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Resuming her life in Connecticut included continuing her postgraduate employment as a clinician with the mobile psychiatric crisis teams for Waterbury Hospital and, later, Wheeler Clinic in Plainville. Around 1995, future Mount Sinai medical director Luis Gonzalez joined the Wheeler project. “At the time,” he explains, “the state provided funding to different community mental health agencies to develop groups of clinicians who would assess patients in crisis at their homes. The goal was to prevent unnecessary hospitalizations; if the person turned out to be too acutely ill, or suicidal, then we’d call the hospital or the police. Monica would go out—sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes on weekends—largely to urban ghetto neighborhoods in New Britain, where many people wouldn’t dare venture.
“I was very impressed with her,” he adds. “She was very empathetic, very nice, very directive—which is what most people need in a crisis. Interestingly enough, she counseled many of them about substance abuse.” He was not aware that she herself was spinning out of control, though he found her “somewhat hyper and energetic. I thought of her as the corporate-wife type; her husband had an important position with Oxford Health Plans at the time. My take on things was that she was working more as a hobby.” Monica herself recalls that she repeatedly impressed local police with her skill in dealing with suicidal individuals. “They asked me how I did it,” she says. “It was easy—all I was doing was talking to myself. Insanity to insanity.”
Meanwhile, Tim—who declined to be interviewed for this piece—was indeed climbing the corporate ladder rapidly, actively pushed upward by his wife. She now figures that they moved six times over seven years, from Connecticut to New Jersey to Virginia. Along the way they decided they wanted children, though by that time Monica says that she had had so many abortions—including one within the marriage—that she could then get pregnant only through in-vitro fertilization.
The first procedure was especially successful: All three of the implanted embryos took, and one split (resulting in her now 11-year-old twin daughters). For the others, she made the “miserable” choice of selective reduction. “I was so depressed about my two lost children,” she says. On top of that, a bout of toxemia forced a hasty return from Virginia to Connecticut. “I was horribly sick and spent six weeks at the University of Connecticut Health Center.” In 2001, she went through a second in-vitro procedure, resulting in a baby boy.
She and Tim settled in the Waterbury area, close by her family—but not for long. Her sister Cathy now maintains that all their moves were less about advancing Tim’s career than continuing to keep Monica’s addictions successfully hidden. “She needed to keep changing the scenery so she could stay high and not be found out,” Cathy says, “a great trick. When the babies came, she was only about two miles from the rest of us, so it was easy to check in on her.”
By this time, Tim had landed a position with the Fortune 500 firm Hewitt Associates (now Aon Hewitt) in Norwalk, prompting a move to Fairfield County. Cathy, who owned and managed a dry-cleaning business in Wolcott, got a clue as to Monica’s condition from the owner of the package store next door. “After she left town, he told me, ‘I just lost my best customer—your sister,’” she says. She admits she didn’t fully appreciate the import of his remark at the time. “I just didn’t recognize everything that was going on, because I was trying to live my own life.”
In early 2002, Tim and Monica found a house in Wilton—the first sale for realtor Nancy Pantoliano, who, as it happens, is also the wife of Emmy Award-winning actor Joe Pantoliano (“The Sopranos”). The Pantolianos became good friends, employing Monica to help them behind the scenes for an ill-fated VH-1 reality show. “I’d call them in California, drunk as a skunk, in the mornings—I’m sure I didn’t even make sense,” Monica says. “I was drinking a bottle of 1800 Tequila every day.”
Monica liked the social status that being a friend of the couple gave her. “I loved the parties with people like Chazz Palminteri, Chris Meloni and Patty Hearst,” she says. It fit in with her growing mania for having the most exclusive in all things. Always overweight, she opted for gastric bypass surgery—then, having slimmed down to size 0, began racking up $1,000 a day in shopping expenses. “My favorite indulgences became champagne and cocaine,” she says. “I’d go to J.Crew in Westport and lock myself in the dressing room for hours, getting loaded on both while the staff brought me clothes. Then I’d get paranoid and leave—I needed another drink.”
Monica also developed a fondness for booking herself into high-end hotel rooms, costing as much as $700 per night—the better to carry on numerous affairs. These stays often ended in removal by the police. “At one point, I checked into Mohegan Sun with my lesbian lover for a week and stayed nearly two months,” she says.
The euphoria these binges gave her alternated with periods of crushing despair, resulting in what she calls “grandiose” suicide attempts, including one that involved lying down on the Norwalk train tracks. “That made it into the Wilton newspaper,” Cathy says. After many unsuccessful detox attempts, Monica entered the rehab program at New Canaan’s Silver Hill Hospital in the waning days of 2003. Her family, finally coming to grips with her problems, visited her on Christmas Day. “She was out of her head,” Cathy recalls. “She told one of her daughters not to reveal to anyone where she’d been for Christmas. Her attitude was still, ‘Let’s hide it.’”
Monica walked out early on her six-week commitment to the program, proclaiming herself cured. “I was afraid they’d call me on my shit and I wanted to avoid that,” she says. “My instinct was always to run.”