Blog Tour – Illumination by Rowan Speedwell
A True Story
Thank you, Saucy Wenches Book Club, so much for letting me share your blog and more importantly, share with your readers some of the backstory behind the writing of Illumination, my new book with Riptide Publishing. This book is very close to my heart, and is, at least in part, inspired by true events.
A couple of years after I bought my house, a young couple (we were all young in those days) rented the house next door. He worked downtown; she stayed home with their toddler, a little girl, but had worked in a law firm as a paralegal until Meg was born. We bonded over yardwork, shared work experiences, and a mutual love of books. She became a dear friend. She fed my cats when I was away. I babysat Meg, and later, Amy. We barbequed together, and just hung out.
When her parents decided to move to a smaller house, Laurie and Tom bought her parents’ place, but we still stayed friends and saw each other fairly often. I knew that she had suffered from childhood epilepsy, but hadn’t had an incident since she’d been an adult. That’s why I was so taken aback when I ran into Tom on the train and he told me she’d had a seizure over Thanksgiving and had spent the holiday in the hospital. He said she was home now, and was doing fine; the doctors had thought it was just a weird reaction to a virus or something, and she would make a full recovery. Which she did. We got together a few times in the next couple of months, and she was her old self.
A year or so later, she had another seizure.
This time, she lapsed into a coma. Her heart enlarged and she flatlined several times. Over the course of the next month—again over a holiday, this one Christmas—doctors tried desperately to keep her alive despite having no clue as to what had triggered the seizure or what was causing her current state. Tom was frantic—they’d been married nearly twenty years and she was the love of his life. Her daughters were terrified that they were going to lose their mother.
Finally, just as abruptly as she had collapsed, Laurie came out of the coma, after nearly six weeks. But that wasn’t the end of the trauma she, her family, and friends had yet to go through.
I didn’t find out about Laurie’s condition until a couple of months after she’d gone through rehab and was back home. Her mother had died during the time Laurie was unconscious, and her father had health and mobility issues, so Laurie’s sister contacted me to ask if I would be able to come by and notarize his signature on some documents. I was surprised that it was Laurie’s sister calling until she explained about what had happened to Laurie, and finished with the odd statement: “She remembered you, and that you were a notary.”
Why wouldn’t she remember?
Well, it turns out it was really peculiar that she did. Because Laurie had lost twenty years of her memory. She had forgotten almost her entire life. She remembered Tom, because she had known him that long, but was dismayed at how old he suddenly was. She remembered high school, and part of college, but she didn’t remember working, didn’t remember getting married. She didn’t remember moving back into the house she grew up in.
Didn’t remember her daughters.
Movies and soap operas and books use amnesia and other traumatic brain injuries as devices to create conflict and move a story along, but in the end, it’s just the same person who’s forgotten things. And usually another bump on the head restores the memories and all is well.
Amnesia isn’t like that.
Amnesia is HORRIBLE.
Think about it. You, in the present, are the end product of your years of experience, learning, perspectives. Things you’ve seen, things you’ve read, things you’ve heard. Think about how much what you’ve gone through in the last twenty—or ten, or five—years has informed your attitudes, your perspective on life. Your personality.
Then think about what you would be like if all those experiences, everything that shaped you into what you are, were suddenly taken away. If you were suddenly twenty years old again, in a forty-year-old body, with none of the wisdom and knowledge you’d acquired in those missing years.
Everyone around you—even the people you knew—is different. Strangers.
Life is different. We, traveling through time the way we do, don’t recognize the minuscule changes that happen every day, that we adapt to without thinking. Twenty years ago now was 1993. Think of all the things that we take for granted that just didn’t exist then, or existed but weren’t as ubiquitous. Internet. Video games. Cell phones. Hell, in 1993, my home computer was an Apple II GS, with external memory we upgraded to one megabyte. ONE. And no internal memory at all.
Laurie went through this in about 1997, so twenty years would have been 1977. No computers. No Internet. No cell phones. No cable TV. I remember stopping for gas with her in the car, and her marveling at the fact that you had to pump your own gas now. She was like a child again, but not in a good way. Everything was overwhelming. Everything was difficult.
All of her education, all of her training, all her experience was gone. Her youngest started school that year, and Laurie went back to work, but not as a paralegal, or even a secretary. The skills she’d developed as a professional were gone. The best she could do was to get a job as a crossing guard for her daughters’ school.
She had issues remaining from the brain damage—she’d forget things, she suffered from depression, when she never had before. Her older daughter had a terrible time forgiving her for nearly dying, and as she entered her teens, started developing issues of her own.
I’m not proud of it, but I started drifting away. I still see her occasionally, but the instances are growing farther and farther apart.
The thing is, she isn’t my friend anymore. Oh, I still like her fine, but our shared background, our common ground of books and philosophy, was all washed away. We have nothing in common. What I see in her face is someone who looks like Laurie, but isn’t her. My friend Laurie is gone forever. It’s like she had died.
I can’t even imagine how much worse it is for her family.
Ever since this happened, I’ve had a hard time watching or reading books where people have traumatic brain injury, and yet recover completely with no aftereffects. It’s the brain¸ people. The center of your mind, your memory, your personality. Yes, you may recover eventually, but there will always be aftereffects.
Miles, in Illumination, got his brain damage from a totally different source, but in the end, it’s much like Laurie’s. The changes to his personality affect much more than just himself. Unlike me, though, Miles’s friends haven’t—and won’t—give up on him.
For Laurie’s sake, I hope she has people like Doug and Bobby and Lisa.
Illumination: Available from Riptide Publishing September 30, 2013
You can read an excerpt and/or purchase Illumination at Riptide Publishing’s website, .
Rowan Speedwell lives in a tarpaper shack in the North Woods, without so much as cable TV to keep her warm. Compared to her, J.D. Salinger is an extrovert. She is allergic to publicity and loathes marketing, so her books only sell one or two copies. If you have one, she thanks you, as your purchase enables her to buy cat food for her diabetic feline companion, Kimball O’Hara.
She does have Internet, when she hikes to the top of the mountain and fires up her PC Jr., so visit her website or follow her on Twitter at @rowanspeedwell if you need to request a refund for the one book you did buy.