Another Day in Paradise

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As the year wore on, Michael continued to rage about everything. "I tried for hours to unplug the toilet to no avail," Sonia wrote on October 12, 1990. "So I had the shits in the night, so what does Mike do, gets up first thing and flushes the stool. Of course it goes all over everywhere! Of course this is all my fault! He hits me and tries to push me out into the shit water everywhere!!"

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.

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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