In this small volume, Nawrocki (Four Blue Eggs, 2014) looks back at one year of her life—the six months she spent in a coma at age 19 and her half year in rehabilitation.
Early on, the author asks: “How can I write a memoir about events for which I have no memory?” Six months of her life were lost to a mysterious viral encephalitis that wracked her body and mind, and now she is determined to make sense of the time and the events that almost took her life. She is trying to understand the coma from the inside but has only outside information in her toolbox. She shares her journal entries from her first year at Sarah Lawrence, wondering whether these are the poetic, emotionally fraught musings of a typical freshman or the signs that some illness was already lurking, ready to take her down. She scours medical records, detailing the myriad tests and ambiguous conclusions. She knows but does not remember that she fell ill in the beginning of June. In August, the medical team at Yale New Haven Hospital wanted to do an open brain biopsy. Fortunately, her cousin Nancy, a doctor, stepped in: “Amy was a poet before she got sick, and when she gets better, I think she might need that piece of frontal lobe,” she told the team. Indeed, Nawrocki is a poet, and her writings, in her journals and in this memoir, are filled with vivid metaphors: “We all have wished to dream ourselves beyond the stratosphere, to rocket past the Oort cloud and hitch a ride on a revolving arm of the galaxy.” The basic, provocative question posed throughout this text is: what is memory? Is it the imprint on the brain of actual experiences, or the sum construct of experience, pieces learned from photographs, and the recollections of others? Nawrocki’s prose is often lyrical, but her musings are sometimes confounding, especially the passages written before her illness: “Palm strike to the face...I’m tired of this now that ebb tides the flow.” Still, this account is ultimately captivating, rewarding readers who finish the intricate book.
A complex and compelling memoir requiring a slow and patient read.