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Sonya, my most remarkable friends

That “s” on friends in the headline is not a mistake, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Sonya and I met in the 1980s, when we both worked in downtown Palo Alto, California. We became casual friends and saw each other from time to time. The memories of her childhood abuse hadn’t yet surfaced

Somewhere along the way, we fell out of touch and didn’t see one another for a few years. We met again at an author event, and it was immediately clear something dramatic had changed. We began spending more time together, but it was another year or so before she shared her story.

She was repeatedly sexually abused as a small child, and as the memories surfaced, she had developed multiple personalities. All but one of those personalities had integrated by then, the 3-year-old “Little Sonya” who held the painful memories.

Not surprisingly, I had never met anyone with multiple personalities and was stunned the day she introduced Little Sonya to me. She tried to prepare me as best she could, but it was still shocking to watch as her face, voice and — seemingly — her whole personality changed before my eyes. This new being was cheeky and outspoken, while Sonya was quiet and circumspect. The voice was so different from Sonya’s that if I hadn’t watched the words come out of her mouth, I’d have thought there was another person present!

Because she wasn’t able to control when Little Sonya would appear, she’d had to stop working and was on long-term disability. She was no longer comfortable going out into the world freely, because she lived in constant fear that her alternate personality would appear at an inopportune moment and freak people out. My husband, David, and I became her conduits to the world, and besides errands, we often went on day-long outings to favorite Bay Area destinations. She felt safe in our company and knew we’d protect her if need be.

It’s hard to explain, but when we were together it felt as though there were four of us, not three. Little Sonya was so real to us that we would often bring back little gifts for her when we traveled on our own.

Supporting Sonya emotionally was one of the most difficult things we’ve ever done, but also the most gratifying. She taught us so much. She insisted on being fully present to whatever life offered, which meant showing up and taking responsibility for one’s actions, always. No cutting corners, no excuses. She was fierce in her insistence on facing whatever came her way, which sadly included the ovarian cancer that took her life seven years ago.

There are tangible memories of her all around our home, favorite possessions she wanted us to have after she was gone. But what we remember most are her compassion, her courage and her extraordinary grace in dealing with a most difficult life.

Carole Florian lives in Ashland.

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Be a columnist for a day

Do you have something to say? Do you have a humorous take on current events or an insightful angle on the seemingly mundane? Maybe you have a view of life that will help us all see things a little more clearly. If so, email your 500-word column to features editor David Smigelski at dsmigelski@rosebudmedia.com. Please put “Columnist for a Day” in the subject line, and include your phone and city of residence. The rules are simple. Keep it short. Have a point. Don’t cuss. And make us glad we asked. If we like it, we’ll run it in the Sunday paper.