Home > Holding Up the Universe

Holding Up the Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven

I’m not a shitty person, but I’m about to do a shitty thing. And you will hate me, and some other people will hate me, but I’m going to do it anyway to protect you and also myself.

This will sound like an excuse, but I have something called prosopagnosia, which means I can’t recognize faces, not even the faces of the people I love. Not even my mom. Not even myself.

Imagine walking into a room full of strangers, people who don’t mean anything to you because you don’t know their names or histories. Then imagine going to school or work or, worse, your own home, where you should know everyone, only the people there look like strangers too.

That’s what it’s like for me: I walk into a room and I don’t know anyone. That’s every room, everywhere. I get by on how a person walks. By gestures. By voice. By hair. I learn people by identifiers. I tell myself, Dusty has ears that stick out and a red-brown Afro, and then I memorize this fact so it helps me find my little brother, but I can’t actually call up an image of him and his big ears and his Afro unless he’s in front of me. Remembering people is like this superpower everyone seems to have but me.

Have I been officially diagnosed? No. And not just because I’m guessing this is beyond the pay grade of Dr. Blume, town pediatrician. Not just because for the past few years my parents have had more than their share of shit to deal with. Not just because it’s better not to be the freak. But because there’s a part of me that hopes it isn’t true. That maybe it will clear up and go away on its own. For now, this is how I get by:

Nod/smile at everyone.

Be charming.

Be “on.”

Be goddamn hilarious.

Be the life of the party, but don’t drink. Don’t risk losing control (that happens enough when sober).

Pay attention.

Do whatever it takes. Be lord of the douche. Anything to keep from being the prey. Always better to hunt than be hunted.

I’m not telling you all this as an excuse for what I’m about to do. But maybe you can keep it in mind. This is the only way to stop my friends from doing something worse, and it’s the only way to stop this stupid game. Just know that I don’t want to hurt anyone. That’s not why. Even though that’s the thing that’s going to happen.

Sincerely yours,

Jack

PS. You’re the only person who knows what’s wrong with me.

Prosopagnosia (pro-suh-pag-NO-zhuh) noun: 1. an inability to recognize the faces of familiar people, typically as a result of damage to the brain. 2. when everyone is a stranger.

18 HOURS EARLIER

* * *

If a genie popped out of my bedside lamp, I would wish for these three things: my mom to be alive, nothing bad or sad to ever happen again, and to be a member of the Martin Van Buren High School Damsels, the best drill team in the tristate area.

But what if the Damsels don’t want you?

It is 3:38 a.m., and the time of night when my mind starts running around all wild and out of control, like my cat, George, when he was a kitten. All of a sudden, there goes my brain, climbing the curtains. There it is, swinging from the bookshelf. There it is, with its paw in the fish tank and its head underwater.

I lie on my bed, staring up into the dark, and my mind bounces across the room.

What if you get trapped again? What if they have to knock down the cafeteria door or the bathroom wall to get you out? What if your dad gets married and then he dies and you’re left with the new wife and stepsiblings? What if you die? What if there is no heaven and you never see your mom again?

I tell myself to sleep.

I close my eyes and lie very still.

Very still.

For minutes.

I make my mind lie there with me and tell it, Sleep, sleep, sleep.

What if you get to school and realize that things are different and kids are different, and no matter how much you try, you will never be able to catch up to them?

I open my eyes.

My name is Libby Strout. You’ve probably heard of me. You’ve probably watched the video of me being rescued from my own house. At last count, 6,345,981 people have watched it, so there’s a good chance you’re one of them. Three years ago, I was America’s Fattest Teen. I weighed 653 pounds at my heaviest, which means I was approximately 500 pounds overweight. I haven’t always been fat. The short version of the story is that my mom died and I got fat, but somehow I’m still here. This is in no way my father’s fault.

Two months after I was rescued, we moved to a different neighborhood on the other side of town. These days I can leave the house on my own. I’ve lost 302 pounds. The size of two entire people. I have around 190 left to go, and I’m fine with that. I like who I am. For one thing, I can run now. And ride in the car. And buy clothes at the mall instead of special-ordering them. And I can twirl. Aside from no longer being afraid of organ failure, that may be the best thing about now versus then.

Tomorrow is my first day of school since fifth grade. My new title will be high school junior, which, let’s face it, sounds a lot better than America’s Fattest Teen. But it’s hard to be anything but TERRIFIED OUT OF MY SKULL.

I wait for the panic attack to come.

Caroline Lushamp calls before my alarm goes off, but I let her go to voice mail. I know whatever it is, it’s not going to be good and it will be my fault.

She calls three times but only leaves one message. I almost delete it without listening, but what if her car broke down and she’s in trouble? This is, after all, the girl I’ve dated off and on for the past four years. (We’re that couple. That on-again, off-again everyone-assumes-we’ll-end-up-together-forever couple.)

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