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How does someone write a memoir about an event for which they have no memory? That is the question posed by Amy Nawrocki in the early pages of The Comet’s Tale: A Memoir of No Memory.
Nawrocki was a 19-year-old college student “who loved books, 80s pop, and comfortable shoes,” she wrote in the early pages of the very enjoyable read, when she headed home to Sandy Hook following her first year at Sarah Lawrence 25 years ago.
Her father later recalled her mention not feeling well in early June, she had headaches and a stiff neck, and took “lots of Tylenol,” she wrote.
In less than a month, she was a patient at Danbury Hospital, having suffered seizures and altered mental status for no obvious reason. One of her brothers thought she was suffering a breakdown, in large part after she was found “babbling incoherently” in the family’s kitchen one morning at 3 am. A trip to Danbury Hospital and a spinal tap found nothing, and the Nawrockis were sent home, only to return the same day after Amy began seizing.
She spent eight days in Danbury before being transferred to Yale, arriving, she was later told, “in soft restraints.” The author then spent the next three months at Yale Hospital, much of it in a coma, battling a life-threatening illness.
Looking through records from that time frame, she shared, “I found notes that said ‘responds to stimuli,’ ‘recognizes faces,’ so it’s not clear to me how deep that was.”
She spent another six months at Gaylord Rehabilitation Hospital and Traurig House before finally returning home, where she began to rebuild her memory.
The latest by the Newtown native (Nawrocki has already released five collections of poetry and three works of nonfiction), The Comet’s Tail is one of the titles in the initial release of Little Bound Books Essay Series. An imprint of Homebound Publications, the collection offers releases that measure 4 by 6 inches, and are no more than 9,000 words in length. Ms Nawrocki’s was one of two books in the initial April release for the new series; the next four are scheduled for October 2018 publication.
Any books within the series, according to the publisher, can easily be finished in a sitting. Ms Nawrocki’s memoir is indeed a quick read that can appeal to others who have gone through similar frightening experiences, their families, and those in healthcare, especially those interested in brain health, she said.
“I also wanted it to be something anyone could pick up and find something there,” she said earlier this week. Speaking from her home — the author and her husband now live along the southern coast of Connecticut — Ms Nawrocki said she hoped she made the book “intriguing enough for anyone to follow the mystery.”
Most of all, she said, the book is a thank you to Nawrocki’s late father Edward, who died in October 2005.
“I never really got a chance to say thanks, and tell him I really appreciate what he had to put up with,” Ms Nawrocki said May 7. “My dad needed a lot of help. Friends, family, neighbors who I had grown up with, would be there with him and help him understand what was going on.”
Her mother had died before the period explored in the small volume, having succumbed to cancer 2½ years earlier.
The Comet’s Tail opens with recollections of the months and days that led up to the author’s mysterious illness, thanks to input from journals she was keeping at the time. Those entries are often lyrical (even when the college freshman was occasionally angry and confused), sharing the poetic voice Ms Nawrocki has purposely shared in her previous releases.
About midway through the book one particular passage allows that voice to speak.
“We all have simple language that gives away sleep in favor of hibernation — the earthly, animalistic time travel, hunkering down in a warm cave,” she begins, writing about the deeper coma that was induced by her medical team about three months into the mysterious episode. “We all have wished to dream ourselves beyond the stratosphere, to rocket past the Oort cloud and hit a ride on a revolving arm of the galaxy. We all have wanted to get away, for a day, a night, a weekend, a season in some other space. ‘In my sleeplessness,’ I wrote months before the summer of no memory, ‘I hear an opera.’ I would love to take that imagined song and create a symphony of hyperconsciousness. I want to think of the summer as a time that I listed to deep odes that only I could hear, hiding in the thin silk of my own chrysalis.”
She relies heavily on what she has been told by her family and deciphered from medical records to fill in the blanks for the second half of that year.
“My family, my siblings, and my extended family, once I got going and decided I was going to do this,” she added, “I think I was trying to say thanks, both to them as well as the people who were really instrumental, who were helpful in getting me out of it, and the doctors and nurses, especially those at Gaylordsville, who I really do remember.
“As I was writing, I felt a sense of gratitude toward the people who were helpful to me,” she said this week.
The invitation to participate in the Little Bound Essay Series may result in additional similar releases by the writer whose works are all very enjoyable.
While initially reticent to write about the mystery illness episode in this form — “I didn’t have an interest in writing a memoir … it was 25 years ago,” Ms Nawrocki said this week, “I’ve moved on, and have other things I’m concerned about now” — she ultimately saw that sharing this one chapter of her life was to her benefit.
“It’s concentrated, so that worked for me,” she said. “But I have other chapters, incidences that have happened for me, that have happened in my life.”
Those chapters may not be written or published chronologically, she hinted, “but this is working for me.”
Local residents have two upcoming opportunities to hear Amy Nawrocki’s poetic and reflective voices. She will be one of the readers at Byrd’s Books on Friday, May 18, at 7 pm, as part of the store’s poetry series. She will also be doing book talk concerning The Comet’s Tail at the same location on Sunday, June 3. The bookstore is at 126 Greenwood Avenue in Bethel; telephone 203-730-BYRD (203-270-2973) or visit byrdsbooks.com for additional information.
The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory is available as a paperback, an ebook, and an audiobook. Copies will be available at the Byrd’s Book events. They can also be purchased online through the publisher (HomeboundPublications.com), Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, and other locations.
Amy Nawrocki has put together pieces of the puzzle that make up six months of her late teens in her latest release, The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory. The first of two books in the Little Bound Books Essay Series from Homebound Publications, the memoir is a quick, enjoyable read, the latest by the Sandy Hook native.
—Eric D. Lehman photo