My man had told me he could get his hands on a basic model Glock handgun for three hundred bucks. His assurance that it would be clean and untraceable didn’t matter to me. You can’t put a dead man in jail.
And that’s what I planned to be in a few days—dead and gone.
My career in publishing had been cut short by senseless litigation. I’d accumulated debt the size of Texas. My mother had just drawn her last breath. I was estranged from my only son and about to go to jail for failing to pay his private college tuition. Worst of all, my wife had told me to find another place to live. She wanted me off her payroll and out of her life.
My heart was shattered, and I was trapped in the maelstrom of depression. What was the point of living?
I scrambled to come up with the money. A ten-volume collector’s set of American Civil War books was all I had left to unload. Thank goodness for eBay. Some zealous guy in Maryland won my auction, and I drove the books to his house the next day. He paid me in cash and made me flush.
The stage was now set for the biggest score of my life.
As I sat alone at the bar of a Washington, DC, tavern, waiting for my benefactor to return, the moment felt utterly surreal. East was west; hot was cold; day was night. But tomorrow everything would change. To mark the occasion, I downed what I believed would be my very last beer, a seasonal brew made by Magic Hat in Vermont and appropriately called Wacko. I’d always found drinking beer invigorating. As it flowed down my throat, the taste of this liquid song of summer refreshed me. This was one thing I’d miss once I was gone, but not much else.
Suddenly, there he was, toting a black gym bag. He played it very cool, waiting what seemed like a dog’s age to remove the Glock. I held the gun briefly under the bar and then stashed it away. Christ, the thing weighs a ton! I realized. He quickly explained how to use it, and I gave him the money. He didn’t pry into my business, and I didn’t volunteer anything. He’d probably read about me soon enough in the Washington Post, I figured.
I planned to drive south to Richmond, Virginia, in the morning. My destination was Hollywood Cemetery, where I was going to sit beneath a granite angel on the family plot overlooking the James River and pull the trigger. Courtesy of those old books I’d been lugging around my entire adult life, I’d be doing the deed in a cemetery that was the resting place of twenty-five Confederate generals. I’d lost all my possessions, my pride, and my dignity, but not my sense of irony.
Before my rendezvous with death, I wanted to fulfill a commitment I’d made to my primary care physician, Dr. Jennifer Beach. I’d spilled my guts to her two weeks earlier about wanting to commit suicide. I’d promised her I wouldn’t do anything until I returned to see her this day. I didn’t owe Dr. Beach a thing, but she’d certainly earned my respect. She seemed like the only person who gave a damn about me, even if it was in her job description.
I entered the medical center and took a seat in the packed waiting room. Dr. Beach emerged, a mere seven minutes behind schedule. I rose and met her, one foot inside the “Patients Only” area. “Thank you so much for coming back to see me,” she said in a caring, compassionate voice. I forced a token smile.
She was proud of me for standing there in front of her—alive.
“Do you still feel suicidal?”
I nodded. She had a room full of patients in her outer office waiting to be processed, but my gesture froze time. I was the center of her universe.
As she looked at me, there was a powerful message in her eyes. So powerful, in fact, that it was epiphanic, and I continued to listen.
“If you’re set on this, then I’m obliged to help,” she confessed, foremost as a legal disclaimer but also as an act of compassion.
I could have lied about being suicidal and walked away, but I was tired of pretending. That’s all I’d done my entire life.
“Perhaps we can make a difference,” she continued. “What do you have to lose?”
Dr. Beach had a point. I had absolutely nothing to lose but time, and I was already willing to throw away whatever days, months, or years I had left on earth. Something in her argument was convincing, because I’d forgotten all about that loaded gun. I’d become so accustomed to feeling like people wanted to destroy me that I’d forgotten what it felt like for someone to care about me.
Over and over, she kept asserting, “I want to help you.”
And hearing her pleas, I started to see possibilities. I could voluntarily check myself into Georgetown University’s psychiatric ward for observation and treatment. There was no shame in that, I thought to myself, but first I had some questions.
“What exactly are they going to do?” I asked.
“They’ll evaluate your overall health. They’ll use therapy to try and increase your sense of well-being and talk about what’s been happening in your life, what’s brought you to this point. They’ll also take a look at medication alternatives to help you feel more stable. Most of all, they’ll offer you a completely safe and healthy environment.”
I was all too familiar with the medication part; the real question was, did I have the stomach to explore my life? Along with periods of fun and adventure, the majority of my time on earth had been shaped by tragedy, misfortune, betrayal, and bad choices. Was I prepared to revisit all this? Was I strong enough to stick with the process?
Dr. Beach was right. Maybe, just maybe, if I faced my demons head on, I could turn myself around. I might yet find my happy side again. While I was by no means convinced, my plan to kill myself later that day was neutralized. I was willing to live at least another day.
“How does this all work? I mean, my life is so chaotic, where do I even begin telling someone the mess that I’m in?”
“Most people,” the doctor told me, “just start from the beginning.”
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