Another Day in Paradise

The pathetic life revealed in Sonia Grainger's diary foreshadows her pathetic death four years later.

Sonia and Michael talked to therapists, both individually and together. Michael promised to try to be less abusive. Sonia didn't believe him. She felt that outsiders rarely saw the angry Michael she saw at home.

The journal does record moments of tenderness. On her birthday, January 1, 1991, Michael bought Sonia balloons and Hershey kisses. He was "especially eloquent" in telling their group how grateful he was to Sonia for having taken care of him after the accident: "Everyone told Mike how moved they were." On February 14, Michael announced to the group that it was the first anniversary of the accident. "It took a lot of nerve for him to get people's attention and speak," Sonia observed. "So he's so brave, my hero!!!"

The euphoria continued. "Even though this past year has been the worst year ever we made it through it together and we're still standin', and our future's so bright we have to wear shades!!!" she wrote a day or two later. "The best is yet to come!!...It's over!!! We made it!!!!"

But the demons hadn't left. Over and over Sonia wrote, "Mike was mad..." and "Why does he hate me?" He began calling her "motherfucker," and his fury could be sparked by almost anything: He didn't like a photo ID he had taken; he had dental floss stuck between his teeth; he thought she had honked for him in the parking lot while he was in a store; they were in the car together and she was having trouble changing lanes.

One winter day, Sonia was slipping on some ice and called to Michael for help. "I was so scared I was shaking and crying," she said. "And then of course Mike got mad...I'm not supposed to be scared, ever, I'm not allowed to show emotions. I'm not allowed to get angry...So I spent the rest of the night alone and scared."

Later Sonia wrote, "I always tough it out because I love him so much and after all I had a chance to see what life without him would be like and I hated what I saw!!!"

Sonia was clearly--and for the most part, by necessity--the decision-maker in the Grainger household. She handled the couple's money, structured their days. Observers said that as Michael began to recover, he chafed at her control of the household finances and her continual spending. It remains unclear whether Sonia was physically afraid of her husband or not; on one occasion, at least, she responded to him in kind, hurling her keys at his head and drawing blood. The journal shows that his outbursts remained a steady backdrop to their lives, and the physical threat appeared to escalate. Sonia described Michael dropping an ice cream cone immediately after buying it and then throwing it at the girl behind the counter, Michael becoming enraged after breaking a glass and kicking it against the wall. At one point, "He made me stay up all night. It made me hurt. Smokey [one of the dogs] guarded me!!"

The woman revealed in this journal is not particularly likable. Sonia's words often indicate a generalized anger and paranoia. Despite the amount she spent, she was also mean about money, haggling with store employees and managers and recording her victories (Christmas lights acquired at a discount; a cake returned because it didn't meet specifications) with a kind of grim glee. She wanted the couple's lawyers to demand $15 million in reparations in the lawsuit against Burlington Northern, a mere million or two being unacceptable. The journal contains a couple of casually racist comments. And though Sonia tried hard to understand and help her husband, she sometimes showed an astonishing lack of empathy toward those outside the marriage.

But there was a more appealing side to Sonia, too. She occasionally rattled off song lyrics, "Just another day in paradise" being a favorite. She carried on playfully sarcastic conversations with herself. She shot off an occasional flash of humor: "I called the parapsychology institute and he wants $60 an hour for Karma cleaning. So I guess I'll just have to run around with a dirty Karma." She also penned a rapturous two-paragraph description of the rising moon: "It's gorgeous because it's orange and huge and full on the horizon with a few small black clouds crossing it!!!"

But the words written four years before her death show the couple's deadly emotional spiral intensifying. Sonia noted that she was experiencing increasing breathlessness, an inability to fit into normal spaces, difficulty walking. She spent more, ate more and sank more and more deeply into torpor, helplessness and self-loathing. "Mike keeps saying I make him sick. I guess I do. I'm so fat, I hate myself, but Mike practically sits on me and forces food on me!!!...I make myself sick why shouldn't I make Mike sick."

One entry seems to exemplify the entire dynamic: "So he tells me I can't come to bed and calls me names and stuff. I try to talk to him, it doesn't do any good!! He hits me and tells me never to touch him again!!! So I leave and stay up all night. Then a 3 caret diamonique in a 14 K gold filigree setting [on TV] calls to me!!...I just keep eating Ding Dongs and cherries and Kit Kats. I'll eat anything. (I feel awful emptiness!!)"

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