Anything can happen while you’re performing karaoke at a dive bar in Scotland. As Lauren Marks found out 10 years ago at age 27, that includes having an aneurysm rupture in your brain.
After being rushed to the hospital, the American actress/writer underwent emergency surgery that saved her life. But she lost two things that night: a single black high heel and much of her ability to use language. “A Stitch of Time,” her memoir that focuses on the year that followed, offers a deeply personal — and often surprising — perspective on aphasia, the medical term for this kind of communication disorder.
The initial sensation, which Marks describes as “The Quiet,” was pleasurable. “The smallest of activities would enthrall me,” she writes. “Dressing myself, I was awed by the orbital distance between cloth and flesh. Brushing my teeth, I was enchanted by the stiffness of the bristles and the sponginess of my gums.” The Quiet, she explains, was what temporarily replaced her inner monologue. It was as muted as her external speech, which was initially limited to about 40 words.
Beginning soon after she was stricken, Marks kept a journal, which she describes as initially “this confetti of fractured words.” Today, Marks can’t imagine what compelled her to scribble down “cathrene prussia horse-donk.” On the same page, she also wrote “speshul,” “Tibet” and “chorus.”
Her recovery — which, Marks soon learned, is not an easy term to define when it comes to aphasia — helped her grasp how much language had shaped her memories, emotions and relationships. Even once she could hold conversations and write complex sentences again, Marks viewed herself as a separate person from “The Girl I Used to Be.”
There’s continued medical intrigue, particularly when, after six months, it turns out that she needs a second surgery. This one is even riskier than her first. Marks’s approach is to explain not just what was happening in her brain but also what was on her mind. (And it’s no longer “The Quiet.”)