, ‘rage monster’, I guess, might be a valid term, though I don’t want to make you feel too negative.”
Timothy, sensing that the man wanted some real feedback on that point, said, “No, it’s fine. I…well, it’s not too wrong, anyway, so whether it makes me feel bad doesn’t really matter much.”
With a thoughtful frown, Mr. Maclean said, “That’s a very…well, thoughtful attitude to take, at least, though I wouldn’t want you to be too dismissive of your own feelings. In any case, hopefully we can have you learn, though meditation, to recognize and identify those mental states…those thoughts…that tend to trigger your rage and learn to avoid them. Because correct me if I’m wrong, they don’t just happen out of the blue, am I right? They happen in reaction to events in the world around you, don’t they?”
“Yeah,” Timothy admitted. “They don’t just pop up out of nowhere. I mean, usually, it’s when something happens where…where someone’s teasing someone else, or bullying someone, or doing something stupid and mean, either to me or to someone else. I get, like, just so mad at them for being jerks, and then I…I kind of just take off from there and it goes sky-high.”
“I see,” Mr. Maclean said. “So, in a way, it’s almost a response to your sense of personal justice, or vengeance, or whatever you might call it.”
Timothy preferred “justice” if it came down to it. He would rather not think of himself as motivated by a desire for revenge, because that seemed frankly wrong. However, he didn’t think it was a point worth dwelling on, since something else was more pressing. He asked, “But you don’t think that we…that we’re going to have to, like…activate, or trigger, or set off one of my…fits, or whatever, to be able to learn what causes it, do you? Because I don’t know that I really like that idea.”
“No, I can understand that, and I don’t blame you,” Mr. Maclean said. “I’m not really interesting in trying to poke a sleeping bear in order to try to figure out ways to train it not to get mad when poked. Quite apart from any harm you might do to my place, or to me—which I’m not really worried about, anyway—it would cause you suffering, I’m quite sure of that, and that’s exactly the opposite of what I’m all about here.”
Not particularly liking the analogy to a sleeping bear, but honestly unable to find fault with it, Timothy simply said, “Well…that’s good.”
Mr. Maclean gave his tiny smile, which looked a bit rueful to Timothy, as though his discomfort with the analogy had been plain to read on his face. With a nod and a breath, Mr. Maclean said, “What I really hope is, that as you learn to meditate and become more aware of how your own mind works, you’ll come to two situations. First, you’ll come to recognize that everyone in the world is just as much a victim of identification with the substance of their thoughts as you are—and not just to know it intellectually, but to feel it in your bones, so to speak—and that therefore you won’t tend to feel quite the same kind of indignation at wrongdoing that seems to trigger your rages. After all, you wouldn’t become enraged in response to…I don’t know, a bee stinging you, would you?”
Timothy thought with great discomfort back to the alien mindset he’d had when he’d encountered the wasps building their nest on the back of his house. He didn’t want to bring it up with Mr. Maclean, because it was terrifying in a different way than the other aspects of his problem. But it did lead him to wonder whether he might not, under the wrong circumstances, really react to a bee sting with rage. It would be silly and childish, and probably dangerous for him—at least he’d be in danger of attacking a hive, and possibly getting stung to death in response, which was not a death he would ever have considered a good one—but it wasn’t impossible.
Still, he got Mr. Maclean’s point, and it was true that, when not under the influence of medication, he’d never gotten angry at anything other than his fellow humans. He didn’t know if that was good or bad, but people did seem more culpable for their deeds than other creatures did. He said, “I don’t think so. A bee is…just an animal. And not a very smart one, I don’t think.”
“Right,” Mr. Maclean said. “And from the proper point of view, every human being is just an animal, too. And, when you get right down to it, though we’re smarter than the other animals on the planet, it’s fair to say that we’re not all that smart, either. Most people would never choose to be in a position where they do things they know to be wrong, I’m convinced of that, but we are so lost in ourselves, so filled with the suffering that entails, that we do many irrational things, and they cause further suffering to us and to those around us.
“The other thing I hope we can achieve is that, even if you don’t quite reach a metta type sense of lovingkindness toward all your fellow beings that allows you honestly not to become angry about their deeds—which is a very high hurdle, to be honest. I’ve never gotten close to it. But if you become able enough to know yourself, to be familiar with your own mind, you’ll recognize and see the dangerous patterns of thought, and you’ll not have to do any trial-and-error type experiments to prevent them, because…well, because the ones that trigger your rage simply won’t ever gain traction. That’s what I hope.”
Timothy liked the sound of that, even if he thought it too was quite a high hurdle in its own right. He tried to smile, himself, recognized that it was an effort and so stopped trying too hard, and he said, “Well, it sounds like it’d be worth a try, anyway. And it’s gotta be better than the Paxil. At least there aren’t any side-effects to meditation. Right?”
“Well…not many,” Mr. Maclean replied. “And usually not anything like what you might experience with pharmaceuticals. But it is possible to find oneself in disquieting places in one’s own mind. But that’s one of the reasons its beneficial to have guidance, and even to meditate in groups. The support of others, and of guidance, can help steer you away from places you might not want to go.”
Timothy thought of the icy landscape he’d experienced after his confrontation with his mother the previous week. That was a place he preferred not to visit if he could avoid it. And he certainly didn’t ever want to meet the thing whose face he’d had a flash of there again. It was no effort now for him to smile when he said, “That sounds like a good idea.”
“Excellent,” Mr. Maclean said, his own smile broadening. “Well, I think I’ve bored you enough for the moment with the discussion. Do you want to try a little more guided meditation today? Do you feel up to trying fifteen minutes at a time already?”
“Sure,” Timothy said with a shrug. “But won’t you be kind of bored?”
“Boredom tends to be a state born of being lost in thought,” Mr. Maclean replied with a laugh, “so if I get bored, it’s a good thing for me to become aware of in myself as something to work on. But I’ve done plenty of guided meditation sessions that are longer than that, and it’s not a problem I usually have. I won’t be talking constantly, but I’ll chime in occasionally just to try to assist you in staying focused and mindful. I don’t think you’re going to get bored, at least, which is refreshingly unusual for a new meditator.”
Timothy was frankly surprised by that as a possibility. He said, “No, I don’t think so. I haven’t felt bored yet, and I don’t see why five more minutes would make a difference.”
“Brilliant,” Mr. Maclean declared. “So, if you’re ready, why don’t we get going?”
With that, Timothy sat back in his chair—once again noticing that, as Mr. Maclean had pointed out, he’d been leaning a bit forward during their entire conversation—and he closed his eyes.
For the next fifteen minutes, he underwent the same process he’d been going through a few times a day that entire week, and he was pleased to find that it was no more difficult there in Mr. Maclean’s shop. If anything, it was easier to focus with Mr. Maclean’s voice directing him, reminding him of the things to which he might pay passing attention, to which he might give notice. He again noted, as a passing thought, that Mr. Maclean avoided mentioning his bottom when describing the way the chair felt against his body, the pressure of gravity, but he recognized the thought for what it was, and even recognized the combined embarrassment and amusement he felt as thoughts triggered by that thought, and he noticed them and let them go, returning to the breath in his nose. This time he was able to do so without feeling much tension, perhaps because he was able to be amused by it, and so less angry at himself.
And he noticed himself noticing that amusement, and his own curiosity about the different reactions, and he briefly focused on them and let them go.
He sat quite still for the fifteen minutes, and as before, he found that he experienced the interior of his mind as a kind of multidimensional landscape. It was, thankfully, less physically real seeming than the icy cold one he’d felt when his mother had confronted him the week before, and it was also less placid. It felt akin almost to some volcanic surface, turned into higher dimensions, with various unpredictable things bubbling up here and there at random intervals, colors, sounds, feelings, memories, utterly imaginary people and places, and a sense of floating through a space that was as infinite, perhaps, as the universe, but far less empty.
And noticing himself noticing these things, he returned to the breath in his nose, but not without a bit of resistance. He enjoyed experiencing that internal space, that multidimensional universe, more elaborate and unconstrained than any computer simulation. Perhaps at some point at home he would allow himself more time to explore its ins and outs.
The feeling of the breath in his nose, when he remained focused on it, became hypnotic. His sense of time became difficult to put a finger on. It was true that fifteen minutes felt no more difficult than ten or even five minutes—fifteen was merely three fives in a row, after all—but with Mr. Maclean there, present, it felt different, deeper but also shorter, quicker to come to an end.
They finished the fifteen minutes much to Timothy’s surprise. He hadn’t even noticed the sound of the clock ticking as he had before. He felt he had somehow gone deeper than before, and he told Mr. Maclean about that feeling. They discussed some of the trivia, some of the ins and outs, some of the theories of meditation that various scholars and mystics had looked at in the past, and then they decided that Timothy would have one more fifteen-minute guided session.
It went as well as the first, if not noticeably better, and Mr. Maclean’s smile was broader at the end than it usually was. He told Timothy that, though he didn’t like to be unreasonably optimistic, or to raise false hopes, he thought that Timothy’s facility with meditation made it seem like this really might be a good thing for him, might really not just help him avoid and control his problem with rage, but could really help him have a better life than he might have otherwise. Who knew where it would lead?
Before Timothy’s mother or anyone else arrived, they discussed the possibility that—not the next weekend maybe, but perhaps the weekend after that—Timothy might decide to arrive a little bit later and try to join the Saturday morning group meditation session that followed the time of their meeting. Timothy felt a bit anxious about the prospect, not sure how he would feel with a roomful of people who were all older than he, all meditating together. He worried that some of them might see him as strange, and he also worried about feeling judgmental about them. He realized that this was a prejudice—it was surely no worse to go to a meditation session on Saturday morning than it was to go to a church on Sunday—but he felt a kind of knee-jerk thought that such people might be very woolly, very New Agey sorts, and that he might find them irritating. He didn’t want that.
But he recognized this thought, at least, for what it was: an unjust assumption and condemnation of a group of people, sight unseen, and he was able to hold it in his mind as what it was and let it go. It took a bit of effort—that part frustrated him slightly—but he was able to do it.
He told Mr. Maclean that he would think about it.
Before his mother had returned from whatever it was she was doing that Saturday morning, the young woman who had arrived first the previous week showed up. Timothy thought she was earlier than she had been the last time, but he couldn’t be sure. She couldn’t have been much older than her mid-twenties, he thought, though perhaps her slender frame made her look younger than her years. Timothy guessed—or wondered—whether she might be a vegan. She certainly was thinner even than most young people seemed to be. She was even thinner than practically every girl at his school.
After she put her bag down and greeted Mr. Maclean, she turned toward Timothy and said, “So, you’re here again this week, huh?”
Surprised to be addressed by her directly, unused to young adult women paying him any attention at all, Timothy said, “Uh…yeah, I guess I am.”
“I’m Rhonda,” she said. “Rhonda Hollis. I’m a student in Bill’s Saturday meditation class.” She held a hand out, almost masculine in her assertive attitude, at least to Timothy’s impression.
Having to force himself to shake her hand, and quite self-conscious about whether he was applying too much or too little pressure, or whether his hand was damp or dry, warm or cold, Timothy said, “Uh…hi. I’m Timothy. Timothy Outlaw.”
“Ooh, cool name,” the woman said with an unaffected smile. “You should star in an action movie.” She released his hand, which Timothy felt she’d held for an uncomfortably long time. Then the woman—Rhonda, apparently—asked, “So are you going to be joining the Saturday session?”
Timothy stammered a bit, and Mr. Maclean rescued him from his awkwardness by saying, “Not this week, I’m afraid. Timothy is a private student for the moment, though he may decide to join the group later on. But that’s entirely up to him.” He smiled at her as he said it, but Timothy felt that he was trying subtly to encourage her not to pressure him, and he was grateful for that.
“Well, I hope he does,” Rhonda said. “It’d be nice not to be the youngest person there. Not that I really mind, but…well, it’s good to have people trying to learn about mindfulness earlier in their lives.”
“I do agree with that,” Mr. Maclean said. “But everyone has to go at their own pace.
“I guess so,” Rhonda said, but Timothy wasn’t sure she agreed. He felt a curious intensity in her gaze, as though she suspected there were more to his being there than simple curiosity and desire to learn. This was correct, of course, and it made Timothy feel slightly defensive.
He was rescued this time by the arrival of his mother, who walked through the door of the shop, this time carrying a small shopping bag, with a logo Timothy didn’t recognize. She looked happier than she had the previous week, and she greeted Timothy and Mr. Maclean with a smile, asking how everything had gone, saying that she didn’t need a whole run-down, that she would talk with Timothy about it later, and then asking if Timothy was ready.
Timothy noticed that Rhonda Hollis made no move to introduce herself to his mother, and indeed had worked her way back toward the corner of the shop, reaching for her bag as if to get something out of it. He did see her glance up at them a few times, but he couldn’t read her expression.
After leaving that weekend, Timothy and his mother stopped at a diner downtown—Timothy wondered what the difference was between a diner and a more general restaurant, or if there was one. The prices were not bad there, but Timothy didn’t think it was someplace they could go every week sensibly. Still, his mother seemed happy to indulge this time, and she seemed unconcerned with the minor expense. Perhaps she was trying to make up for the unpleasantness of the previous Saturday.
It still being fairly early, Timothy ordered a breakfast-type meal, but his mother got a sandwich and a soda. They ate together pleasantly, his mother talking about the shops she had visited. Timothy guessed, based on her happy response this week, and the fact that she’d bought something, that she’d been too distracted last Saturday by the revelations of his thoughts of self-destruction to enjoy herself. He wondered whether she’d even gone inside any stores before, or if she’d just wandered about, trying to process the revelation. Perhaps she’d only sat in the car, waited for the time to pass, and had gotten out at the end.
Timothy felt guilty about having put her through that. And now that he had promised, albeit under duress, that he would never take advantage of his previously imagined emergency escape hatch, Timothy knew he had to be as serious as he could be about learning to control himself. There were no other acceptable options.