The Comet's Tail: A Memoir of No Memory

Nawrocki, Amy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Aug-02-2018


When poet and writer Amy Nawrocki was nineteen years old, a college student returning home after her freshmen year, she suffered a sudden and mysterious illness.  She was transformed, in an eye-blink, from an active young woman to a bed bound and comatose patient.  "There is nothing to embellish--I got sick, I fell into a deep sleep, I woke up.  No fairy tale" (page 3).  Months of her life went missing: this brief and lovely memoir is her attempt to reconstruct those hours and those experiences.  She begins with reflections on journal entries written before her illness began, giving the reader (and herself) a persona, a personality, a living breathing young woman who already writes, who lives in her head, and who always felt "totally comfortable" in her body (page 3). Then we lose her, as she lost herself.  She re-visions the story of her months of suffering and recovering from encephalitic coma through the various medical records and family memories she gathers in order to reconstruct the missing pieces of her life. "The coma girl has detached herself from me. I have to dream her up or rely on what others saw, eye witnesses who had to detach themselves in a different way" (page 21). Coming back into life after a serious illness is a strange and often prolonged journey.  Nawrocki writes, "Waking up took as long as sleeping" (page 33).  And in this waking up time, she begins to see who she was (or how she looked to others) during those blank months. "The images still frighten me. My face was a mess; hair cropped short, puffed up without styling, ragged, like I just woke up. My eyes seemed empty but weirdly wild" (page 35). During her recovery, the author begins journaling again. "In my college notes, I focused on the art of reflection; after the illness, I wanted mainly to observe" (page 42).  And in recovery, she begins to build memories once again. She lists her recollections during weeks in rehab, and she remembers "the final trip home, a cake decorated with blue and yellow icing waiting for me" (page 45).


This little book (little both in page numbers and in its 4x6 inch dimension) is a beautifully written contemplation not only of what happened to the author's memory during and after illness, but of memory itself, its twists and turns and mysteries.  Is memory reliable?  Nawrocki notes how the memories of family and friends sometimes didn't jive with the official documents: "I toggle between the subjectivity of other people's memories and the objectivity of chest x-rays and EKGs" (page 27). And if eleven people write about an event are they all telling the same story? "At least eleven people tell the story of Amy on June 18th when I arrive in 'soft restraints'" (page 19).  At book's end, the author writes, "Memory is a thing; remembering is an action, ongoing" (page 46). In these pages she gives us a wonderful story, a memory of a time with no memory, in poetic language, with compassion and eloquence.


This book will appeal to caregivers and to patients, especially to those who also have missing sections of their lives, and to any reader interested in medicine, in the mind, and in the elusive workings of memory.


Little Bound Books

Place Published

Pawcatuck, CT



Page Count