I try to imagine what it would be like if I could stop talking to myself inside my mind all day long. I suppose practiced meditators can do that for periods of time. But to live without words?
Aphasia affects one out of every 250 people. Living without language or with severely impaired communication abilities changes the way we think about who we are. Few people have been able to write first-person accounts like the one that has just come out: A Stitch of Time: The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life by Lauren Marks.
Marks graduated from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, and spent a decade pursuing a career in theater. She did some work toward a Ph.D. but had to stop when an aneurysm burst in her brain. She was patched up in time to be one of the few survivors of such an incident, though more surgery was to come.
In this, her first book, published a decade after she began recovering her mental faculties, she details the long journey from who she used to be to who she is now. Here's a paragraph about her homecoming (to her parents' home, not her apartment in New York):
As my grandmother joined me at the kitchen table, she surveyed the contents of the care packages that had amassed there: a stuffed elephant, a box of markers ... romantic comedies starring Sarah Jessica Parker. And there were so many letters, many from people I hardly knew, but all addressed to me. Gram patted my arm, her touch soft as a peach.
It's like Queen for a Day in here, she said. How does it feel to get so much attention, honey?
Feel? I didn't feel anything about it. Was I supposed to? I'd left most of the gifts unopened and the cards unread. They all said the same thing anyway: Get well soon. The whole concept was baffling to me.
Her story is not the downer you might suppose, as Marks has a level of resilience one can envy. She had to relearn so much, but saw those second-time "firsts" as gifts to be relished. She also had to re-negotiate her relationships: with her brother, her boyfriend, and her lifelong friends. And of course, with herself.
She interweaves clinical research about aphasia and linguistics throughout the narrative of her personal experience. She acknowledges a couple of editors for their help, leaving me to wonder how much help she actually got for this smoothly written memoir. She has come an almost incredibly long way, judging from the heartbreakingly simple journal entries she shares from a decade ago.
Immeasurable family support, a network of loving friends, the best medical care, tenacity, psychological insight, and intelligence all played a role in Lauren Marks' story. It makes for very good reading.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel