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First pages

April

4/4/16

I wake early most every morning, an unwelcome pattern, a curse from the war, I believe. My eyes snap open, and I’m conscious. Sometimes 3:00 a.m., sometimes 4:00 a.m. The alarm is set but unnecessary; I cannot recall the last time it’s been required to rouse me from sleep. The medical dictionary defines this condition as “terminal insomnia”: early-morning awakenings with the inability to return to sleep. It may be indicative of an underlying depressive disorder and treated with an antidepressant. I agree. I am depressed, and I have been all my life.

 

My wife does not stir when I leave our bed. The relaxed shush of her breaths attest the soundness of her sleep. The sweat pants, T-shirt, and slippers stacked on the bedside chair last night are donned in silence, and I exit and begin my morning routine. Alone. Always alone. Sometimes, I pause at our door, listening just a moment to the rhythm of her resting. It is a comforting sound, perhaps producing vibrations a growing fetus could feel from the womb. For one second, I permit a memory of that baby and his short life. It is a sharp, familiar stab in my heart. Hairs raise on my arms. I shudder, take a deep breath, and move on, tugging the door behind me, leaving it gapped two inches for the cat. A short walk down the hall, right turn, and descend the stairs. No lights necessary. My hand traces the wall; my feet know the count of the steps.

 

The main floor is cool: sixty-five degrees on the thermostat, a perfect sleeping temperature for those who sleep. A soft serenade streams for anyone who tunes in. The low hum of the refrigerator. A bubbling aquarium. Random creaks. The furnace cycles on with a gentle rush. Wind brushes the limbs on the roof. I have heard that scratching for years but have never considered pruning back the offending tree. I pad to the kitchen sink and flip on a small counter light, its soft glow sufficient for these early-morning activities. In the minutes it takes the kettle to whistle, my lunch is packed. Tea in hand, I shuffle to the office. A glance at the clock shows nineteen minutes have evaporated. At least one hundred more before my family wakes, but I’ll be gone by then. Do I enjoy this solitude? To anyone who asked, I’d say no, but I miss it on the rare occasion of sleeping in.

 

Where to begin? E-mail? Checking account? Not today. My mornings have been injected with a sense of purpose, a mission. I’ve not written anything more than a short letter since school, but here I sit, pecking at the keyboard and watching the autocorrect work magic on my spelling and suggest better grammar. Last Saturday, my fiftieth birthday to be precise, I woke as usual and spent the early hours milling about through the house, working and waiting. My wife emerged near 8:00 a.m. She greeted me with a proper “Good morning” when we passed in the kitchen. Our daughter had slept at a friend’s house. I expected we’d miss our customary Saturday breakfast but spend much of the day together. It was my birthday, after all, and a milestone at that. After cereal and tea, my wife resumed her puttering around the town, gathering the final foodstuffs for the next day’s family gathering, an Easter egg hunt and dinner. At 4:00 p.m., the day had vanished, and I was still working. Still waiting. Still alone. I toured the house, restoring order: picking up clothes and dishes and bits of tissue and cat toys. A curious glance in the hall mirror caught my attention, and I turned my body to face the reflection. A long, hard stare. My face flushed. My heart hammered. I knew. Holding my own gaze, I knew. I knew one day I would kill myself.

 

My brain surged the rest of the evening. Through supper. Through conversation. Through sleeping and waking. There was no resistance, no denial. I had suspected this end, and it was finally settled. My reaction was acceptance—not eagerness, just acceptance. And unfamiliar relief.

 

4/5/16

I’m not stumped by this conclusion. As the sperm and egg merged, was I already committed to this ending? Maybe not. There have been points along the way—other doors, other paths—where I could have chosen differently. And didn’t. If I had, would I still be right here? As I type, our cat joins me. She demands attention. I obey, my reward the soft vibration she radiates while nesting on my lap. The ordinary act of petting a cat, a shared moment, a simple delight. Delight? That is the rub. The crux. The root. The core of why I am planning my death. Nowhere in my heart do I feel it. I am separate.

 

My wife knows this separateness. We have not been close in years, physically, emotionally. We share a home, a bed, a checkbook, and a daughter. But for her, I have become that prickly thing she’s learned to avoid. She is beyond asking when I wake, what I do, what I need. In our early marriage, I was busy with residency. She worked too and entertained herself through the evenings with TV shows as I spent long, long hours in the clinic and nights at the hospital. After graduation I dove into my first practice, and the long hours continued. Then I was torn from home by the war in Iraq. The army had supported me through medical school, and they demanded repayment. My absence, just four months, affected her deeply. Calls and e-mails from overseas did not sustain her. We did not have a daughter then or anchors to the town. She abandoned our home and moved back with her father and stepmother for the duration of my deployment. I returned altered. She returned altered. We resumed a life. We had been warm and kind, almost loving. Now both simply polite.

 

4/7/16

This morning’s routine is nearly the same as yesterday and the day before. I won’t recite it every time I type. I have hours before any real person stirs. Sometimes, my daughter will wake early and search the house to find me at the computer or at the stove or in my basement workshop. She says, “Good morning, Daddy,” and I respond, “I love you, Pumpkin.” I know I love her. I know it. I want her to feel it and allow it to gush over her. Sustain her, protect her. She gets a hug and a kiss on the top of her head. Sometimes she will climb on to my lap and steal the keyboard to show me some website or video or song. Psychologists stress the importance of a “warm, intimate, continuous relationship between an infant and parent.” My wife and daughter have that connection. Deep. Authentic. Natural. Normal. Permanent. Shouting and struggling while flossing teeth. Singing and snuggling at bedtime. I adore my daughter. Our times together are the only honest moments of my life. Not days, hours, or minutes. Just moments. The balance is spent thinking of what to say and what to feel and what to be.

 

A real man would just go off and die, but I want to tell a story first. I want people to read this. To understand me. To admire me. To pity me. To forgive me. I lack a real sense of self. I am what people believe I am. Kinda like God. I’ve read the standard psychological profiles and don’t fit any of them perfectly. At my core, I’m closest to a narcissist, and I almost spit when I say that, but I know it’s true. The world revolves around me. Can I be honest here? I don’t know. I’m not sure I can even be honest in my own head.

 

4/8/16

I know my separateness is rooted in childhood. I was born to a mother who should have strictly, absolutely, completely avoided pregnancy, and deep down, she knew it. “If abortion were legal then…” I did not hear it directly. Mom professed it to my sister. Why? Why would you say that to your child? As much as I can, I have forgiven her. I cannot blame her for what I have become. At age fifty I am responsible for my own life and decisions. Even so, I want her to understand how her choices and actions molded me, fractured me. That is quite impossible now. My little sister put her in a nursing home two years ago. Dementia. Alzheimer’s type. The progressive erosion of her brain, brought on by age, alcohol, depression, head injury, poor diet, or bad genes or all of that. She cannot remember her parents, her husbands, her babies. She has progressively regressed to youth, where a kernel of brain tissue sputters and retains some assorted pleasant memories like riding an elephant at a state fair, swinging on a rope over the river, and dancing in red cowboy boots. At the last visit, I had become her younger brother. She’s quite fractured too.

 

4/11/16

So Mom is crazy. Dad? Details about my father are as elusive as unicorns. Mom rarely spoke of him, but I know they married when he was in the army and then divorced when I was an infant a year or two later. There is a picture of him in uniform holding a swaddled baby. I claim it’s me, but there is no certainty. After the marriage failed, he moved back to Chicago, remarried, began his next family, had a new son. Mom said he visited occasionally right after their split. I have only two clear memories of him. The first is sitting in the kitchen one late afternoon. He was a truck driver and stopped by after dropping his trailer. It is only a snippet of what must have been a longer conversation, but he asked about a little truck I had built with Legos. “This is called the tractor.” His big rig was parked in the street, but we didn’t take time to explore it. In the other memory, a year or two later, I can feel myself standing next to him on a sidewalk in front of his home. He was a giant. Six foot something. I didn’t get any of that height. My sister and I were staying with him for part of our summer vacation, but actually this meant we were spending time with our stepmother. He had to work. As guilty, divorced, absent parents do, he asked one day if I wanted anything. “A balsa wood plane.” He brought several home after work. We spent an evening winding the propellers and launching the fragile aircraft until dinnertime. Beside my dad on a hot summer night. One moment, just a flicker, is about the only happiness I can recall from my childhood. I’ve read this over and over and over and can’t even shed a tear for that young boy. What is wrong with me?

 

After the divorce, my mother bundled up her two kids and moved back with her parents. The five of us shared a cracker box. Kitchen. Living room. Two bedrooms. Tiny. Slightly larger than my first apartment. I’ve driven down the street, studying the row of identical houses. I expected, when I found the number, there would be a rush of memories. Nope. Nothing. I know the three of us shared one bedroom. What we ate, where we played, or how we slept—I cannot recall any of this. It is all gone. My sister says we shopped with Grandma at an outdoor market, tugging groceries home in a two-wheeled cart. I would like to remember sitting on Grandpa’s lap, him reading Seuss stories to me. It might have happened. He was in his midforties when we lived there, the same age as me when my daughter was born.

 

4/12/16

For a while, Grandma became our primary caregiver, and Mom returned to work and started dating and found a replacement for our father. A younger, never-married auto mechanic. Not sure how long they dated. Not long enough. He assumed responsibility for a new wife and her two children, now two and four or thereabouts. We moved into a rented home, and he brought along parenting skills learned in his angry, abusive, alcoholic home. Like his father, he worked hard and drank hard or harder. My sister and I were vulnerable, bruised, imperfect kids. He had unbelievable, unrealistic, unattainable expectations of children. Instant obedience. Silent submission. Flawless performance. He treated common accidents as acts of willful defiance. Every evening, Lonny would rumble in with the reek of grease, cigarettes, and beer. Mom would call, “Dinner is ready. Wash your hands.” With the four of us seated at the square table, the show would begin. My sister and I frequently failed in some manner, talking out of turn, a dropped spoon, or that bite of asparagus under a napkin. We were punished for these infractions. The sentence was dispensed immediately. A sharp word. A smack. Often the unveiled threat, “I’ll give you something to cry about.” He would. “You’ll learn.” We did. A simple rule in nature: do not pet rattlesnakes. We tuned our ears to his rattles. As much as we needed a father, my sister and I learned to avoid him. He wasn’t an evil man, just a product of his environment. Still, that’s no way to treat kids.

 

Separation. Neglect. Abuse. Shit. A psychologist teasing through my brain would find the twizzled scars and, after watching my movements and mannerisms, quickly and correctly conclude I suffer from “attachment disorder”: a failure to form normal attachments. One of the symptoms is a basic lack of trust. Yep. That’s me.

 

4/13/16

Ten times a week, my daughter will be sitting at the counter, and I’ll pass by and peck the top of her head and say “I love you.” Greetings and partings and bedtime snuggles are all punctuated with that well-worn affirmation. Three words. “I love you.” When I was growing up, I never heard Mom say them. Maybe it happened, but I can’t remember it. Not once. I believe I was five or six. We were still in the old house. Things have changed, but in those days, kids could roam neighborhoods and play without a helicopter parent. Mom gave me permission to go to a friend’s house, and I left the front door running, cutting across the short front yard and into the street. I hadn’t looked and hadn’t seen the car. The driver stomped the brakes, and four tires screeched. I stopped, turned, and looked at the driver. Standing right in front of the grill. Chest level for a five-year-old. I cannot remember if it was a man or a woman. No harm. No foul. Before I could run on, Mom had stomped across the yard. I stood frozen, and she stepped into the street and grabbed my shirt. Without a word, she yanked me back to the yard and started spanking me, with rage pouring out through her hand. “You. Need. To. Look. First.” Each word was punctuated with a solid, sharp strike on my bottom. “You. Need. To. Look. First.” The stinging turned to burning. “You. Need. To. Look. First.” I started crying, and she released me. “Go to your room.” I remember all of that. She came up later to give a lesson summary. She was still angry, and there was no hug or reconciliation. I’ll say she said, “You need to pay attention because I don’t want you getting hurt.” I don’t remember what she said, but I heard “I love you.” A whisper in a storm. That’s my best memory of Mom. This morning, I’m wishing the driver had been distracted.

 

4/15/16

Abused children are a common product of strained marriages. I would expect a blood connection to temper punishments, but I’d be wrong. As exacting as our stepfather was, our mother was far worse. I can imagine her logic: If the kids would just behave, Lonny would be happy and life would be so much better. While children have an aching need for affection, she practiced emotional rejection when we misbehaved. “I don’t want to look at you. Go to your room.” Mom was also a fan of the belt. Her favorite dangled like a black snake from a closet hook, prepared to strike. I remember the sharp snap of leather on my bare thighs, and it evokes a gut curl even now. After one particular wilding over a misplaced dish towel, she brought me an aspirin and a glass of water. She knelt and then burst into tears. Said she was sorry. First time for everything. Her actions seemed almost kind to a bleeding child. She asked for forgiveness, and I provided it instantly. What else can a kid do? I wore long pants through the rest of June to cover the marks. Years later she declared with unqualified certainty that she’d never raised a hand to us and “not once” allowed us to be whipped by our stepfather. I glanced at my sister—she looked wasp-stung and shook her head slowly. Mom had forgotten. We hadn’t. My daughter is eight, and writing this pulls heat to my face. Nothing she’s done has ever warranted a whipping or even a spanking. Her forgetfulness, back talk, even lying are normal childhood behaviors. My sister and I were good kids in a bad home.

 

4/18/16

This morning slumber slowly retreated, and my eyes opened, a slow blink in reverse. The usual precision in my brain was coated and sticky. Tongue thick and dry. Cheek wet. Pillow soaked from open-mouth breathing. I rubbed the sleep out and pulled myself upright, trying to remember last night. Reading. Corner down. Book to the nightstand. Lights off. Nothing more. Instant sleep. My usual sleep is thin, gauzy, lifted by a breeze. This had been deep, thick, warm, woolen sleep. For those hours, I was not miles away. I had vanished from earth. Floating. A universe away. I cannot recall any dreams, but there is a slight buzz in my mood, so I wonder if one has been tucked away. Or is this just the normal feeling after normal sleep? I’d give anything for more nights like this.

 

“Harsh discipline in early development may give rise to mood issues in children.” Just read that. It may have been kindergarten when I started crying myself to sleep. After the lights were out and my door closed, the tears would begin to seep. Soon, I would be racked with sobbing. “Crying is a uniquely human display of vulnerability, geared to evoke compassion and reduce aggression.” Just read that too. In normal humans, it usually does. I expect I wanted everything to be better, someone to comfort me and snug me up with a warm-blanket feeling of security. Praise or affection or love. Any of those would have helped. In some dream, Mom would push open my door, sit on the bed, and tenderly rub my back. “What’s wrong?” I would blub it out, and everything would be better. I don’t even know if she ever heard the sobs, the plea for comfort. Open the door. Open the door. She never did. As I grew, I worried that she might. Instead of comfort, she’d bring only a chill; my abandonment would be confirmed, and I would sink into hopelessness. Boys are supposed to be tough. I was ashamed of crying, but nothing I could do would prevent the tears.

 

4/20/16

When I started typing, I thought the words would spill directly from my head to the computer. Fresh. Raw. Honest. After four pages, I flipped back and saw all I’d typed was crud. Random thoughts but no flow. This should tell a story, not just a stream-of-garbage blog. Part chronicle. Part confession. I’ve had to go back again and again. I cannot help but paste and polish, the computer’s thesaurus providing better words than my memory can retrieve. The whole truth and nothing but the truth? Not a chance. I have improved facts but not so much that the story becomes fiction. I have changed important details too. I don’t want my wife or daughter or anyone to read this and recognize me.

 

4/21/16

I carry a small black pager on my left hip. A fixture since medical school. A relic designed to tether me to the hospital under perpetual house arrest and pull me from patients and meetings and sleep. A day or two ago, a colleague left a message on my office phone. When I returned the call, he said, “I tried paging you.” And I glanced at my pager and smiled. “Sorry, I didn’t get it.” Which was true. Absolutely true. My pager won’t sing out because the battery is dead and has been for months. Emergencies can go to the emergency room. Refills and results can wait another day. I’m tired of this thing. “Looks like my pager is dead.” True. “This thing eats batteries,” which was a frank lie but sounds true. His question was trivial, and after we hung up, I went to my administrator and asked for a triple-A battery. “Another?” She handed me one, and I walked back to my office and put it in the desk with six others. Charade complete.

 

I wish these mornings were entirely given over to writing, but there are still chores. And exercise. A few years ago, we purchased a stair-stepper, my favorite cardio workout. I’d prepared the basement, but the machine proved too large for the doorway leading downstairs. We decided the sunroom was a suitable “temporary” location and kept it there. It’s now become a permanent fixture, along with a TV bolted to the wall at eye level and DVD player on a small shelf. My little corner. Three. Four. Maybe five times a week, I’ll isolate myself with earbuds and listen to my life’s soundtrack or watch a movie while sweating away an hour. The stepper faces big windows that overlook our yard. It may be dark when I start, but near the end, in the spring and summer, I’ll watch the sunrise as I finish my workout. After sixty minutes the machine slows for cooldown, then stops. I’ll step off. Still pounding, panting, dripping, I feel good, alive, normal. Happy? Is this what happy feels like? Earbuds out. Shower. Dress. Resume usual life.

 

4/22/16

Years ago, I don’t remember when, my wife changed the way we kissed. Instead of deep kisses, they became light lip touches. A perfunctory peck as I left for work or a slight smack at bedtime. Quick. Polite. And something else happened too, maybe at the same time or a little later. During sex, she would look to one side, turn away from my face. Even in that clench, a kiss would only be quick and polite. I asked. She said it was my breath. Garlic or spice from dinner. Flossing, and brushing, and gargling became a presex ritual. Nothing changed, and I asked again. This time it was something in my mustache. Shaving cream? Face lotion? Washing and trimming did not help, and the intimacy of deep kissing vanished from our marriage.

 

Back then, I had a habit of unloading my gym bag and draping my T-shirt and shorts across our tub. They vanished one day, and I asked. She said they smelled, and she’d moved them to the laundry room and set up a special rack just for my damp clothes so I could hang them up right after I got home. And I did. When I started doing my morning stair-machine workout, I hung my wet clothes on the same rack, but that lasted just a few weeks before everything got moved to the basement. She said my stuff was “stinking up the laundry room.” I understood. I work out hard, and after a workout I do have that impolite fragrance of fat and muscle melting. So in the mornings and after work, I’d take my workout gear to the basement to dry. I thought that would be enough to keep my man smells out of the bathroom and bedroom and laundry room.

 

One Saturday, I walked into the master bathroom and saw my wife flapping a hand in front of her nose and stalking around sniffing. “Something in here reeks like cat pee.” After a quick investigation, she announced it was my towel. The towel I dry with after soaping, and scrubbing, and rinsing. The towel that is laundered every weekend, and hung on a bar side by side with hers, and impossible for the cat to wet. Cat pee? She apprehended my foul towel with a finger and thumb and held it at arm’s length. “Could you do something with this?” She dropped that cotton skunk into my hands and washed her hands. There was a junky little bathroom in the basement, so I spent a weekend rehabbing it and moved my razor and deodorant and vitamins downstairs. Certain towels became my towels. She got a new basket that weekend, and my laundry was kept separate and washed with a sports detergent and vinegar, and double rinsed. I once saw her handle my dirty clothes wearing green rubber gloves and had a vision of her tossing shirts onto a bonfire with a pitch fork. I started washing them myself on Sundays.

 

She scoops the cat box without a peep. She will plunge her nose into a bottle of turned milk and announce, “That’s gone bad.” And to me she says things. “Did you shower? Are you wearing your gym clothes? What cologne is that?” I don’t think I carry an exceptional odor, not in that usual sense. But a scent is something tangible she can protest and avoid. I do believe she loves me. As much as she can. But in our intimacy, I believe she’s seen something or felt something or just known something and retreated from it. Some poison bit of me. My soul perhaps. I wonder if it’s been there since the moment I was born or if it grew as I did. Is it why Mom passed me to Grandma? And deposited me in the backroom, then banished me to the basement, and signed me over to the Marine Corps? The Devil Dogs. How appropriate.

 

4/25/16

I noted the date a second ago, just a small blip in my heart rate. Our taxes were complete and filed two months ago. They’re simple, but one of the details, like the checkbook, my wife will have to take over in a bit. There are a hundred other things she’ll need to know about too. Mortgage. Investments. Insurance. Everything needs to be much better packaged. And I need to do it all without creating suspicion. I can do this, having learned duplicity and deceit from Mom at an early age. Growing up, we might do something or buy something when our stepfather was working. She’d say, “Don’t tell Lonny. He’ll get mad.” As a kid I was a sneaky little shit, and I still am.

 

4/26/16

At the gym yesterday, my iPod crapped out ten minutes into lifting. No real surprise. It’s two years old and has endured some regular abuse. I chunked it back in my locker and continued without a soundtrack. The gym resets my day. Frustrations are left on the benches, and I head home fatigued, and my wife and daughter are insulated from work. Pushing through a lift, I was aware of the gym’s sounds. Meddling overhead music and incessant people chatter and metallic machine clatter. I retrieved my wounded iPod and stuck the earbuds in and moved to the next exercise. In the silence, I found myself milling back through encounters of the day. Unwanted thoughts. Twirling thoughts. Remember a conversation and dump it, and it spins right back in. Again. And again. The more I tried to push them out, the harder they bounced back. At the next bench, I felt anger building and more so at the next. I stripped the bar and left. On the way home, I heard a song, and it took me to a grassy slope overlooking the practice football field where the Spring Fling was underway and a local band was playing Bad Company. The thoughts retreated behind their barricade. I think now I understand my music. I have it everywhere. Gym. Car. Kitchen. Shower. Even now, I’ve got some classical music seeping into my head. I have tinnitus, this loud fucking ringing in my ears from shooting and flying. A soft background buzz will quiet it. I think music does the same for my thoughts. I can’t stand to be alone in the quiet because it isn’t.

 

It’s embarrassing to type this. Married folks should be having regular sex, but my wife and I have physically connected only rarely over the past several years. I don’t know why, and I don’t know why not. Perhaps that’s the problem. Last night, after technical sex, she was sitting on my lap, facing me, arms draped over my shoulders. I was rubbing her back and feeling her warmth and wanting to continue our connection. Whatever it was, it felt nice. I spoke softly. There may have been a tinge of hunger in my voice. “I need you. I miss this.” In the darkness, I waited for some affirmation or at least acknowledgment. A second passed. My heart pounded, and my ears buzzed like too much caffeine. A minute passed. The room cooled, and I believe I could see my breath. For the closeness we had experienced, there was no intimacy. I knew. I understood. The chill must have passed to her, and she stood and dressed and went to sit on the couch. “Wanna finish the movie?” Nope. I just want to die.

 

4/27/16

Peace. Just knowing it’s out there gives me some relief. When to die? After Christmas? After New Year’s? After birthdays? I suppose there’s no good time to die, but there are times that are worse. I’ve not given much thought to the method. There are just two criteria so far. It must look accidental and must be away from our home. Suicides produce guilt and embarrassment and shame in survivors. Accidents bring out love and support.

 

4/29/16

You know I am a physician. A career of compassion and caring and lofty earnings and weighted with divorce and depression and drug abuse. Doctors are prone to commit suicide. I knew one physician early in my career who killed himself. He was odd, intense, and sweaty, always wearing a wrinkly, stained lab coat and a wild, thinning comb-over that would stick to his damp forehead. Polite conversation in the lounge or hall was impossible. His loud words came out in a fire-hose gush and extinguished any balanced exchange. After work one afternoon, he checked into a hotel, stuck a needle in a vein, and drifted off forever. The cleaning lady found his kit and body the next morning. An accidental overdose? Not likely—he was an anesthesiologist. I understand he had set up an IV to rush a bottle of Propofol, the “milk of amnesia” used for surgery, into his body. He was very fluent in dosing calculations, knowing his breathing would stop after just 10 cc, two teaspoons. I wonder if he floated into that last moment or if he reconsidered and commanded his hands to stop the flow but his flaccid muscles failed to respond when he wanted to pull the tubing.

 

Two years ago, I was asked to review a cluster of suicides in soldiers and found they were impulsive and violent events. There were common threads—a swirling pool of misery and guns and alcohol and isolation. There were always multiple and clear warning signs and points to intervene to disrupt the chain of events that produced a folded flag. Somehow, they got discounted or ignored or dismissed. I’m aware of my own multiple and clear warning signs and cautious to bury them deep. It’s been my nature to conceal feelings and strictly avoid any display of emotion. The very brain that should protect me is guiding me to the end. I cannot change. I cannot seek help. I wish I’d died in Iraq. That would have been so much more convenient. My wife would be left a grieving war widow and my daughter the sturdy child of a hero.

May

5/2/16

Just over two hours on the stair machine. At the end, my shoes were sloshing, and the mat underneath was soaked. I didn’t drink enough. In fact, I didn’t drink anything. I almost always grab a few bottles of water and stack them on the window sill by the machine. Forgot this morning. About thirteen minutes in, I reached for one, and my error became evident. But I’m too obsessive to pause my workout. Even after a liter and a shower, my head was still pounding. More water and a protein bar would fix this one. I could count on one hand the number of headaches I’ve had over the past ten years. Dehydration or hunger or altitude. I remember having one almost every day as a child. Oh God. Here I go again with self-diagnosis. I just read that headaches and depression are strongly linked in children. I know I was depressed. In that home, there was no recognition of my state and, of course, no rescue. I wonder if I used headaches to escape. Mom allowed me to skip the square-table performance and go to my room, and I’d lie down with a cool washcloth over my face. After an hour or two, they would fade. I’d come back downstairs hungry. It’s tough (but not impossible) to punish a sick child. Lonny set the rules, and I’d missed dinner. Breakfast was the next meal. Seemed a small price, I guess.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Dr. Toombs is board certified in both Family Medicine and Pain Medicine and has a full-time practice. He had a parallel career in the Army Reserves and National Guard spanning more than 35 years. During Desert Storm, he was a pilot and flew UH-60 Blackhawks and commanded an air assault helicopter company. As an Army physician, he completed three deployments to Iraq and retired as a Colonel in 2016. Dr. Toombs is married and has a ten-year-old daughter. He is an avid hiker and doting soccer dad.

Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
My best friend took the cover picture. It's on a trail we have hiked 100 times. The day was quite cold and raining. Brian took about a 100 shots and sent me this one. I agreed that it was perfect and captured the chill of the book and likely the spot where the main character would chose to die.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
Ernest Hemingway, without a doubt, has been my inspiration. A Farewell to Arms is one of my favorite reads. His style is succinct and, with sparse paragraphs, both colorful and detailed. He struggled after his war (as I have) and succumbed to his demons (I hope to avoid this path).
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
A Physician's Confession is fiction. Pure fiction. Yes, I drew on my experiences when writing it. I'm a physician and soldier and husband and father. But when I let friends and family read sections, they couldn't help but paste my face on the main character. More than one asked 'Are you okay?'

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