“Hey, Timmy, do you even have a father,” somebody yelled from across the dressing room.
Timmy didn’t say anything, he just kept on adjusting his pads, as if he hadn’t heard anything. The question was repeated at least once, but when Timmy just got up and pulled up his hockey pants, and put on his sweater, the others lost interest. Somebody turned up the music.
“Born to run” was blasting off the stereo. It was a mixed tape, a pre-game tape, and it was time for Born to Run. Then it was time for “Highway to Hell”, and then, against all odds, “Against All Odds”.
Timmy got it before every game, which is why at this point in the season, in January, he didn’t care anymore. It was almost as much a part of our pre-game routine as the mixed tape was. It had been a little touchy issue at first, though, because his dad was never at the rink.
My dad was the coach, another father was the assistant coach, a third Dad was the trainer, and so on. I counted the Dads at one point, and I saw 13 fathers watching our game, if you count all the ones in the stands.
Anyway. Lots of dads in and around the hockey team, but none of them was Timmy’s. What the rest of the guys on the team didn’t know, though, was that it had been Timmy’s call. Last season his father had come to the games, not often, but every once in a while. The problem was that Timmy didn’t like it. He didn’t think he played his best hockey when his Dad was there, even though his Dad just stood behind the plexiglass, in the corner, and never yelled or anything. He just stood there, and watched the game.
Because Timmy wasn’t sure when his Dad would be there, he was always a little jumpy in the first period, spending every available moment to scan the stands to see if he had come to the game. And once he saw he hadn’t, he started to play.
Now, he told me he had told his father not to come to the games, but he made me swear that I wouldn’t tell the other guys.
“It’s none of their business. I don’t know why I’m telling you, either” he said.
“I won’t tell,” I said.
“You swear? On your Gretzky poster?” he said.
And I kept my promise, I kept my mouth shut, even when the name calling got a little nasty at times, but one look at the Timmy, and mostly the look that he gave back to me, convinced me to keep quiet.
Then one night, or, actually, a Saturday afternoon in March, that first season, I had been benched most of the two first periods, and the coach – my father – told me that I could stay in the locker room and get undressed during the third. Mind you, it wasn’t a big deal. I was happy to take a shower while there still was hot water, and just take it easy before the team came back to the locker room, pumped up with adrenaline.
I took a shower, put on my clothes and walked to the cafeteria to get a Coke, when the bathroom door suddenly opened right into the corridor so that I almost walked right into it. And who would walk out the bathroom, wiping his wet hands in his pants, but Timmy’s Dad.
“Oh, sorry, hi,” he said.
“Hi, sir,” I said.
“Good game,” he said and started to walk towards the front door of the rink, but after just a few steps he turned around, and waited for me to catch up with him.
He put his arm around me.
“Listen, no need to tell Timmy that you saw me here, right? I mean, you know how he is,” he said.
“I won’t tell,” I said.
“I know, just thought I’d bring it up so we’re clear on that,” he added, and walked out the door.
Now that I knew that Timmy’s Dad came to the games, but that Timmy didn’t know that, and that neither one of them knew that I knew, trying to find Timmy’s Dad in the stands became a hobby of mine. He was a taxi driver and worked irregular hours, days, nights, and sometimes a day and a night and a day straight – Timmy told me – so you never knew when he’d show up.
But when he did, he never came until the second period. That way he could either sit in the cafeteria and watch the Timmy at the other end of the rink or walk in and stand right behind the plexiglass in the corner.
He watched a lot of second periods. He’d stand there, almost without moving, and then disappear before the third period began.
Timmy got hurt in one game late in the season. There was a big scramble in front of the net, and when he threw himself onto the ice, and covered the puck with his glove, somebody stepped on his hand. Timmy threw his glove and screamed like I’d never heard anybody scream before. My father ran onto the ice, and our trainer-father ran out, and they put a towel on his hand, and carried Timmy out of the rink.
I picked up his gloves and his helmet, and followed everybody to the locker room. I was the last one to leave the ice, and by the time I got to the locker room, Dad and the others had already called an ambulance, and they were talking to Timmy, calming him down. He was white as a ghost when I saw him, and I heard my father telling him that they would not cut off his finger, that everything would be fine.
The ambulance came and the medics lifted Timmy inside. One of them hopped in with him, the other one closed the doors, and drove away.
Just as Timmy’s ride turned the corner, I saw a yellow taxi light lit up in the parking lot. The car then sped up and followed the ambulance.