Within two weeks of telling my wife about my crime, my life was imploding. I was indicted for sexual assault. I spent $10,000 to retain a lawyer. There was an ugly article about me in the newspaper. I was losing my job. I was no longer welcome at church.  Many of those I had called friends wouldn’t speak to me.

Worse was the knowledge I had irreparably hurt others. My vision of myself as good guy was forever shattered. I was a criminal, a predator, a monster. I was shame itself.

The State prosecutor was collecting evidence against me. He was calling former patients and fellow church members, asking probing questions. I became paranoid.

One day the phone rang.  It was a guy I knew from church. After a few pleasantries, he started to ask about the details of my offenses. Did I do this?  Did I do that?  His voice on the phone sounded strange, kind of hollow. Was someone listening in? Hadn’t I heard of police using this kind of trap?

“I don’t think I should talk about this over the phone,” I said and hung up.

I was shaking. All my fears were coming true. I could see the looming devastation as if it had already happened.

I became tearful, agitated, withdrawn. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I sat for hours staring into the window of the wood stove, watching solid things turn to ash and smoke.

A Siren voice inside began to whisper that, like George Bailey, I was worth more dead than alive. I still had a half-million dollar life insurance policy at work, but not for long. I was on administrative leave. It was only a matter of time before they fired me. Wouldn’t it be better for my children to grow up comfortably situated without a sex offender for a father? I began to think the unthinkable. But how to do it?

I had once been working the E.R. when they brought in a guy who had shot himself in the head with a .22. He was still breathing. There was a neat little hole in his right temple. An x-ray showed the slug resting against the opposite side of his skull. He never regained consciousness. I pronounced him dead later that night. I didn’t own a gun. I never had. I was sure no one would lend me one now.

I remembered reading about someone who jumped from Cathedral Ledge in North Conway after being accused of sexual assault. I tried to envision it. Stepping into thin air. The long fall. The rocks rushing up. I felt queasy just thinking about it. I’d probably get up there and chicken out.

I still had the key to my office. I could lock myself in the med room and take a lethal cocktail. That would be painless, but maybe not successful. I had seen patients survive those kinds of overdoses.  Some would never be the same.

I could drive my Jeep into the woods and attach a hose to the exhaust pipe. Alcohol would numb me while I waited for carbon monoxide to do its work. The more I thought about it, the easier it seemed. I bought a bottle of vodka and a two liter Coke as a mixer. I set aside a hose and some duct tape in the garage. I selected a site I knew, surrounded by shrubs, off a dirt road a few miles from home.

I had a few things to put in order before taking my leave.

Once you’ve come to the decision, the world begins to recede. I became an observer of my life through a smoky glass. Part of me was already gone. I was beyond tears.

My brother-in-law arrived mid-week out of the blue.

He said, “Hey, let’s go for a ride.”

“Okay,” I mumbled, and got in his van. We headed down Route 4 toward Northwood.  

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Phil,” he said, “I’m taking you to the hospital. I think you need help.”

I reached for the door handle. “No. I don’t want to go. Everybody knows me.”

“I know. I think it will be easier for you to go to Dartmouth instead of one of the local hospitals. Don’t you?”

We drove across the state in silence. Kevin parked outside the emergency room entrance.

“I’m not going in there,” I said. “I’ve worked in too many emergency rooms.  I know what they’ll think. I know what they’ll say.”

Kevin waited.

After a while he reached over and patted my hand. “Come on, let’s go.”

I felt numb as he opened the car door. He walked me to the check-in. He explained why we were there. They put me in an exam room. The nurse took my vital signs without any of the usual chatter. The resident came to examine me.  I couldn’t look him in the eye. He didn’t ask much. I didn’t say much.

The attending arrived. He closed the door and sat down.

“Have you made plans?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Then I have to keep you, you know.”

I nodded again.

“I read the story in the paper,” he said.

We sat in silence for a while. “You know, there was a family doc across the river in Vermont who did something similar a while back,” he said. “He got a couple of years probation and is still able to have a limited practice. I don’t think your life is over.”

I understood.  He was trying to help, to conjure a hopeful vision out of the haze. I think we both knew it was only smoke.

My room in the psych ward was not comforting.  The hospital was too familiar, too much of a reminder of looming losses. I couldn’t settle in.  I paced the floor.  I stood gazing out the window, rocking, fidgeting.

“I know you’re afraid of what’s coming, Phil,” Kevin said, “we all are. But, you know, a bridge isn’t engineered to carry all the weight that will ever cross it.  That would be impossible. It just needs to carry the weight that’s on it now.”