It was one of those moments in life. When that first text message arrived from Max Poulin, I immediately knew something was wrong.
Poulin and I had stopped talking late in his professional baseball career over a difference in opinion concerning his level of play.
I thought he was done and he thought I was a know-it-all and told me as much, saying he thought I should be fired.
We went a number of years without speaking so a text from him asking for a meeting was both unexpected and odd.
A reporter's curiosity drove me to meet him at his Windsor Park home where he revealed he'd attempted to take his own life just a few days before.
Now he wanted to share his story of sexual abuse, depression and eventually the suicide attempt.
It was eight months ago, when, in Poulin's own words, the long-time Winnipeg Goldeyes shortstop "didn't want to be in this world anymore."
Today, he is working on improving his life and taking steps to try to help other victims of sexual abuse.
Poulin had kept the secrets of his childhood, sharing only with a few close friends during moments of crisis. But it all came to a head early last summer when he was admitted to hospital overnight for his own protection.
Even in Poulin's worst moments last summer, fresh from a life-threatening crisis, he wanted to help others. While Poulin's heart was in a good place, his wishes to help others noble, he needed to help himself first.
A phone call to a well-connected doctor resulted in an appointment for Poulin with a psychiatrist, and his journey began. At the time I told him, "When you are ready to talk, I will listen and try to write your story. But not now. You have to get to a better place first."
On Thursday, Poulin called to say he was involved with Beyond Borders, a Canadian children's sexual abuse advocacy group, had surrounded himself with great people and was now ready to talk.
"You saw me eight months ago. It's kind of crazy to think of where I was eight months ago and to where I am today," said Poulin in a downtown condo, supported by Beyond Borders president Rosalind Prober and communications director Deborah Zanke.
"Eight months ago, I wanted to get this out because going through what I was going through, I knew others might be going through the same thing, and I wanted to help anyone if I could. I was lost in all of this.
"I was in that dark hole of depression, all the way to where I didn't want to be in this world anymore. The worst was not wanting to be here. How can a human not want to be here?
"If I didn't have baseball, if I didn't turn to baseball, I wouldn't be here."
Those who followed Poulin's baseball career and witnessed him play with the joy of a child will find that shocking. Poulin, a Quebec native, came to Winnipeg with nothing but his clothes jammed in an old Toyota and built a reputation and loyal following through his work ethic on the field and accessibility off it. He never, absolutely never, refused an autograph and could be seen, night after night, signing for fans after Goldeyes games.
Like so many others who mask their pain with drugs or alcohol, Poulin had been abused as a child. But baseball was his crutch.
"For a couple of years when I was eight, nine and 10, I was abused, by a guy who was eight years older," Poulin said. "When I got a little older and was 17 and in high school, I realized how wrong it was. I felt like people were always looking at me and thinking bad things about me.
"It reflects on everything. You go to work and have no confidence. You are just in such a bad place and you don't even know why."
There was always something pure about Poulin and what he did with the Goldeyes. Kids loved him, and he loved them back. He wasn't getting paid much, and the life was hard with long hours on the bus and no job security.
Yet there was Poulin, grinding it out summer after summer for eight seasons that culminated with the team retiring his No. 6.
"Baseball was a good thing for me, but in a way it also kind of blinded me," he said. "I was doing something I loved for so many years. But I also kind of put everything behind. I left home because I didn't want to be at home.
"People in my hometown thought I was going to play baseball, but I was running from my abuse. Then when baseball was over, everything just came back."
Poulin retired and immersed himself in a construction business, buying properties to renovate and sell. He was functioning on the outside, but on the inside things got worse by the day.
"I always had other things but nothing like baseball. When it disappeared, I turned on everyone," he said. "I was in my early 30s and done baseball, and I hadn't changed or dealt with what happened. So it was like, boom, I was back to where I was when I was 16, but now there was nowhere to run."
Finally, Poulin hit rock bottom and one night, he believed he should choose death. But a friend intervened and took him to hospital. After that he began to talk and then sought professional help. He credits his doctor with guiding him through the worst of talking about his abuse and finding freedom.
Poulin's quest now is to prevent others from hiding painful secrets. He knows the power of talking, and he's hosting the Man Up For Max Breakfast on June 24 in support of Beyond Borders.
"This is a new challenge for me and a way for me to help others," said Poulin. "That's really what I want to do now, help anyone who is feeling alone about these issues. I don't want anyone to go through what I did."
email@example.com Twitter: @garylawless