Heather Sellers says again and again that, when she shares the story of her family with other people, people who don’t know her parents, they react with shock and incredulity. How, exactly, could a child have grown up relatively normal if both her father and her mother were so irrational, so abusive, so … well, crazy? In her memoir, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, Sellers explores her current life in the context of her childhood in an interesting way that leads to a greater understanding of her own behavior and the path she is living.
Sellers starts off discussing her trip from Michigan to Florida with her boyfriend and his two sons. They are going because Sellers has a speaking engagement, because the boys haven’t been to Disney World, because she has her twentieth high school reunion, and because that’s where her parents are. The visit to both parents’ homes goes badly, leaving Sellers disheartened.
Throughout the rest of the book, we learn why her parents’ behavior is so odd. Well, not why it’s odd, but we learn that it’s normal for her mother to behave as if someone’s been looking through her purse and for her father to think it’s appropriate for his daughter to sleep in a recliner she shares with a dog while he has an extra room filled with odd gadgets. These are not people who should ever have had children — at least not together. Instead of providing Sellers with stable ground to find her feet, these two constantly caused earthquakes.
In her adult life, Sellers accosted by a former high school boyfriend, who pesters her with questions about her mother. “What was she, schizophrenic?” he finally asks, leaving Sellers struggling to cope with the realization that her mother might be mentally ill. She asks her parents, but gets no answers from either of them.
Meanwhile, while she’s worried about her mother’s well-being, Sellers is also realizing that she has something going on in her brain. She can’t recognize faces. While she can make guesses as to who people are, she often walks right by people she knows (and occasionally greets people who are strangers). She figures out what she has, asks for diagnostics … and her concerns are minimized. It is not until researchers at Harvard find out that she thinks she has face blindness and invite her to be part of a study does she get confirmation of the fact that she cannot, in fact, recognize people.
Try getting people to believe that. Most of the rest of the book documents her attempts to get those around her to realize that, no, she’s not being rude, she just can’t recognize you. No, it’s not that she doesn’t remember names. No, hair and clothes aren’t always enough to be able to discern someone. Sellers explores the difficulties in trying to get others to realize that she does have a disability, which is something a lot of us can relate to.
My main issue with You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know is that, with the split structure, I had a limited amount of interest in Sellers’ story. I wanted her to pick one line and stick to it! Having read the entire thing, I see why she made the choice she did. I still think it might have been better to make the two a little more distinct; the book is already divided into chapters and sections; why not use a section to explore one time period?
Other than that, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know is a solid medical memoir with some interesting familial twists. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes reading about dysfunctional families, odd medical maladies, or both.