Three more episodes of running away left him homeless and on the streets at age 12. He only finished eighth grade but did educate himself informally by reading a stolen copy of an encyclopedia.
“I also spent a lot of time with my grandmother’s writing, which gave me the inspiration to write myself, even though I never met her,” he said.
Academics took a back seat for Augustonovich as he worked to support his family, which after divorce and remarriage swelled from three to five children.
His story took a dramatic turn when at the age of 37 he began having episodes of losing consciousness.
Augustonovich was working one night finishing a roofing job when he was overcome by sensations that he identified as anxiety.
“I thought I was having anxiety because I was high up there, but I was actually having a heart attack,” he said.
Augustonovich suffered several fainting episodes and was misdiagnosed several times before heart disease was confirmed. An incapacitating heart condition was remedied by the implantation of a pacemaker.
But Augustonovich did not trust his new equipment and had a long period of withdrawal into the safety of his bedroom following his surgery.
“I thought life was over at that point. I locked myself in my room,” he said. “I was afraid to go out anywhere. I thought whatever I did was going to destroy the pacemaker. So I lay around in my room for a couple of years. I gained 107 pounds. It was horrible.”
His children were ultimately his saving inspiration.
“But I noticed my kids doing the same thing,” he said. “None of them were working, they were sleeping all day. My oldest two had dropped out of school. If I don’t do something, the kids won’t ever do anything.”
As Augustonovich tells it, in the spring of 2010, he woke up one morning and enrolled at NECC.