It was Nov. 16, one day after he and his wife of 21 years had received the first foreclosure notice on their Gaithersburg town house.

She thought he was typing resumes as usual, struggling to find work. But he was sitting in their oldest son's room, trying to write him a letter explaining why he had decided to kill himself.

She found him slumped on the floor. He had taken 30 Valiums.

A rescue squad rushed him to a local hospital, where he was revived. "I was very remorseful," he says now. "It's wrong. I know it. But your money starts diminishing and I felt like I lost everything."

"I just took the whole bottle," says the 39-year-old salesman. "I didn't know where to go or what to do. I entertained angry thoughts about robbing something, becoming a criminal if I could figure out how to become a criminal. You get desperate. I thought by killing myself, maybe someone will help my family."

At the time, he had been out of work since October, when he left his job in a Bethesda car dealership because car sales were so poor. A year earlier, he had left his $30,000 job in retailing after 19 years in the field because he saw little room for advancement in the Washington department store where he worked.

He thought selling cars would allow more room for personal initiative. It was a move he and his wife regret. "After he got in the car business, I felt like he had hit rock bottom," says his wife, a hair stylist. "He loathed it and we could never get back on our feet."

"He wasn't contributing, but he didn't want to walk out," she says. "Running away from it was a way out."

The suicide attempt was an embarrassment even greater than being out of work. He told his parents and his sons that he was hospitalized because he had suffered a heart attack.

Although he participates in group counseling sessions each week, he has lost the optimism that followed his recovery. "When I got out of the hospital, things looked hopeful," he says. "Now they're starting to crash in again. I'm losing ground as far as my responsibilities go, as being a father."

The family is existing day to day. "We've gone through nightmarish things," his wife says. "We've been without medical insurance for a year and a half, since he left retailing. It's hard to sleep.

"No one around us knows what we're going through. You could walk across the street and talk to my neighbors and they'd never know it was happening to us."

The couple persuaded the mortgage company, which had rejected their partial payments, to give them six months to pay the $4,000 they owe, but both fear that her income won't be enough to prevent foreclosure.

"For a measly $1,000, your whole life goes down the drain," he says. "Sure it's just a material thing, but losing this house would be like losing our life, working all these years for nothing."

The suicide attempt prompted the couple to seek help from the Department of Social Services in Montgomery County, which is processing papers to give them $250 in emergency housing assistance and has given them temporary medical assistance cards.

Their longtime Bethesda pediatricians, however, would not accept the Medicaid cards when they brought in one of their two sons with an ailment. The family ended up paying $35 to a Gaithersburg walk-in clinic, which also did not accept Medicaid. It misdiagnosed their son's poison ivy as chicken pox, she says, and the family finally paid an additional $30 for treatment by their regular pediatricians.

The doctor who treated the salesman after his suicide attempt helped him get a job interview, but he didn't get the position as a warehouse management trainee. "I wore a suit to the interview and I think they were afraid I wouldn't get myself dirty," he says.

As for his experience with social workers, he says, "It's very traumatic to talk to these people and beg for money. I'm from the old school--you make your own way in life."