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A footpath on the edge of a park in a small Arizona town is the setting for the beginning of a love affair and the terrifying ordeal that almost destroys it.
Dr. Avrial Woodsen, a prominent New York psychiatrist, suffers a nearly fatal heart attack as the result of the stress caused when a psychopathic patient murders his wife. Ordered by his cardiologist to give up his practice and begin a daily regimen that includes walking, he moves to a small town in Arizona where the climate is more accommodating and the community park includes a footpath. During his daily walks he meets many of the residents of the community, some of whom share their stories with him that he records in his journal.
On one of his walks he meets Alexis St. Pere, and their friendship blossoms. Alexis brings Avrial out of his grief and at the same time into the cyber age by encouraging him to learn to use a computer, the Internet, and a cell phone - and to fall in love again. Avrial’s happiness is suddenly jeopardized when the man who murdered his wife shows up on the footpath and begins to stalk him. Alexis reveals her resilience and ingenuity when the psychopath kidnaps her, Avrial, and her daughter Margaret, and imprisons them in an abandoned mine from which there appears to be no means of escape.
The Footpath recounts Dr. Avrial Woodsen’s effort to restore his health while he rebuilds his shattered life helping others remake theirs, and at the same time falling in love with a remarkable woman. For the reader who enjoys stories about people triumphing over adversity,
The Footpath is the book for you.
THE END AND THE BEGINNING
The best laid plans of mice and men
often go astray,
And leave us grief and pain
instead of promised joy.
- Robert Burns (Paraphrased)
My third heart attack was worse than the previous two by far. I spent ten days in intensive care, three weeks in step down, and a month recovering at home doing nothing. My cardiologist and long time friend Phil Woods told me in no uncertain terms that either I had to radically change my life style or quickly make my final arrangements. I chose the former.
My first two infarcts were the result of too much rich food and good wine plus too much work and too little exercise; I have no doubt that this last attack was brought on by stress. It hit me at the end of the most stressful twelve-month period of my sixty-one years on this earth.
The cascade of events started routinely enough. I had been treating Ron Etterman for Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) for about six months. Instead of making the progress I had hope for, the episodes were becoming more frequent and more violent. Increasingly the focus of his rage was his wife who, as far as I could tell, did nothing to incur his wrath. None of the medications I prescribed had any noticeable effect.
As a result of a conference with his wife and two grown sons, Ron was unwillingly admitted to an acute psychiatric hospital. He immediately demanded a hearing that he got ten days later, and against my earnest protests and those of his treatment team, he was released.
He went home and promptly tried to strangle his wife; had his two sons not pulled him away from her he would have succeeded. He fled, and disappeared into the backstreets and alleys of New York City. A week later he walked into my office and demanded to see me. My secretary informed him that I was with a patient and asked him to wait. He became very angry
and she called building security. He left immediately avoiding apprehension. During my thirty years in private practice I followed the unwritten rule of most physicians I know, I shared neither the address of my residence or my home phone number with my patients. If there were an emergency, my service could contact me. I don’t know how Etterman got our Long Island address; he refused to tell me. But he did and in late afternoon two weeks after he stormed out of my office he rang our doorbell. When my wife opened the door he grabbed her and pulled her onto our porch where he strangled the life out of her. Then he calmly the same day that my wife was buried Etterman was arrested for assaulting a patron in a neighborhood bar. During his booking he began raving about how he had avenged himself against Satan’s mistress. Over and over again he claimed she was disguised as my wife whose name and address he repeated several times. It took more than a week but the link was finally made, Etterman was charged with my wife’s murder and bound over for trial.
I did what I always discouraged my patients from doing, I buried myself in work to avoid grieving. During the nine months before Etterman’s trial I increased my patient load and therefore my office hours by a third; and worked late into the night and long hours on weekends on a textbook for psychiatric residents I had been contracted to write. I also lived on black coffee, fast foods, and started smoking again after a ten-year hiatus. Almost immediately I was smoking as much as I had been when I quit -- two packs a day.
Although the forensic evidence left little doubt about Etterman’s guilt, the expensive defense team hired by Ron’s parents plead him not guilty by reason of insanity, and demanded a jury trial. I testified for six hours, most of that time being cross examined by the defense team that scrutinized both my private and professional life in an effort to find something that would discredit my testimony. The hardest part of the whole ordeal for me, however, was to have to look at my wife’s murderer as he sat calmly, and apparently very rationally, in front of me at the defense table with his lawyers.
Then there were the agonizing four days during which the jury determined Etterman’s fate. He was found guilty, but not by reason of insanity. His competence to stand trial had never
been challenged. When the verdict was announced Etterman began raving incoherently and rushed at the jury foreman, a petite, middle-aged woman whom he tried to strangle.
I had to face him again at his sentencing hearing during which both the court psychiatrist and I urged that he be committed to the state hospital for the criminally insane. The judge ignored our suggestion and sentenced Etterman to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
With that part of the nightmare over I resumed my hectic and dangerous life style. My well-earned heart attack occurred in the early hours of the morning shortly after I had dragged my overworked self into bed. It awakened me and I immediately knew what was happening. I called 911 from my bedside phone, and then with agonizing difficulty made my way down stairs and unlocked the front door. The EMTs found me on the floor of the foyer unconscious and during my month of medical house arrest I did a lot of thinking, as well as finished writing the textbook. As a result of my illness some of my patients had been shifted to one of my colleagues, but the majority were being seen by my daughter, a competent psychiatrist in her own right, and her husband who is a licensed clinical psychologist. The easiest part of creating my new life was turning my practice over to them.
The hardest was dismantling my thirty-five years of marriage. We had lived a comfortable life, one of mutual love, mutual wants, needs, desires, and dreams. Sunday was our day together, and we often spent those mornings in bed drinking tea together and planning
the week ahead; more recently planning our retirement. We read brochures, figured costs, set our destinations. Our future seemed even better than our present. Etterman robbed us of that and I harbored a large and growing hatred directed both at him and life in general. I became increasingly morose and reclusive.
Physician heal thyself. That doesn’t work.
Grudgingly, and only after considerable nagging by my daughter and son-in-law, I joined a grief therapy group. That helped; I began to see the possibility of living a fulfilling life instead
of wallowing in an endless void of despair. I’m sure the strict diet that excluded coffee and cigarettes, and the exercise regimen – mostly walking - Phil forced on me helped also. I felt
better emotionally and physically, but I also began to feel restless. I wanted to do something with My daughter suggested I take up painting but I can’t even draw a straight line with the
aid of a ruler. Besides that pursuit didn’t interest me at all. “Why not write,” she asked one Sunday morning when she dropped by the house for brunch; she did that frequently during the long months of my convalescence. I had a number of professional journal articles to my credit but because I was no longer seeing patients I didn’t feel I had anything new to write about.
“Do you remember when we all used to go camping?” my daughter asked one Sunday morning. “You used to tell mother and me stories, stories you made up, when we would sit around the camp fire together. They were great stories. I’ve often wished you had written them down so that I could read them to my children.”
Some threads of those stories began to wander into the forefront of my memory. “I think I may try that,” I said with some conviction. Anything for my grandchildren!
I did, and found writing stories for the benefit of children a very rewarding endeavor. A patient of my son-in-law’s was an editor for one of the larger publishing houses. She read one of my stories, passed in on to an editor in their children’s department, and shortly thereafter my first book of stories for children was published.
I rented an apartment in the city to be closer to my editor. As I spent more and more time there, our house on Long Island became a nagging burden. I didn’t need it. In fact there was too much of my wife still there for me to feel comfortable - too many memories. I gave our daughter those of our possessions she wanted, auctioned off the rest, and put the house on the market. It sold quickly and I settled into my apartment with few regrets.
During a routine physical Phil found danger signs. Was I being faithful to my diet?
Mostly. Some fast food when I was in a hurry, but not much. Was I walking regularly? He had me there. The only walking I did anymore was around my apartment and to and from elevators.
Walking on those crowded city streets carried a high element of risk, besides it was currently the midst of winter and walking in the damp, dreary cold held no allure for me.
“You need another change, and you need it NOW!” Phil’s concern was very apparent in his voice. “You need to live someplace where you can walk EVERY day! You need to live someplace where it is quiet and you are surrounded by tranquility. You need to find your Garden of Eden where you can breathe clean air, drink pure water, and is completely devoid of fast food.
A place where you can write your stories in comfort and good health.” OK, where? Money was not an issue. Our house was paid for and sold for a considerable profit. We had invested with care and I had a monthly income from that. Two of my books were modestly well received and the royalties were additional security. I could afford to live almost anywhere. But I did not want to leave my life in the City. Nor did I want to be far removed from my daughter, her husband, and future grandchildren.
A place where I could walk every day was a criterion that was rigidly defining, however.
My wife and I had looked into places where we could winter in relative comfort after I retired; I had filed away all that information after her death. I got it out again. To possibly relocate to a place that we had tentatively chosen felt fitting, felt right. I found that I had several options. I kept coming back to one.
Years ago we had taken a trip west during which we visited a college roommate of mine who had set up his family medical practice in Tomque (pronounced TUM-KEE.), a small town in Arizona. One of the many things that he liked about the location was the weather. It seldom rained, snow was an infrequent visitor, and between sunrise and sunset the temperature ranged from the low fifties to the high seventies almost every day; perfect weather for walking. And it was only two hours by car to Phoenix International Airport, my gateway to family and old as soon as I could arrange it I was on my way to Tomque. I was warmly received by my old roommate, invited to stay as long as I wanted in his sprawling Spanish style house, and given a great deal of assistance in my search for my Garden of Eden, which I found near the end of my It was a small frame house, the rooms all on one floor, no wearying stairs to climb. It was located at the north edge of town adjacent to a small park. The park was the beginning and the
end of a gravel path that meandered for five miles through the surrounding desert. At intervals the path hosted benches located in shady spots. If I had designed it.....