Another Day in Paradise

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Later: "Mike you are so restless today it's all I can do to keep up with you. (The nurse) and I gave you a bath, shave and put lotion and aftershave on you, but you were so agitated it was worn off before you knew it. I still have it on my hand and it reminds me of you and the babies [the couple's dogs]...I miss you so much, even though you're right beside me you're a million miles away...I want a baby, Mike!! I want a house. I want a life with you forever and ever!!"

The journal indicates that limits were set on the amount of time Sonia could spend in Michael's room. And as he recovered, he veered between affection for Sonia and rage at both her and the railroad. "He told me how bad it hurt and how he tried to cry, but he couldn't...It was very painful for him to remember. (He says he wants their jobs!)."

On March 27, 1990, she wrote: "Mike is very violent today, he kicked a nurse, hit me several times, kicked me. He thinks everyone is foreigners and he doesn't want anyone to touch him...he swears everyone is trying to kill him. He told the speech therapist the year was 1960 and he was 18...He's MAD at everyone...

"Mike's been sleeping for hours now. I wonder why? Please let him wake up and be in a good mood!!! Please let him love me!! Well he woke up. He told me he would eat but he won't. He's very violent!! It took six people to hold him down to give him a hypo. He was still mad afterwards. He said his mother was the only one who would help him. That I had turned on him and I was just like the other whores and bitches!!! Then he hit me somemore."

Sonia comforted herself with chocolate and All My Children in the waiting room.

At the end of March, the couple came to Boulder, and Michael began treatment at Mapleton Rehabilitation Center. In April, they married. The journal makes clear how profoundly traumatized both Sonia and Michael were by the accident. Michael could not eat or sleep, Sonia wrote, and since he was unable to perform such routine tasks as shopping or driving, he was entirely dependent on her. But he was terrified when they were in the car and raged at her constantly: "I wish I could help him or take his place or something!! He makes me feel so guilty all the time!! He says he doesn't blame me but you can sure the Hell tell he wishes it had happened to me instead of him!! I guess I do too, because then I'd be dead!!"

April 28: "He said, 'I don't need your help. I don't need anybody's help. Get the fuck out of here.' So I did. I called him later and we made up. He said he shouldn't treat me that way, but he gets frustrated!!...Why can't he please just talk to me? I understand more than anyone."

Sonia, too, was entirely unnerved. When lightning struck a power pole in front of Furr's Cafeteria where she frequently ate, she wondered if "the lightning thought I was there." Later a plane crashed in their neighborhood and she had the same paranoid thought--that death and disaster occurring anywhere in her vicinity was somehow intended for her. She came to understand that both she and Michael were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. And she prided herself on having kept her husband alive because "I just refused to let him go!!"

The couple settled into a routine. Michael got up early, walked the dogs, groomed them, sometimes washed the car. Sonia slept in. They did laundry together. She drove him to his many appointments; sometimes he walked. He exercised to regain control of his body. She did the homework his therapists had assigned him. They ate at Furr's Cafeteria or Coco's or the L.A. Diner. She liked fruit waffles, particularly peach. Many of their bitterest quarrels, however, concerned eating: Michael could not or would not eat, although he needed food to regain his strength. He often pressed food on Sonia, though, giving her pancakes from his plate, once gathering rolls from other tables and handing them to her. He was unnerved by the noise and crowds at Furr's; she liked to eat there because the waitresses gave her tokens she could redeem for toy dinosaurs (she knew which waitresses would give her extra tokens, harassed those who wouldn't).

Furr's was, in fact, the setting for one of the most distressing scenes in the journal: "I walked in first and these heathen boys laughed at me and my fat so Mike went to ask them what was so funny?? Well as soon as he said anything their Bitch Mother started shrieking at Mike, well I went back and tried to calm her down by telling her Mike had had an injury, well she was too busy running her mouth to listen to anything so she just kept getting louder and louder and soon she wanted the manager...She continued to...say to everyone in a five county area what awful people we were and how we were mad and just taking it out on them and how we needed therapy..." Sonia reported that the manager sided with this woman, despite the fact that she and Michael ate at Furr's almost daily. They decided to leave. As they did, "the stupid woman said, 'They just want to leave because they want to fight some more outside.'"

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman