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updated 3/8/2004 3:20:54 PM ET 2004-03-08T20:20:54

By his own admission, he or plagiarized the work of others in dozens of stories he wrote for the Times. Why would a person who originally chose to dedicate his life to seeking the truth turn to lying, as a way of life? Former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair spoke with "Today" host Katie Couric about the misdeeds that led to his losing his job. Read an excerpt from Blair's new book, "Burning Down my Master's House," below:

Chapter one: Fire
I lied and I lied—and then I lied some more.

I lied about where I had been, I lied about where I had found information, I lied about how I wrote the story. And these were no everyday little white lies—they were complete fantasies, embellished down to the tiniest detail.

I lied about a plane flight I never took, about sleeping in a car I never rented, about a landmark on a highway I had never been on. I lied about a guy who helped me at a gas station that I found on the Internet and about crossing railroad tracks I only knew existed because of aerial photographs in my private collection. I lied about a house I had never been to, about decorations and furniture in a living room I had only seen in photographs in an electronic archive maintained by Times photo editors. In the end-justifies-the-means environment I worked in, I had grown accustomed to lying. I told more than my share of lies and became as adept as anyone at getting away with it unquestioned and unscathed.

I suspected that the truth would either set me free or kill me. I was not yet prepared to go there, however, on this Wednesday morning, at least not in this room full of people. On my side of the conference table were Lena Williams, the chairwoman of The New York Times Newspaper Guild, and two other union representatives who were prepared to do battle on my behalf. On the other side of the table were two labor relations lawyers and Bill Schmidt, the associate managing editor at The New York Times in charge of news administration.

Lena had warned me about the labor relations lawyers, saying that they tended not to understand the way the newsroom operated and would ask questions, well, like lawyers—designed to catch you in lies, fluster you and leave you off balance. Bill had been among the first people I had met at The Times, as he was in charge of recruitment, hiring, staff development and training at the newspaper. Bill had been a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in the Middle East and worked for The Times in Africa and London, before he was asked to return to New York. He took the job of overseeing the modernization of the management and budget cultures in a newsroom that had remained very backwards as the company, at large, had become more efficient and progressive. Bill’s mandate, in many ways, came from Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the fifty-one-year-old publisher of The Times and chairman of the company.

Arthur had set out to make the newsroom more diverse and open to people from all sorts of backgrounds, as well as to push the newspaper into the information revolution. Bill was firmly committed to all of these goals, including Arthur’s desire that controls be placed on the budgets and finances of the newsroom.

One of the more unpleasant aspects of Bill’s job was handling discipline in a newsroom that previously had been disinclined to fire anyone and that handled most of its problems informally. Bill’s overly agreeable personality, it seemed, made him ill-suited for the job, but, in fact, he had used it to his advantage. His kindness actually made people open to what he was saying, and his moves—like hiring a deputy who was in charge of finding and counseling those who were lost in the newsroom—bolstered his solid relationship with the staff and the union.

Under the twenty-month editorship of Howell Raines, though, much of that goodwill was beginning to evaporate. Bill had to break the news to one veteran in Atlanta that he was being ordered back to New York so that a young Los Angeles Times writer who had been recommended by one of Howell’s friends could replace him. When the correspondent, who was considered among the paper’s greatest, protested, saying that he had to stay in Atlanta because of a child custody battle, Bill was the one who had to tell him that Howell was not persuaded. Bill also had the unpleasant job of being ordered to fly to Los Angeles to meet with West Coast correspondents and to break the news to them that Howell was relieving many of them of their duties. The removal of the correspondents, many of whom quit when they began to see the writing on the wall, shook a newsroom where people had historically come to work and stayed for life.

Bill had been instrumental in my hiring and had counseled me through some difficult personal and professional moments. We had laughed about stories he had written about Monty Python, and I drank Scotch with him and other friends in the apartment of his girlfriend, one of New York’s most prominent travel agents.

As the meeting began, I felt a strange sympathy for the position Bill was in, charged with having to investigate such a serious matter. Bill smiled empathetically across the table, as if he was saying that he felt for me, that this was a position neither of us wanted to be in. Bill looked down at some papers in front of him and turned in his chair as he shuffled them. He cleared his throat, looked up at me and began speaking.

“Jayson, first I want to say that this is something that none of us want to have to do,” I recall him saying. “This is something that we are doing because of the special place that The New York Times holds and because of the special priority we place on our journalism. The trust of our readers is based on the principle that what they read on our pages is accurate, reported by the person who it is said to have been reported by, and conforms to our standards of journalism. That trust derives from years of balanced and objective journalism, a trust that we regard highly.”

I stared at him as he continued.

“Our readers put trust in our editors, who in turn put trust in our reporters. That trust is very fragile, and it has been damaged in this case.

The first purpose of these conversations is to reestablish that trust, the trust between you and your editors, so that before we go forward with any disciplinary action or more reporting, the editors can have faith in you.”

He paused for a moment and looked at me. “So, I am going to ask you to be completely honest and provide every detail. We are going to get into the minutiae of your writing and reporting of the story, and may ask you for documentation—including receipts—to back up every element of what you say. This is something that none of us want to do, but I am sure you understand that it is something we must do in order to reestablish the trust between you and your editors. Lena, do you want to say anything before we begin?”

“Yes,” Lena said, leaning into the back of her seat, “we are here to protect Jayson’s rights as a member of The New York Times Guild. I know we all have a good relationship in this room, but in the past, there have been instances where some of the questioning has been irrelevant or confusing. We want to reserve the right, if such a moment comes up, to halt the meeting and go outside to caucus. We are looking forward to resolving this matter as quickly as possible and getting back to business, as we know you are too, and, with that, we’re ready.”

And, for the next four hours—with the exception of two breaks, the first so one of the union members could berate me for repeatedly admitting that I had made mistakes, and another so Bill and the lawyers could confer—they questioned me and questioned me and questioned me. My lies were elaborate and convincing, particularly my admissions that I had done some things wrong in the reporting and writing of the story (“No, perhaps I should have stayed at the house longer and told my editors that I was not ready to write the story yet,” for example.). The story in question concerned the family of a young Marine who was the last American soldier missing in action in Iraq.

A few weeks earlier, Jim Roberts, the national editor, had asked me to figure out a good story about a family that had someone missing in Iraq, and a story about the last soldier missing in action struck a chord with him. Since the war began, the National section had been taking a back seat to the foreign correspondents in Iraq, and it had been virtually impossible for anyone on Jim’s staff to get on the front page. I had been the one exception, churning out beautifully-written—if I do say so myself—pieces about a Maryland family watching as their son’s colleagues got attacked in Iraq; the prisoner of war Jessica Lynch; a young North Carolina couple separated soon after their marriage by his deployment; and soldiers recovering from their wounds at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

It was not what I wanted to be doing. I was much more interested in following the trial by star-chamber in Virginia of the young suspect in the Washington-area sniper shootings, Lee Malvo. To me, these other assignments were simply the ends justifying the means. The more prominent, colorful and tear-jerking stories I wrote about the impact of the war in Iraq on the home front, the better display I would get on the stories that mattered  And what mattered to me were the stories I was writing about Malvo.

I believed he was guilty, but I also believed he was being unfairly railroaded in the name of justice. One of the saddest parts of this meeting for me was that even if I managed to reestablish some sense of trust and save my job, I probably would not be allowed to return to covering the Malvo case. I had followed it tirelessly since the day I drove to Myersville, Maryland at two in the morning, to cover the arrests of Malvo and John Allen Muhammad.

After hours of lying, I was not only emotionally exhausted, but also worn with guilt. After all, I was the only one in the room who knew the truth, and it was not as pretty as the picture I was painting. I had told them that the striking similarities between my front-page story and one that had appeared a few days earlier in the San Antonio Express-News could be easily explained. The story was about the family of Edward Anguiano, Jr., a twenty-four-year-old Marine who had disappeared in Iraq. I placed the blame for the similarities squarely on the egregious reporting methods I had been using during the assignment. I told them that before I left for Los Fresnos, Texas, a small dusty town along the Mexican border just north of Brownsville, I had downloaded a set of notes and clippings on Anguiano into a file that I had saved onto my laptop computer. I explained that when I began writing the story, I confused some of the paragraphs in the file with my notes, and had included some of the quotations and details in my piece erroneously and without attribution to the San Antonio paper. I handed over the files, three notebooks, and other material from my assignment that helped explain how it happened.

The only problem, of course, was that it hadn’t happened that way at all. I was the only one in the room who knew that I had never flown to San Antonio, had never rented a car at the small rental place across from the airport, and had never slept in it. I had never driven south down U.S. 77 in the blazing heat, had never taken a left onto Texas 100, never turned onto Buena Vista Drive, and never crossed the railroad tracks near the Anguiano household. I had never seen the Martha Stewart furniture on the patio, nor the shrine to Edward in one of the daughter’s rooms. I had never missed my exit along the way, nor stopped in Brownsville, nor had I gone to the small town called Port Isabel along an inlet to the Gulf of Mexico. The truth was I had never left my apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

The reasons were beside the point by this time, and I was panicking, trying to stop the bleeding to ensure that they did not find out more. Many would later assume that I had lied in an effort to pull off one last con, to keep my job or my prestigious assignment. It was, in fact, simpler than that.

There were a handful of colleagues at The Times who I admired—Bill and Lena included. I did not want to disappoint them with the truth. I was in such a crisis mode, coming up with fake documentation and explanations, that I lost sight of the fact—almost entirely, as if it had evaporated from my mind—that I had done this before. I had taken liberties that some would consider extreme, even by the loose standards of some Times correspondents.

“I think we are going to make it through this one okay, something like a short suspension, a reassignment to a section like Sports or City Weekly, where you can be watched over and nurtured as you should have been and wanted to be anyway, and then we will put this one behind us,” Lena said as we sat together that evening after the meeting. We were joined by my mentor, Jerry Gray, a former metro desk political editor who was now editor of the desk that writes stories for The New York Times on the Web.

“I guess they want to meet again to continue the questions tomorrow afternoon, baby, so I will give you a call in the morning once they call me,” Lena continued. “They said eight in the morning, because they want to get this over with and get an editor’s note in the paper, but I said ‘no way.’ So, it looks like it’s going to be noon. So, why don’t you go home and do something relaxing, and be ready to come to Forty-third Street by about noon. Now, get some rest, baby. We are going to fight for you. That’s what the union is here for,” she reassured me.

“The one thing I don’t understand, Jerry, is why they keep on asking for all this documentation,” she continued. “Documentation, documentation, documentation. I’m glad your brother kept all of your receipts and is faxing them up here. We’ll get them, hand them over tomorrow, and be done with that; then we can move on to the next thing.”

I was barely eating during this conversation, only picking at peanuts and sipping on a cranberry and seltzer, which had become my beverage of choice since giving up alcohol a little more than a year before.

“You have nine lives, and you may very well dodge the bullet on this one, but you have got to . . .” Jerry said. His voice trailed off as we walked back to the Times Building.

My friend Zuza Glowacka was working the late shift on the picture desk, where she was responsible for cropping obituary pictures and managing the department’s work flow to the rest of the building.

Two days before, on Monday, we’d had lunch together at an Italian restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was the same day I would receive the first call from the National Desk about the Texas story. During our lunch, we had talked about my going to Africa as a foreign correspondent and her coming along. Our idea was to use journalism, human rights work, volunteering and other pursuits to better peoples’ lives in small ways and to promote social change.

I called her about my problems while she was reading the final pages of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man.

“Hey, Jayson, I am just finishing up the last forty pages, so can I call you back when I am done?” she said when I called that night.

“Sure.”

I was busy downloading maps, articles and details that would help me sort out the mess I had gotten myself into and smoking cigarettes like there was no tomorrow, letting their ashes land on the floor where they would pile up around my kitchen table. In the latter pages of The Invisible Man, Ellison writes about the main character “reporting back to headquarters” and a white woman named Sybil who fantasizes about black men. In the next chapter, the main character realizes how imperfect society is and the real purpose of the Brotherhood and bloodshed as riots break out in Harlem. When I finished collecting what I needed, I called Zuza and got her voice mail. So, I called Alexandra Von Ungern, her roommate, and asked if I could come over.

“Sure, you can tell me what Texas was like. I need a cowboy,” she said.

“Okay. I, uh, just need to talk to someone,” I replied.

“Honey, are you okay?”

“Yeah, everything is going to be all right. I just have some, uh, work trouble that I need to sort out. But everything will be okay. Everything will be okay.”

The “everything will be okay” continued to be my mantra to everyone who expressed concern that night and over the following days. Everything was not okay. On Monday afternoon, after my leisurely lunch in Brooklyn, I had headed back to my apartment to write a story about a hearing in the sniper shootings case. I was busily working when Jim Roberts called my cell phone with a question.

“Hey, Jayson. Howie Kurtz from The Washington Post called somebody earlier today, it was either Allan Siegal or Gerald, about the story that you wrote on the Anguiano family, and about some passages that seemed similar.

I just saw the San Antonio story, and I’ve got to tell you that there are some passages that are strikingly similar to your lead.”

“Oh, that’s strange. I don’t even remember seeing a San Antonio story.”

“Really?” he asked.

“Yeah. When was it published?”

“Uh, hold on, let me check. April 18. Hey, Jayson, I can barely hear you. Could you get to a landline and give me a call back in about fifteen minutes? I’m going to read the story real quickly.”

“Okay. Could you send me a copy?”

“Sure.”

The copy never landed. I finished up my sniper story quickly, fumbling over my words. The fleeting thought that this might be the last story I’d ever write for The Times crossed my mind. No, so pessimistic of me. Since I did not have a landline in my house, I went down the block, nervously smoking and reading, to a pay phone. As had become my custom in recent months, I dialed “*67” before making my call, in order to block the news clerks answering the telephone at their desks or the editors from seeing what number came up on my caller identification.

“Hey, Jayson. So, are you sure you’ve never seen the San Antonio story?” Jim asked once we were on the phone again.

“I really don’t think so. I don’t remember it at all. I am going to have to check my notes.”

I was sweating bullets under the scorching sun at a pay phone on Fifth Avenue near the corner of President Street in Brooklyn. I truly, at that moment, did not for the life of me remember the San Antonio Express-News story, not that I would have told him the truth if I had. I was beginning to get dizzy, sweating more and more with each question he asked.

“Okay, check your notes and give me a call back later tonight. Here’s my cell phone number in case I’ve already left the office. Gerald is coming down on me to get the details and get back to him as soon as possible.”

“Okay. Talk to you later, Jim.”

I quickly found the Express-News story on the newspaper’s website and read every detail, realizing that I had used most of them in my story, in some cases employing very similar phrases. I made a quick, impulsive decision to call the reporter on the story. Macarena Hernandez, oddly enough, had been an intern with me at The Times four years earlier. We were both among those selected to return, but she decided against the move after her father died in a car accident. Macarena had toiled from job to job, and had apparently landed at the Express-News. I had not noticed earlier that her name was on top of the story until Jim called with his questions.

“Macarena, hey, do you know who this is?” I asked, trying to keep a pleasant tone.

“No,” she said sharply.

“It’s Jayson Blair,” I said.

“Jayson. What do you want?”

“I want to talk to you about this story and just let you know that I never saw it before I wrote my piece,” I said.

“Jayson, Jayson. You mean to say that you never saw this before you wrote your story? Jayson, I don’t believe you. I can’t talk to you about this.”

“Okay,” I replied. “I just wanted to let you know that I am . . .”

She interrupted me with a sharp “Goodbye.”

So much for trying to co-opt the victim. What I did not know at the time was that Macarena had placed a call to Sheila Rule, the manager of reporter recruiting, earlier in the day, after spending the weekend listening to colleagues point out similarities between the two stories. Sheila had hired both of us as interns in the summer of 1998. Sheila looked at the two stories and brought the matter to the attention of Bill and of Gerald Boyd, the managing editor. Gerald was managing the paper while Howell was on vacation. Later in the day, Sheila, Bill and Gerald sat down with Jim, a middle-aged southerner who liked to wear cowboy boots and plant them on people’s desks as he was making a point.

Jim was a demanding boss, but despite all outward appearances, he had a soft underbelly and was much kinder than most to his staff of reporters, which engendered a loyalty that was rare, if not unheard of, in the newsroom. The metro editor and the Washington bureau chief were mainly liked by their charges because they stood up to Howell. The business editor would have been facing mutinies daily if his staff was not being worked so hard that it had no time to put together a revolt. The new arts and entertainment editor was disliked for carrying out Howell’s mandate to bring more pop culture to the section. And the foreign editor was viewed as a man without a friend among the reporting ranks. In the meeting, Sheila, Bill and Gerald told Jim that there was clearly a problem, and that he should call me to try to figure out what had happened.

I was on my way to Zuza’s that night when the phone rang. It was Jim once again. He said that I should hop on the train from Washington—where he thought I was—and get to New York early in the morning. When Jim told me that he was going to call Adam Liptak, the national legal affairs reporter, and ask him to head down to Washington to cover the rest of the hearings, I knew this was big trouble. Jim told me to get some rest, not to worry about it, and to just come in with all my notes and be as prepared as possible to explain what happened. That night, at Zuza’s apartment overlooking Prospect Park from Ocean Avenue, I huddled in her room completing what I told her was a legitimate timeline of events during my “trip” to San Antonio.

“I don’t understand what the big deal is,” she said to me. “So you copied some paragraphs and quotes from a story by mistake. Why do you have to come up with a timeline and all of that stuff?”

I was not yet prepared to be honest with Zuza, either.

“I dunno. They just want me to have it, and I think it could be big trouble if I don’t.”

I slept on a black mattress on the floor beside her bed. It was a great improvement over the dirty white couch I had being sleeping on most nights in my ice-cold apartment on President Street. We set the alarm so I could get into the office early Tuesday morning. I was scheduled to meet Jim a little after ten in the morning and I planned to arrive a bit early, but I could not sleep, waking up every few minutes with random thoughts about the Anguiano story and the bind I was in.

When I turned over and noticed that the alarm clock’s red digits had gone a little past 6 a.m., I gave up on getting rest, and tapped on Zuza’s shoulder to let her know that I was headed into the office.

“Good luck,” she said, as I walked out her bedroom door.

After taking the twenty-five-minute ride on the Q train, I popped out of the subway with the light shining on the emptiness of Times Square— its tall buildings, its signs, its flashing lights—at six thirty in the morning. I walked one block north, rounded the corner, and turned right onto West Forty-Third Street. I greeted the security guards still working the late shift as I walked through the lobby of the Times Building. My nocturnal nature ensured that I knew all the faces.

I swiped my card above the electronic turnstiles that had been installed after the September 11 attacks and immediately walked into an open elevator door. I pressed the button for the fourth floor, where my desk in the sports section was located. After logging into my computer, I checked the Washington Post website. Jim had told me that Kurtz, the Post’s media reporter, had promised to hold off for a day, so the paper could do some more research into the story.

“Whew.” I felt a slight sense of relief once I discovered nothing about it in The Post. I quickly flipped to another screen, typed in a password I had picked up from a photo editor several years before, and logged into the database where the picture desk stores its electronic files. It includes photographs that have been published in the newspaper as well as ones that are being considered for publication.

At first, I had used the database as a resource, to re-imagine details and scenes that I had legitimately witnessed. I found that the camera often captured things that the memory of the human mind does not record, offering different light, different angles. Later, I had begun using it to paint pictures and details that I had not witnessed, a tactic that can be legitimate on some occasions.

In recent months, though, while cooped up in my apartment, I had been using the database to get details about places that I had never been in order to write the kind of colorful details my editors demanded without the traveling it required. It was a simple system of deception—my tools were my laptop, my cell phone, online archives and the photo database, which could be accessed from my kitchen table.

I began looking at the pictures from inside the Anguiano house and recording the details into my notebooks, scrawling some legibly and others messily in order to make the notes seem authentic. I had told Jim the night before that I had in fact seen the Express-News story, but had not noticed it was written by Macarena. I also told Jim and anyone else who asked that it appeared to me as if I had mixed the Express-News article and some other stories in with my notes.

I fared well in the first day of questioning, and we agreed to meet again the next day to go over more details. Jim was writing an editor’s note that his bosses wanted to get into the paper quickly. He told me to give him a call at home or on the cell phone if I remembered any important details that were remaining.

I arrived early in the office the next day, Wednesday, to address some of the issues he raised, picking up the notebooks I had left in his office and adding some more materials to them. On his desk that morning, I noticed color printouts of the pictures from San Antonio, which meant one of two things—he was either trying to check the details about the house I had provided him or trying to determine whether I had pilfered my knowledge from the online database. I suspected it was the former, because few people outside of the photo editors had access to the database.

My phone rang, and my chest seized when I saw the caller’s name come across the display on top my phone.

“Times, Blair,” I said.

“Hi, Jayson. It’s Christine Moore. Gerald wants to meet with you. Please come down when you get a chance.”

Christine was Gerald’s secretary and had risen up through the ranks as his career expanded and he was promoted from assistant managing editor to deputy managing editor for news, and eventually to managing editor, the second- highest position in the newsroom. I had a good rapport with Christine, and I nervously chatted with her as I waited for Gerald outside his office.

I am sure it’s going to be okay, Jayson,” she said, and then smiled.

“This is not the first time something like this has happened, and I am sure you have made it through worse.”

Indeed I had, but she could not have possibly known how bad this really was. I tried to smile back. Gerald opened his door halfway, his rotund belly sticking out slightly from the blue dress shirt he was wearing, unbuttoned. I was dressed in my Sunday best, a long-sleeve Gap shirt and clean white khakis. As the first black managing editor of the paper, Gerald had always seemed to me to take a special interest in not promoting the careers of minorities over others in the newsroom in order to protect his standing. There was no special treatment once you got in the door. If anything, he was a little brusque. I had watched him devour the careers of more blacks than he saved. There were, of course, exceptions, like one young protégé he helped get installed as the Miami bureau chief, but, for the most part, his efforts to ensure diversity in the newsroom were focused on the outside, recruiting talented minorities. I always wondered what the purpose of recruiting them was if he was going to leave them to be eaten up once they arrived, but I also understood that behaving otherwise was not politically expedient in an environment where many would claim that he was protecting blacks. Gerald, at times, seemed to me like the black schoolteacher who was harder on his black students because he knew they would have to work three times harder to get the same respect and success.

“Where should we sit?” I asked.

Gerald pointed to the brown wooden conference table between his desk and the door, not once bringing his eyes up to make contact with mine. A bad sign. Jim had agreed to meet with me before I talked with Gerald, warning me that he would likely attempt to knock me off balance. I was prepared to answer any of his questions, to ask for forgiveness and a chance for redemption, and to take full responsibility—well, at least for what they knew about.

“I have always been an advocate of your career,” he started in.

Under other circumstances, I would have had to try to fight the urge to laugh, but not at this moment.

“I have always been an advocate of yours,” he repeated. “And I just want to say that this is a very serious matter. I don’t want to go over the details of the story. I know you have been talking to Jim and Bill Schmidt, and others are going to meet with you today to look into that. I just want to say that whatever has happened, whatever has happened, you should be completely and totally honest. That’s it.”

“Thanks, Gerald,” I said, surprised that there was not a forthcoming barrage of questions. “Can I say something?”

“Sure,” he said.

“I know you have always been an advocate of my career. I want to say, first, that I am sorry. I have made mistakes, and I recognize the seriousness of them. I know that I have had some problems in the past, but if, in the end, once all the facts are out, you decide it is worth it to give me another chance, I would like an opportunity for redemption. And I just want to say again that I am sorry.”

I knew I was going to get knocked off the sniper case, but I was vying not to get sent back to the metro desk, where I was uniformly disliked by the senior editing team, or some other place where I would have been lost, writing about fashion or real estate. Gerald looked up and glanced into my eyes. There was sadness, clearly, in his face.

“Okay,” he said, and then slowly began to stand up.

“Thanks for your time and support, Gerald,” I said, as I walked out of his doorway.

He did not say a word. He just nodded as he walked toward the doorway.

I had not had a drink or any drugs in well over a year at that point, but I was beginning to worry that my stress level might cause me to relapse. I went to the elevators and took one up to the eleventh floor. As most of the crowds headed toward the cafeteria, I went in the opposite direction, down a hallway that few in the Times Building seem to know about, and took the first right into an even more desolate corridor. There was a brown door with no window on it. Its nameplate read “Employee Assistance Program.”

“Hey, Joyce,” I said to the woman behind the desk.

“Hi. Jayson. How are you?”

“Oh, I am good. I am just wondering if Pat is around by any chance.”

“She is in with someone. Do you want to set up an appointment?”

“Sure. What’s a good time?”

“How about three p.m.?”

“Okay, three p.m. it is.”

I had gone to Pat Drew before, and I really needed her now. The newsroom was full of hard-charging investigative personalities, which made it difficult to try to open up to any of them. It was about as smart as having a conversation with a prosecutor right before you knew you were going to be charged with a crime. Pat was not like that.

Some people found her stiff, but I found her to be one of the most  calming and soothing people I had encountered at The Times. I had opened up to her about problems before, and she had held my hand as I had attempted to find balance in my life.

Pat was among the few at the newspaper that seemed to recognize the importance of balance, and, in many ways, I credited her with being one of the key impetuses to my personal reformation. My first priority was to talk with her about making sure I stayed sober, but I also thought she might be a good escape hatch, someone I could trust, someone to confide in about all my lies and someone who, if asked, could pass it all along to management.

You see, it was not so much that I wanted to keep my job. The problem was that I could not face the truth. I could not look into the eyes of Jim Roberts and tell him what I had done.

“Jayson!” Fern, the sports department secretary, yelled across the newsroom floor, minutes after I made it to my desk. “Jayson! It’s Lena. She’s on the phone for you. What’s your extension?”

“7717,” I said. “Send her over.”

“Baby, hi,” Lena said rapidly into the phone. “I just heard about this mess that you are in. I was in guild negotiations for the new contract today when I got a call on my cell phone from labor relations saying that they wanted to sit down and meet with us today. I want to go over all the details with you when I get into the office, but first I want to ask you a couple of things.”

I sat across from Lena in the sports department, and we had bonded. She was the only black woman working in the sports section and had been at the newspaper long enough to know where all the bodies were buried. When we weren’t gossiping about the way things worked in the newsroom, we talked about being black or just life in general. Lena had received her share of beatings from The Times and was fond of saying “I was not born Lena Williams of The New York Times, and I am not going to die Lena Williams of The New York Times. As soon as I hit retirement age, I am outta here. I am going to get me a house around Washington, a nice porch, get me a nice drink and sit there.”

None of the beatings struck me as quite so cruel as the blistering review The Times Book Review gave Lena’s book, It’s the Little Things: Everyday Interactions That Anger, Annoy, and Divide the Races. The book was based on a 1997 article Lena had written for the paper that examined the subject of everyday misunderstandings between blacks and whites. Lena made the mistake, though, of perhaps writing too much about the perspectives of blacks for the Book Review’s tastes.

“Nobody could disagree with her conclusion that ‘what the races need more than anything else is to lighten up, to cut one another some slack, think before they act on questionable presumptions about other people and memorize a few hitherto unsuspected offenses to be avoided,’” Judith Martin, the author of the Miss Manners column, wrote in the review. “Yet by the time she gets there, her readers may feel that there is no use trying. Missing between the anecdotes and the truisms is a serious examination of the social forces at play in any given incident, with workable suggestions for preventing further friction.”

“I guess you can’t write a book that talks about the foul odor of white people when they are wet and expect a good review in The Times,” I used to say to Lena. Still, she had done well for herself, keeping the hardcover of the book in print for three years and getting a trade paperback edition released later. Lena continued to promote the book and had hit the lecture circuit when she was not busy negotiating policies and contracts, writing for the sports section, and defending people like me. Lena had taken the time to advise me on the book I had proposed writing about the life of Lee Malvo and my career in recent months. She had also become concerned in recent weeks about my appearance and the sadness on my face, so much so that she and Charlotte Evans, the manager of copy editors, had stopped one day to have a long chat about the perils of covering death without seeking some counseling.

“It’ll be okay,” I had told them.

Little did they know how much I was not okay.

The Post story landed Wednesday on their website, and immediately colleagues began calling and writing e-mails of support, offering examples of similar situations where they had inadvertently plagiarized something.

No one was more supportive than David Carr, a friend and media reporter who had covered magazines, but I could not break the truth even to him, despite our close relationship. I guess it was because, in part, everyone was asking about the Texas story, and to answer truthfully would mean delving into my own mind and past much deeper than I was willing to go. The Washington City Paper had also called Carr, telling him that they planned to write a story saying that other reporters covering the sniper trials believed that I had not been attending the court hearings and instead had been writing them off the wires.

It had happened on occasion, although most of the time I used stringers and telephone interviews. While the datelines that ran above those stories were not correct, I knew it was not the first time a Times reporter had done that on a running story. Perhaps, though, the lengths I went to were a bit excessive. I suppose that is an understatement. Carr had attempted to fight the City Paper editor off, asking him to wait until more facts were known. What Carr did not know, though, was that I was not being honest and that the bucket of water he was carrying for me was filled with lies.

“This is pretty bad, but it could have been worse,” Carr said when he read the City Paper story. I could tell he was moving from “save Jayson’s job” mode to “don’t kill yourself” mode when we were smoking a cigarette outside of the building with John Schwartz, a talented technology writer and class-A prankster, and Lynette Holloway, another media reporter and one of my closest friends in the newsroom.

“Just be honest, man, no matter how bad it is,” he said.

“I know. I know. I will be.”

“Has anyone asked you, if you, well—are there any questions about whether you actually went to San Antonio?”

“No,” I said. “I mean, they have asked me for documentation.”

“And you’ve got it, right?” Lynette asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

As we walked together into the building, David stopped me, turned around, and started telling me about a conversation he’d had with his wife Jill the night before.

“I was explaining to Jill that you were born to do this, that you are nothing but a journalist and that it’s in your blood. She just could not understand what the big deal was and why you couldn’t do something else. I told her that ‘if Jayson is ruined in journalism, that’s it. That’s what he does. That’s what he is. It’s in his blood,’ and she finally understood. But if it does come out worst-case scenario, and I don’t think it will, you always have the ‘Rise and Fall of the Young Black Man’ story to sell.”

The City Paper story became crucial to the equation because it mentioned something that The Post had missed. I had pointed it out to Jim, who had missed the fact that another quote, one he did not know about, had been plagiarized from an Associated Press story. This sent the normally calm Roberts into a rage. Before that point, Jim had been focused mainly on the basic details of my reporting, whether I was tired on the assignment, whether they had asked too much of me over the last few months, and ways of coming up with an end-game that did not destroy me.

“Jayson, I am tired of this bullshit!”

“What do you mean, Jim? I am not bullshitting you. The Associated Press story is in the computer files I gave you, and I think that and other stuff has been mixed up. Listen, do you not believe me?”

“I am not saying that. I want you to answer me honestly—were you in Los Fresnos?”

“Listen, Jim, I was there. I remember the beads that hang in the archway between the kitchen and a room where a shrine is. I remember the pictures in one of the daughter’s rooms. I remember the back door of the kitchen leading to the patio. I remember the furniture. I remember that there was a satellite dish on the front lawn, an American flag and I think a POW or MIA flag also. I remember a tree on the left side of the house. I remember a truck being parked in the driveway. I remember the plants on the front of the house. I remember a ton of details.”

“Okay, okay,” he said.

That conversation ended when I told Jim that I needed to get upstairs for the meeting with the union, Bill, and the labor relations lawyer. In fact, I was late to meet with Pat Drew, the employee assistance counselor. When I arrived in her office, Pat was standing by Joyce’s desk.

“Hi, Jayson,” she said. “I thought I was supposed to see you at three?”

“Yeah. I just got caught up in a meeting. Do you have time now?”

“I am actually meeting with someone right now. Do you want to reschedule for tomorrow? Let’s see, I am all booked up in the morning.”

“Actually,” I said. “It’s okay.”

“Well, how are you doing?” she asked.

“Oh, I am all right. Just wanted to talk to you about life. I am trying to let the Twelve Steps guide me and just wanted to talk about that a bit.”

“Okay. Well, call Joyce and we’ll figure out something.”

She walked into her office. My last escape door, I felt, had closed.

* * *

After leaving Lena and Jerry Wednesday night following the first round of questioning by Bill and the lawyers, I could not get my mind off of what she had said about the documentation. Bill had demanded the receipts from my trip and I had lied, telling him that they were in a bag at my brother’s house in Virginia, and that I had asked him to fax them to me. I had falsified my notes and other documents, but for reasons beyond me at this point, I did not have the mental energy to create a whole fake set of receipts—even though it would have only taken a scanner, a printer and some creative thinking about how to make them look as if they were faxed from Virginia. I would also have to prevent Bill and the lawyers from calling to authenticate them.

As I was waiting for Zuza, Jim called from his cell phone.

“Hey, Jayson. How are you doing?” he said with a tinge of compassion in his voice.

I could tell he was worried. It was nearing eleven. I was in the empty sports department on the fourth floor, pacing from my desk to the windows.

“I am fine. I am just trying to get ready for more questioning tomorrow.”

“How was it?” he asked.

“Pretty rough.”

“Well, I am headed out of town for a couple of days and I had considered staying in town to take care of this, but then finally made the decision to go ahead and make this trip. Frankly, one of my worries was leaving you alone in this. You know, you have been pretty stoic through all this, and I just wanted to let you know that if you want to talk about anything, on or off the record, you can.”

“Thanks, Jim. I am okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I am a little numb, I guess. A little in shock.”

“Well, let me make the point again, if there is anything you want to talk about—how you are feeling, where your head is—even if it does not involve the stories, call me anytime, night or day, on the cell phone.”

“Thanks, Jim.”

“Are you going to be with someone tonight?”

“Yeah, I am going to be with some friends, some good friends. I am going to stay at their place tonight, get some rest and get ready for the questions tomorrow morning.”

“Okay, take care of yourself, and call me if you want to talk.”

“All right, Jim. Thanks a lot and, I am, uh, sorry about this. I just wanted to say that I am sorry about doing this to you, doing it to Nick. We have done some good work together.” Nick was the national assignment editor.

“Look,” he said, “you don’t have to say that. Nick and I know. Look, just get some rest and answer all their questions. I might need you tomorrow to finish up the editor’s note, so call me in the afternoon in the Washington bureau. All right?”

“Sounds good. Okay.”

“Are you sure you are okay, Jayson?”

“Yeah. I am fine.”

Zuza met me at my desk and we agreed to get out of the building. I told her about the prosecutorial nature of the questioning and the fact that I was convinced, by its nature, that this was going to result in a serious suspension at the least, and perhaps termination. This made no sense to her since, of course, she did not have all the facts. We decided to head downtown to grab a table at Café Mona Lisa on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village.

We would often go to cafés like this one to sit down, drink coffee, eat pastries, write and discuss the world, our plans, and our dreams. As I explained to her the same cover story I had been telling everyone else, my phone began ringing. Among the calls that came in were ones from the City Paper, Kurtz at The Washington Post, and the student newspaper where I had once been editor at the University of Maryland. There were calls from colleagues and others offering support as well.

“I still don’t understand why this is such a big deal,” she said.

As the calls continued to pour in, I became increasingly irritated, knowing clearly that the more reporters who were following the story, the more likely The Times would figure out that I had never been to Texas. My irritation, by this point, was turning into distress, and it was obviously on my face.

“Are you okay?”

Was it my facial expression, I wondered. Or was it that I—the coffee addict—had barely touched my cappuccino? Zuza had been there the night before when my parents, who had been called by two friends from the University of Maryland College of Journalism, phoned to find out what was going on and to make sure that I was all right. She could probably see that I was deteriorating into numbness.

“Oh, I am fine.”

I was staring somewhere, off into the distance.

“I am fine, I am fine. I just think it’s over. I just need to go to the bathroom.”

I placed my cell phone, which I had been clutching, on the table. I slowly pushed my chair back and laid my napkin beside the cell phone.

“I’ll be right back,” I said.

“Okay.”

“Dead man walking,” I mumbled softly as I made my way to the bathroom.

I walked in, shut the door to the bathroom, and stared into the mirror.

I cannot remember what I saw; I was just thinking that I was tired, so tired, but not in the way one gets tired when they are annoyed or frustrated or physically exhausted. I was tired in the way one gets when they are done, when there is no more fight in them, when the numbness gives way to a feeling of total loss, to nothing but blackness. I remember seeing darkness. I remember it enveloping me, and I remember giving in wholly, finding comfort in its lack of questions for me, its lack of disappointment, its lack of emotions. In a quick flash, I saw an image of myself hanging from the door hinge, the life gone out of me, the pain dissipated. There was no pleasure or joy in this image, but simply relief.

I began slowly, carefully, pulling the black belt looped through my khakis. I turned again, looking in the mirror, hoping to see my face. I turned back around and slowly unbuckled the single latch to the belt, slowly and carefully pulling both ends apart, letting them hang in my hands. I dropped one end and pulled from the right side, the one with the buckle on it, until the full belt had gone through the loops and was cradled in both of my hands in front of me. I looked up at the strong metal hinge in the bathroom and saw nothing but relief. I wrapped the leather around my neck. It felt cold and slightly sticky, but I did not jerk from it. I felt out of my body. Then a ray of light appeared, almost as if it had found its way through a crack in the door and into the bathroom, but it was in my mind.

No matter how bad it has been, I thought to myself, life has gotten better over the last year. You are still sober, you have not picked up, and you are happy. You have found love and your best friend and partner in many good things. No matter how bad this gets, your life, regardless of what any outsider may think, is better. Think of the woman outside that door, think of all the things you can do together. Think about her face when she finds you, think about your life. Think most, though, about how much better you are.

I quickly ripped the belt from my neck, with such force that I accidentally whipped myself with it. My heart was now pounding. I ran over to the sink, washed my hands and face, and quickly made my way for the doorway, picking up a paper towel along the way. I sat back down at our table and began crying, tears slowly making their way down my face.

“Are you ready to go?” Zuza asked, alarmed by the tears. “I am,” I replied, not betraying a hint of what had just occurred, or hardly any emotion for that matter, other than the blinding, deafening, muting numbness.

“I am tired of fighting for a job that I don’t really want,” I told her. “I’m just tired.”

“Okay, let’s go home.”

We paid the bill and walked out onto Bleecker Street and then onto Seventh Avenue, where an antique yellow Checker cab was parked. We walked into the street, Zuza with her arms around me, as we hailed a cab and made our way back to her apartment in Brooklyn. That night, I decided it was time to resign. No matter what happened, I was not going to keep fighting for a job that I didn’t really want, for a position covering something that mattered even less than the meaningless stories I had been writing about lately. I wasn’t going to fight for a job at a newspaper that had disappointed my idealism, for a newspaper that I had allowed to take something very precious from me. I didn’t tell Zuza what had happened in the bathroom, but I did tell her that I planned to resign from the paper. We fell asleep on her soft yellow sheets. It was the first night of good sleep I had in months. When I woke up Thursday morning, I called my parents to inform them of what had happened in the bathroom, and told them that I planned to resign. I called Daryl Khan, a freelance reporter for The Times and friend from college, to say that I was planning on leaving. He attempted, unsuccessfully, to dissuade me.

Outside the apartment building, I called Catherine Mathis, the Times’s vice president of corporate communications, to let her know that I planned to resign and that she should expect calls from the news media. Catherine had been a friend, not just a colleague, and I understood that Howell kept her far out of the loop in the newsroom, even though her deft advice could have saved him a million headaches. The call was my way of hinting that there was more to come, though I gave no details.

“Catherine, I just wanted to let you know that I am going to resign today.”

“Jayson,” she said from her cell phone on a trip to Boston. “I don’t know any of the details, but I would encourage you to reconsider and think about that before you make any decisions.”

“I will,” I said. “I will give you a heads-up if there is anything more.”

The first place I went that morning once I arrived in Times Square was, oddly enough, a bar. Robert Emmett’s Bar and Restaurant, run by two Irish business partners, is located around the corner from The Times at the intersection of West Forty-Fourth Street and Eighth Avenue. I had spent many a drunken night there, but in recent times, the daytime bartender, Maria, had been a great source of strength and support. She talked to me about love, life, and everything else when I came by for lunch and the soup of the day. The blue cheese and broccoli soup was my favorite. Maria would pour a cup of coffee and a cranberry seltzer as soon as I sat down. Whenever I got ready to leave, she would pour another cup of coffee. Maria was a saint and the one person that I wanted to say goodbye to more than anyone else.

I waited outside that morning, on a crate across the street from the bar’s door, beside a Broadway theatre and a hotel. I stared into the windows of the bar and thought of the many good times and the many bad ones I’d had there. I remembered the night we stood by its windows watching the New Year ushered in when we were supposed to be working and then proceeded to the bathroom to snort some cocaine; the Saturday drunken lunches with Stephanie Flanders, a brilliant Harvard graduate and correspondent brought in to cover world poverty, who was perhaps the only person less suited for The Times than me; the time young Times staffers and workers from The New York Times on the Web gave me a pair of inflatable breasts for my birthday; the day that the bar’s owner told me to stop doing drugs as I teased him by dancing the night away with his teenage daughter; my first visit back after getting clean and sober with Sabine Heller, a public relations executive who was my friend, and her client and friend, Gary Coleman; and of course the many lunches with Maria.

When Maria finally arrived to open the bar, I walked across the street and knocked on the locked glass doors and she let me in. She could tell something was wrong, and I began to explain to her the details of the Texas story.

“Let’s just say it’s complicated and that I have disappointed a lot of people. So, that’s why I have decided to resign. I am just not going to fight for a job I don’t want anymore,” I said, repeating my mantra. “And Maria . . .”

“Yes honey.”

“There is much, much more.”

I started crying. She came from around the bar and comforted me.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said. “Oh, honey, it’s going to be okay.”

At some point, Lena called and told me to meet her in the union office on the ninth floor of the building. As I walked out the door of Emmett’s for the last time, Maria called out my name.

“Jayson, good luck, take care of yourself and be in touch, okay, honey?”

“Okay. I am . . . I am . . . I will.”

I wanted to say that I was going to miss her, because I would. I would indeed.

In the union office, Lena laid out the game plan and gave me an update: we were supposed to meet with The Times labor relations lawyers and Bill in thirty minutes, but that meeting had been rescheduled because they wanted to review some things. She asked me some questions, one about whether I was definitely in Los Fresnos. I said yes, for some reason, still holding out some hope that what I was about to say would end it all, the questions would stop, nothing more would be found out, nothing more needed to be found out.

“Lena,” I said. “I have to tell you something.”

“What, baby?”

I looked in her eyes, tears welling up in my own.

“What, baby?”

Her facial features were drooping, a sense of alarm spreading over her face.

“Lena, I can’t take it anymore. I want to resign.”

“No, we are going to fight this . . .”

“Lena, I can’t take it anymore. Can I tell you something?”

“Sure, of course.”

“Last night, I almost killed myself. I wrapped my belt around my neck and was going to do it. I can’t fight anymore. I can’t fight for a job that I don’t want anymore. I just can’t take the questions. I can’t do it.”

“No, no, no, baby, no. Don’t do that to yourself. No, no, no. You can’t do that. No.”

Lena was crying, bawling, tears rushing down her face.

“No, no, no, no, baby.” She kept on repeating it.

“Okay, here’s what we are going to do,” she said when we wiped our tears. “We are going to go down to that meeting and tell them that you plan to resign today, that you will help them with any questions that they have, but that you are not prepared to do it now, because you are not in an emotional state where you can discuss it. We are going to tell them that you will provide them with all the documentation, and we’ll ask for unemployment and a confidentiality clause. That’s what we are going to do. I am not going to have somebody die over this place. No sir. Okay. Here’s what we are going to do, I am going to call Doc up and we are going to have ourselves a little prayer. We are going to have ourselves a little prayer, and then we are going to do this. Okay?”

Doc was an old-timer, a black man who worked as a clerk on the sports desk. As she dialed Doc’s number on her phone, I wondered whether I should tell her more about what was going on. I resisted, hoping that it would not come to that, that I would not have to think about this for some time, that I would be able to just go home to Brooklyn, perhaps to Prospect Park to walk around and put this all behind me, and begin, somehow, rebuilding my life in another field.

When Doc arrived, Lena told him that “Brother Jayson is going through some trials and tribulations, and we just need to say a prayer.”

Doc commenced as we held hands in prayer, and after a lot of Lord, we ask thees and Yes Lord Jesuses, we broke up. Just then, the two other union members arrived and Lena informed them of the plan. When one suggested that we continue to fight, Lena sharply said that it was not in the cards. They went downstairs to labor relations to inform Bill and the lawyers of my decision to resign. When they came back up a half-hour later, Lena looked flustered.

“They asked if they could have about thirty minutes to review their options. They want you to come downstairs and answer some questions. We told them that you are going to resign, but they still want you to come downstairs and answer some questions.”

“I don’t want to, Lena.”

“You don’t have to,” the other female union member said. “Once you resign, you owe them nothing. They are likely consulting with legal right now to see if they can refuse your resignation.”

“They say they have evidence that you never went to Los Fresnos and they want to ask you about it. We told them that you are not in a position to answer any questions and just left it at a stalemate. Now, we are going to go back down there in a couple of minutes and see what they have to say. We need to have that resignation letter in hand and ready to bring it down to them to show that you are prepared to resign immediately,” Lena said.

“Okay, let’s do it now,” I replied. I pulled out my wallet and handed Lena my Times identification card. Lena quickly typed my brief resignation letter into her computer, we printed out the appropriate number of copies, and the group went back down to the labor relations office, leaving me alone in the guild office.

There was a knock on the door a few minutes later. It was Lynette, who was staring at me like a drooping puppy dog.

“I am going to resign,” I said.

“Shut the fuck up.”

“Yup, I am going to do it.”

“Why?”

“I don’t belong here. They are going to fire me anyway.”

“Are you fucking serious?”

“Yup.” I showed her my resignation letter.

“Can I have a copy of this?” she asked, laughing out loud, a big smile on her face. Lynette had seen some shit in her life and could take about any old crisis and turn it into a joke.

“Let’s grab a smoke,” I said.

“Where?”

“The stairwell.”

“Are you crazy? I don’t need to get caught and end up here with you.”

“Come on,” I said.

She followed me into the stairwell, and then onto a landing between floors. I knew this would be our last smoke. When she found out the truth, I knew she would be disappointed. We laughed and joked and made fun of most everything that had happened to us over my four years at The Times. We raced back up the stairs, though, when we heard footsteps from below, both of us discarding our lit cigarettes as we made a last mad dash, our final minor act of rebellion together. Back inside the guild office, I was handing Lynette the letter as Lena walked back in with the troops.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, looking at Lynette. “Goodbye,

Miss Holloway,” she said pointedly, not waiting for an answer.

“Okay.” Lynette said goodbye for the last time and left.

“Okay, so here’s the deal. They can’t refuse your resignation, but they would like to ask you some questions. We said, ‘No. Not now. Later.’ Now, after that happened, Bill pulled me aside and asked if he could come up and talk with you off the record. He just wants to talk to you and find out how you are doing, not about the details of the story. I can tell he is just really worried about you. I mean, they are all worried about you. There are some people in this building, Jayson, as fucked up as this place is, who care about you. Even the lawyers like you, and are worried about you, and want to make sure you are okay.”

“Lena,” I said, my voice cracking. “I love Bill. He’s great. I just can’t talk to him right now. I will call him. I just can’t talk to him right now.”

“Okay, I will let him know.”

Lena called the labor relations office and informed them that we were leaving, and then called Jerry Gray. Jerry had stopped by the office earlier in the day to inquire about my well-being.

“We are going to meet Jerry outside,” Lena said. “Here is what is going to happen. We are going to walk you to the elevators and walk you out the front door, and if we run into anyone from management, we are going to protect you.”

They were like guardian angels. I walked, flanked by my three union reps, Lena remarking on how crazy all of this had been, how we needed to get a drink, and how she needed one of my cigarettes.

“What have you got?”

“Camel Lights.”

“That’ll do.”

We made it to the elevators and began taking them down to the first floor. The elevator stopped on the third floor, the main space of the newsroom. In stepped Glenn Collins, a talented writer who had been one of my cubicle mates since my early days as an intern at the paper.

“Hey, Jaysona,” he said, using the nickname he called me. “How’s it going?”

“All right,” I said.

Lena smirked at me.

“Great stuff out of Maryland and Virginia. You’ve been all over the place.”

“Thanks, Glenn.”

When the elevator doors opened on the first level, Lena and I could hardly hold back our laughs.

“No, seriously, Jayson,” Lena said. “That is what everyone has been saying about your work, and this does not take that away.”

Little did she know. Lena, Jerry and I decided to go to the eighth-floor bar at the Marriott Marquis. I nibbled on a small sandwich at their behest and drank a cranberry and seltzer, as Lena ordered a gin and tonic and Jerry had a Grand Marnier. We sat there together as the telephone calls came in.

Kurtz from The Washington Post: “. . . heard you resigned, was wondering if you would be willing to comment.”

Wemple from the City Paper: “Please call me back Jayson.”

Jim Roberts: “I am still trying to finish the editor’s note . . .” He had no idea.

Jennifer Preston, Bill’s deputy: “Jayson, it’s Jennifer. Sweetheart, I heard you resigned and that just breaks my heart. Please call me . . .”

Sheila Rule: “Hi, Jayson, it’s Sheila . . .”

Jacques Steinberg, the media reporter who covered newspapers: “Jayson, it’s Jacques, I am working on a story about . . .”

I only picked up the phone when Zuza called.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I am at the Marriott Marquis with Jerry and Lena.”

“The strangest thing just happened. Gerald Boyd called me and told me to leave work.”

“What?” I asked.

“He told me to leave work and go find you, to be with you, that you would need me. And then he came up to my desk and asked me to go find you.”

“Okay, that’s the weirdest thing I have ever heard,” I said, perhaps not entirely grasping what I was hearing.

I then received a call from Carr, who had also received a call from Gerald, who had brought him into the office. After Lena and Jerry went on their way, offering to drive me to my parents’ house in Virginia the next day or over the weekend, I walked with Zuza down Eighth Avenue to meet Carr at West Forty-Third Street. We could see him across the street, standing alone, his black bag over his shoulder, black sunglasses on. He was nervously rocking back and forth.

“Carr!” I yelled.

David made his way across the street and I introduced him to Zuza.

“Oh, God, I am so glad you are here,” he said, giving her a big hug. “I am so glad you are here.”

David embraced me. He was crying, tears pouring down his face under his sunglasses.

“You’re not going to go west, are you?” he plaintively and emotionally wailed. West was toward where the drugs were, my spots.

“I don’t want to man, I don’t want to.”

I too was crying.

“Don’t go, don’t go. I don’t want you to die, man. I don’t want you to die. Listen, I don’t know what happened, but I know that you were not honest with me, and a time will come when we will sort that all out, but I just don’t want you to do something stupid. I just don’t want you to go west, I don’t want you to pick up, I don’t want you to kill yourself, and you know that picking up is just killing yourself slowly. Whatever shit you have going on that you think it will make better, it’s just going to make it ten times worse. Ten times worse, and you are just going to kill yourself. This time it might not be all that slow. Don’t do it. Just don’t do it.”

“I’ll try. I’ll try. I’ll try.”

We left each other on that corner. I informed him that we were going to walk for awhile and would probably go to Prospect Park. I reassured him that Zuza and I would stick together.

At Eighth Avenue and West Thirty-fourth Street, near Madison Square Garden, my dying cell phone rang.

“Hi, Jayson. It’s Pat Drew. I heard that you resigned today and remembered that you had come by earlier in the week and connected the dots. I guess this is what you wanted to talk about. How are you feeling right now?”

“I am okay.”

“Well, I talked to Lena and she suggested that I get in touch with you.

She mentioned that you had been having some suicidal thoughts.”

“Not right now, really, I just feel numb. I just want to go home and sleep. I am most worried about a relapse, really.”

“Well, Jayson, she mentioned something about a belt.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“What happened with the belt?” she prodded.

“I put it around my neck last night at a café, but . . .” my voice trailed off.

“Jayson, I think you really need to see someone. I have called the Realization Center. Marilyn is there right now, and she has agreed to see you. Would you be willing to go there and talk with her?”

“Of course. I think that’s a great idea, Pat.”

“Okay, I will call her and tell her that you are headed there. What time do you think you will be there?”

“We are not far at all, we could probably walk and be there in fifteen minutes.”

“Okay. That’s great. Please call me when you get there, okay?”

“Okay.”

Pat had come through again. The Realization Center is where I had gone to rehab. Marilyn White was its founder and director, and she had been my therapist in the outpatient program. Once I arrived, I was quickly taken into Marilyn’s office, where we talked a bit about the events of the last few days.

“I think you need to go to the hospital, Jayson. You have to be under constant watch, and I don’t think we can put all of that responsibility on a twenty-three-year-old girl. She seems very strong, but it’s just too much to ask. You need to rest, and you need to be in a safe place. Will you agree to go to the hospital?”

I would have agreed to anything at this point.

“Yes,” I said.

“I am going to try to get you into a good one, like Silver Hill, but you would have to find a way to get up there. Otherwise, if we have to call 911, they will take you to any old hospital and you could end up in Bellevue or some place like that, and we don’t want that.”

“Okay.”

We worked out the details with Pat at The Times, who promised to address the insurance issues. My parents, who had been alerted to come up by Lena, called to say that they were on their way. Marilyn called Zuza into her office to explain the situation and ask that she witness an agreement that she and I were about to sign.

Pat was still on the speakerphone as Marilyn read aloud the suicide contract—the one where I promised not to kill myself, at least until I was in Silver Hill. I signed it and Zuza witnessed it. She rolled the paper up into her back pocket and we made our way out of the Center’s office to grab dinner at a Polish restaurant in the East Village.

I argued over the phone with my friend Daryl, who felt like I was not being honest about what a deep hole I had been in; I cried on the phone with my brother. There was not much time, but as we ate Polish cuisine, I cried and Zuza comforted me.

The truth was about to come out, and I knew it would not set me free.

Excerpted from "Burning Down my Masters' House: My Life at The New York Times," by Jayson Blair. Copyright © 2004 Jayson Blair and New Millennium Entertainment All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. First published in the United States of America in 2004 by New Millennium Entertainment, Inc. www.NewMillenniumPress.com

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