That evening, after dinner and a couple of television shows, I witnessed a possible solution to Mike’s recurring insulin reactions.
I had just changed into my nightgown when I noticed him carrying his insulin and syringe into the adjoining bathroom. I stepped into the doorway and asked, "Are you taking more insulin?"
"No. Not more." He grinned. "I decided it’s easier to take it at night."
"So you didn’t take any this morning?"
No wonder there was no insulin trouble today. Maybe this would be the solution for no more reactions. Time would tell, because I was not schooled in the intricate management of diabetes. I believed what Mike told me from time to time about his classes at the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, long before I met him. His favorite way to summarize that instruction was that one piece of bread equals a bottle of beer.
In the weeks that followed, life was good. My job was going well, learning the title desk day by day. I continued to respond to monthly billings from the hospital and insurance subrogation company in California by sending token payments. I developed a tight budget, taking advantage of special offers and coupons at the grocery store on my lunch hour and hauling parcels of provisions home on the bus. I scrimped and saved every penny I could. My previous boss at the finance company let us borrow two hundred dollars, and we bought a used yellow and white Mercury station wagon—not in the least economical, but all we could afford. I found a broker who placed auto insurance and got the premium financed—another small monthly payment. That old wagon gave us a welcome sense of independence; mobility we hadn’t had in a year and a half.
I continued the frugality, managing now and then to buy small projects that would keep Mike awake during the day. He loved to build model airplanes and cars, painting them with detailed precision. A single kit could keep him busy for a whole week.
Once I asked him to design a bookcase that we could use as a room divider. Two days later, he showed me a meticulous plan drawn on graph paper. The weekend after my payday, we bought some pine boards, fir dowels and screws at the local hardware store, bringing them home in the old Mercury wagon. After we unloaded the lumber, Mike turned to me and pulled a brand new drill bit out of his shirt pocket—shrink-wrapped onto the manufacturer’s display card, complete with price sticker attached. He grinned as if he’d just won a million dollars and expected my approval.
"Where‘d you get that?" I asked.
He continued smiling, his silence speaking volumes.
"Did you pay for it?" A wave of disappointment swooped over me, questioning my assumption that his personal integrity survived the head injury. "You stole it?"
He grinned wider. "They can afford it."
"That’s not the point." I scowled. "You shoplifted!"
He chuckled. "So what?"
"So . . . I’m ashamed."
"Why? You didn’t do it."
"Darned right I didn’t do it. But I feel guilty because you did! Aren’t you the least bit remorseful?"
"Nope." He shoved the package back into his pocket.
Frustrated, I gave up. I could not influence his frame of mind, could not make him understand that what he did was wrong, not something to be proud of. The forthright man I married had changed.
In the months to follow, I would notice other deviations in his behavior and personality—quicker to anger, faultfinding in everything and everyone, raising his voice to dominate a discussion, no matter the surroundings—and I would stand silent, embarrassed. I blamed it on his head injury, but that didn‘t make it easier to tolerate or explain to those offended by it. On those occasions, my thoughts returned to the doctor in California who said I would need the patience of Job to live with this man.
The following week, Mike cut, sanded, fastened, stained and sealed the uniquely asymmetrical structure of shelves—well made and well balanced.
"Good job!" I ran my hand over the glossy, smooth surfaces.
"Thanks," he said, grinning. A new-found pride lifted his spirits, increased his confidence in becoming productive again despite the painful and disfiguring shoulder injury—a memento that would inhibit normal arm movement for the rest of his life.
While the physical effort of furniture-building served as therapy to increase use of that arm, it undoubtedly took its toll on the rest of him. The dreaded insulin reactions surfaced once again, starting in the early hours of the next morning. A Saturday.
The ringing of the phone in the dining room woke me. Still half asleep, I jumped out of bed and rounded the foot end of it on my way to answer. Mike yelled at me. I stopped. Took a step backwards. "What did you say?"
"You lousy tarda, wha ummm argggggh …"
"I can’t understand you!" I barked back, torn between being jarred awake, trying to understand Mike’s angry utterances, and the demanding rings of the phone.
He shouted again, sat abruptly upright, grabbed a foot-high racing trophy from his nightstand and hurled it at me.
Instinctively, I ducked. The trophy smashed into the plate glass mirror of my dresser, fracturing it into long pointed shards from one corner to another—ugly silver swords of glass, slicing through our reflected images, killing the accomplishment of my youth.
I stood, speechless, staring into the steel-gray eyes that signaled "insulin reaction," then rushed to answer the phone.