For years, Heather Sellers could not figure out why she couldn't recognize people she knew on the street. Eventually, she was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition called prosopagnosia, otherwise known as face blindness.
In "You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know," Sellers chronicles her struggle to cope with her condition to lead her life the way she wants.
Read an excerpt of the book below, and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.
We left for the airport before dawn. Dave was driving. His sons, David Junior and Jacob, were in the backseat. I was thirty-eight years old. The landscape we were leaving was like the landscape in a children's book. Shiny new cars beetled to office buildings. Below, the Grand River curved like cursive drawn with a thick silver pen across our part of Michigan. We zipped past bare sun-warm fields on the outskirts of Grand Rapids, down the new highway to the airport, and I snuggled into Dave. I had a strong family feeling. I was eager for him to meet my wild daddy, my dear peculiar mom. Dave was willing, the boys were excited. None of us were awake yet.
Earlier that week, I'd come back to Michigan from upstate New York, where I was working as a visiting writer during my sabbatical year, so we could all go to Florida together. Dave had picked me up at the airport. I saw him before he saw me, walking down the corridor, past the narrow sports bar. Dave always wore running shoes and his walk was a distinctive leaning-forward walk, springy and gentle. I'd noticed this was how fine runners walked: head level, leaning forward. "You're going forward, not up and down," Dave's coach had told him, driving the bounce out of his step and converting it to speed. In college, Dave had been All-Conference. He'd run with Brian Diemer, the Olympic medalist, and Greg Meyer, the last American to win the Boston Marathon. Dave's event was the 10K. Over and above being fast—five-minute-mile fast—the 10K required terrific strength and focus. That pace had to be maintained for a long time, for half an hour. The biggest problem wasn't getting tired, it was drifting, getting lost in the monotony.
Dave had a secret trick. He knew how to make himself see the beautiful cornfields near Caledonia, where he liked to run, instead of what was right in front of him. He could teleport, or bilocate. Dave was confident and sure of himself and calm and humble, all at once. His walk: fast-slow, leaning forward like he wanted to get where he was going while a large part of him was just along for the ride. The entire effect of Dave was hopefulness in running shoes.
I ran up to him and threw my arms around him and stretched up to kiss him; he drew back, pressing me away.
It wasn't Dave. I had the wrong guy.
Dave—my real Dave—came up a moment later; we laughed about my mistake. I was embarrassed he had seen me hugging another man. "So many people here look like you!" I said. "We need to move. To a place with fewer Dutch people." This had happened numerous times before, my mistaking someone else for Dave.
He told me I was funny, and he steered me toward baggage claim.
It had been a decade since I had taken anyone home to Orlando. I rarely visited. The last time I'd seen my parents was three years earlier; the visit had not been a success. My dad could be difficult. My mother could turn on a dime. I'd cut the trip short.
I'd told Dave everything—my dad's drinking, my mom's fragility—and Dave was sensitive, nonjudgmental, insightful. His first wife was a severely disabled schizophrenic: the bar for normal behavior was set reassuringly low. Whenever I called home to check on my parents, Dave held my hand while I shouted into the phone. He even talked to my father a few times. We'd been dating only a few months, and I was temporarily living in another state, but Dave and his sons felt like my family.
Everything was all planned out. My father lived by the airport: we'd drive by his house and the boys could go for a swim in his pool; we'd have a quick lunch. Fred would want to toast to something, so we'd have drinks, play cards, then go up to my mom's for dinner. She was making a roast, shrimp, four vegetables— corn, green beans, beets, carrots—and pies. "I know midwestern men," she'd said. "And I know you don't make pies yourself, Heather. Men like pie. I know you don't like for me to tell you helpful little things, but it wouldn't hurt for you to learn a pie or two."
We'd spend the night at my mom's house. She was setting up pallets for the boys on her living room floor. I'd assured her Dave wouldn't mind a cot in her study; I'd be happy in the guest room. The next day, we planned to take her to Disney World with us. I could see us on the Mad Hatter teacups, spinning, screaming our heads off, ecstatic. The Mad Hatter had been my favorite ride when I was a kid, and later, when I worked at Disney. No ups and downs, no scary things jumping out at you as you churned through dark water tunnels with strangers. You just spun.
Then maybe the boys would go swim in the Atlantic while I stole away to give my speech on the writing process. My speaking engagement was how we were paying for the trip, but I was keeping the talk a secret from my mother: I didn't want her to come.
The last time she'd seen me speak in public was when I was a graduate student and she visited a class I was teaching on Hemingway's short fiction. She'd promised to sit quietly in the back, but she raised her hand anyway. "Didn't Booth Tarkington sell more copies that year? By a long shot?" That evening, she supplied me with a numbered list of twenty-three items "to work on." Make more eye contact. Learn the students' names. She'd tallied the number of times I'd said um.
I felt bad about it, but I didn't want my mother in my world. I was never sure what she would do.
Dave felt it was important I work hard on getting along with her, let her have her way. "She's seventy-three years old," he kept reminding me. "Value the little time left."
So we'd have quality time with her, I'd do the speech in Winter Park on the sly, then I'd take the boys and Dave to my twentieth high school reunion. Dave felt this was too much for one trip, but to me it felt like success, redemption. I wanted my parents and my entire high school to see that everything was okay, that I'd turned out great. Anyway, to be around my parents, we needed a schedule, plenty to do. We had to keep moving. This was the extent of my worry. I was proud of this handsome man who was in love with me, and I was in love with his kids, whose grades had gone from Ds to mostly Bs since I'd come into their lives. As the four of us walked into the airport together, I felt, for the first time in my life, normal.
As we queued in security, Jacob pressed through do not enter emergency-only glass doors at the new checkpoint, sending Kent County International Airport Terminal B into lockdown. An alarm buzzed and would not stop buzzing. Men in black uniforms ran toward us from every direction.
"Didn't you see the signs?" a guard demanded. Dave bristled.
David Junior assumed his favorite tae kwon do stances, the fancy forms, high block, low block, banking off the row of seating, and posing, striking air.
Jacob clung to the other side of the glass, stranded. He shrugged his shoulders nervously. He looked scared and sorry. He placed his hands on top of his head and shook his legs out, one after the other.
We were moved to a much later flight.
It was pitch-dark when we landed on the shimmering runway in Orlando.
"Am I turning here, sweetheart?" Dave said. He squeezed my thigh in a way that I hated. "We're coming up to a red light," he said. "Where am I going?"
"Go left," I said, hoping for the best. Curry Ford Avenue? I knew something from my childhood happened on this street. Curry Ford. I didn't know where it was exactly in relationship to where I needed to be. I rolled down my window. The October air was sweet. The last time I'd visited, it was summer, and Fred and his brother Donny had been on what they always called a fishing trip, their name for a bender; there was never any traveling or any catch.
"You seem a little tense," Dave said, stroking my arm.
"I'm not," I snapped. "Turn here."
Junior told me not to worry. "We're used to killing zombies all over the world, Heather." He leaned forward and patted me on the shoulder.
Finally, we pulled into Fred's driveway.
"Okay, now, boys," Dave said. He counseled them on how they couldn't run around or talk too loud or rifle through things, and not to ask to swim; wait until Fred offered. He spoke softly and they sat calmly in the back seat and listened. Junior nodded.
I needed to be in there giving Fred a similar consultation. Don't hit me or the boys. Don't pinch people. Don't yell. Don't tell nasty jokes or pee off the back porch.
Then they were out of the car and running around in the yard, which had gone to sand and seed. The house looked terrible, gutter hanging off the front, shutters broken and peeling, loose bricks lying at all angles on the front walk, abandoned. Someone had intended to make repairs, but they hadn't gotten very far.
We stood on the stoop, Dave with his arm around me, his politeness like a silver cape around him, around all of us. The boys stood behind us, painfully well behaved. It was like we were time travelers—I felt we'd come from somewhere so far away. I rang the doorbell, half expecting electrocution: the doorbell had lost its cover, and wires stuck out of the socket. At the same time, I half expected applause from within. I felt like a magician: Et voilà! A little family! At thirty-eight, I felt late for my own life.
We waited out the long sequence of chimes, dum, dum, dum, da dum, dum dum dum dum dum da dum. From inside, Wheel of Fortune went to commercial. A ball game blared from a scratchy radio.
Junior socked Jacob, who protested. Dave stepped back and stood between them, putting an arm around each son. He looked over the wall. "No one is swimming in that pool," he said. Even in the dark, the water smelled green, and when I looked closely, it was—thick green soup. The boys moaned and my heart sank. I'd promised them a swim. I'd promised them sandwiches, cards, a fun grandfather. Where was everybody? I pressed my hands to my face.
"You don't just go in your own house?" Junior said. His voice was loud.
"Boys," Dave said very quietly. "'Member?"
I knocked, hard. I rattled the latch, and the door just opened. I could hear snoring.
Jacob said, "This one time, The Flash, you know The Flash, he ran so fast he outran himself and touched his own back. It makes no sense. So cool. One time he died, and then he outran death when death came to claim his soul. That's pretty fast. Outrun death. Gotta be pretty quick."
I smiled at Jakey. Whenever he sensed I was nervous, he introduced a superhero. I rubbed the top of his head. I stepped inside the house. Cigarette smoke, television, mustiness.
"Fred," I called out, sweetly. "It's us! We're here! Fa-red!"
Then I stopped and rubbed my hands, like I was trying to erase the knocking. I did not want to go farther.