Excerpt: 'The Last Goodnights'

I knew that Jolly had access to hundreds, maybe even thousands, of doctors at UCLA Hospital, where he worked, and that he'd get the absolute best medical care. My offer to help was an instinct, a reflex, what someone says. I didn't know what help I could actually be. But I found out six weeks later, when he called me into his bedroom for that private chat. Jolly's directness and request for help during that conversation had surprised me, but I understood what it meant: all business. He would be as detached, dispassionate, and professional in ending his own life as he had been during any other medical crisis in his fifty-year career. And he would expect me to follow suit. But although I knew (and he did, too) that I could remain calm and professional in a crisis, this was not a professional situation—this was my father, and his suicide, and my participation. I knew I'd have to steel myself like never before in order to handle the pressures that would surely come.

I was used to pressure. A career as a trial lawyer is not for the easily rattled. I could think on my feet, stay calm, and keep a straight face. But assisting Jolly with his suicide promised complexities I wouldn't be able to anticipate. It would be like getting plucked out of my office and tossed into the middle of a jury trial without knowing what the case was about. I'd still be expected to do my job—and maybe I could, to some degree. But this wasn't a court case; it was my father's life.

I knew I couldn't talk about this with anyone, not even my closest friends, because it might put me, and possibly them, in legal jeopardy. They could be forced to testify against me, or one of them might accidentally let it slip to somebody else who might call the cops or possibly . . . I don't know—I just didn't feel that I could run the risk of exposing such intimate and potentially incendiary information to anybody. Keeping professional secrets is stressful enough, but this . . . damn!

Another thing I found troubling was that I had no idea when this business would happen, or how long I would be involved in . . . whatever it turned out to be. Would I have to be in L.A. a lot? How could I schedule my absences from work? It isn't easy to leave a small law firm, or any small business, for more than a few days at a time, particularly when you're the person in charge. Even though I had a partner and support staff, there wasn't much work I could delegate. My specialty—representing victims of employment discrimination and sexual harassment—required an extra level of personal attention because of the intensely personal nature of the harm my clients had suffered. As an attorney I sometimes felt like St. George battling the dragon, particularly when I represented women who had been sexually assaulted in the workplace.

I always put too much of myself into my work. I felt it would be nearly impossible for me to do my job properly if I weren't in the office and able to deal with my clients directly and promptly. All I could think to do, to at least try to lessen the demands on my time and my mind, was stop taking new cases. Maybe that would give me the mental elbow room I knew I'd need to deal with whatever Jolly wanted from me.

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