By BJ Dehut; Illustrations by Kristine Lee
I woke up wearing a mask of potatoes and burgers, a liquid tunic made of beers and milkshakes. I was camouflaged under a plate of food but everyone in the restaurant could see me. You can’t hide under tater tots. Especially after you break a table in half by fainting on it.
There comes a time in every boy’s life, usually around puberty, when he gets a glimpse of the man he is to become. Like many before me, my discovery came in middle school health class.
On that special day, guests interrupted our lesson. At first, it seemed like a welcome distraction. The group walked in the classroom with every student’s favorite sight – A TV strapped to a rolling cart. Typically, this meant we’d spend the entire period watching antiquated/animated PSAs.
I still can recall the screen of that TV as the VHS tape underwent tracking adjustment. Static lines hissed across the screen, struggling to become clear as the machine reined the image in: a single word, TRAUMA. I didn’t know what it meant, but it would define itself soon enough.
The video’s first segment showed the aftermath of a little boy who was hit by a car on his bicycle. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and paid the price for it. The camera panned from the bloody spiderweb of broken windshield to the boy.
“No!” the class screamed in horror.
The boy was dead. The video went on to describe how simply wearing a helmet would have prevented all this from happening. However, I didn’t really hear much of this explanation. My brain felt like it was being squeezed between my ears – I couldn’t hear anything except for a high-pitched buzzing. I didn’t know what was going on and the headache I was experiencing made it hard to think. I stared at my hands.
“Gross!” someone in the back yelled.
Reflexively, I looked back up at the TV and yes — it was gross. Now the video was showing another dead boy who had made the mistake of grabbing a loose electrical wire. The electricity turned the kid’s arm into a gross approximation of an overly microwaved hotdog. An intense wave of nausea came over me.
I did the only thing I could — I put my head down on my desk.
I tried to muffle my ears by wrapping my arms around my head but it didn’t help.
The video narrator continued his onslaught and moved on to his next horror story, a girl who went through a window. Unfortunately for me, my wild imagination didn’t need any of the accompanying visuals – it could supply its own: I had took the place of the girl, and I was being shredded like cheese.
I felt a shake on my back. It was my teacher.
“Wake up and pay attention,” he said.
I put my head up as requested but my eyes looked anywhere but forward. I started feeling sick inside. Hot. Woozy. Anxious. I no longer heard the narrator I could only hear my heartbeat – and I kept getting hotter.
What the hell is happening to me? I felt like I was melting. I was so hot – I couldn’t take it.
I now have words for this particular sensation. I call it “The Heat.”
My brain was cooking itself. I had burned my hand on the stove the summer before and that was nothing compared to this.
“BJ! Wake up!” My clueless teacher shook me awake again.
When I came to, I was wet. And I mean, I was fucking soaked. My body conjured all the perspiration it could muster to quench The Heat. Every part of me was wet. My clothing was drenched all the way down to my socks.
The Heat was gone but its equally miserable counterpart greeted me.
I now call it “The Chill”.
I was shaking so hard the uneven legs of my desk rattled out a Morse code message to the effect of: “F-f-fuck! I’m col-col-cold!”
I shivered for the rest of the video, but The Chill kept me from feeling nauseous again. In fact, after I came to, nothing on the screen seemed to effect me in any way. I stared at the horrifying images and felt nothing. When it ended on a boy who lost his dick in a vacuum I actually snickered. The trauma no longer registered in my head, instead I thought about how dumb you’d have to be to fuck a vacuum.
When I think about the first time I fainted, back then in that health class, I’m just thankful the lights were off. I’m thankful everyone in that room was too horrified with the video to notice me.
Sadly, I wasn’t always so lucky.
I’ve burned a hundred times. Woke in a hundred puddles of sweat. Apologized to a hundred strangers.
I’m not getting any better at fainting.
No doctors have a clue what’s wrong with me. I’m different. I can’t help it – I don’t want to help it. It’s not even “wrong,” it’s just the way I am. Every brain has a funny way of being. I’m just thankful the people who have brains that tell them to hate people don’t notice that there are extra people like me to hate.
I’ve come to terms with who I am. But seriously – I am not any better at fainting.
This ailment has spun out of control. I no longer need the trauma to be real for empathy to overwhelm me – just put a movie on. Alive, Braveheart, Con Air … I have fainted during so many movies I could list them in both alphabetic and chronological order. The movie doesn’t even need to be gory, I fainted during the scene in The Rules Of Attraction when the girl kills herself in a bathtub and all you see is a close-up of her anguished face.
One time, I paused a film as soon as I felt The Heat creep in. (This was during the plot twist in the middle of The Skin I Live In.) I ended up fainting anyway when I attempted to recant the details of the scene to my roommate.
He thought I died. Apparently I hadn’t even begun to tell him about the movie. I had walked into his room, sweating and stuttering about something and then the next thing he knew I was on the ground – unresponsive.
I woke up and I was bleeding. I fell onto the glass of water I was holding. My roommate was shaking me, holding his phone – about to call 911. I was freezing and confused.
I got up and went to my room. I laid on my bed and tried to figure out what the hell happened.
“Oh yeah! I was watching a movie…”
My lamest movie-related-faint occurred during The Passion Of The Christ. (SPOILER ALERT: Jesus gets his ass BEAT.)
Unfortunately, the theater was packed; all those sharp knees in my row slackened the quickness of my escape attempt. When I reached the aisle I collapsed and dragged myself out of the theater. The Heat overtook me in the lobby; I slipped my face into the foul carpet of the theater floor and went to sleep, inhaling popcorn fragments through my nose.
When news of it spread, I knew eventually someone would try to willfully invoke the Heat. Tell people about a weird psychosomatic response and they will inevitably, and stupidly, want to see it for themselves.
It was Nichole’s birthday and a large group of us went to the East 19th Street Café. Jenna had recently learned of my “disability” and over the course of the dinner she tried to activate The Heat via gross stories. My brain was too fuzzy from drugs and drink to register any early warning signs that tip me off to The Heat. However, when Jenna started describing a PETA video in which a dog’s face-skin is pulled off by hooks – I went from 0-100 real quick.
I tried to run away. I don’t know what I was thinking (again – I was fucked up) but I am sure I was trying to run to the bathroom. Sometimes running cold water on my wrists keeps The Heat from overtaking me.
I didn’t make it to the bathroom.
Instead of passing out in privacy on some cold tiles, I found a more public sleeping space — on the dinner of a group a few tables over.
According to my friends. I ran away from our booth and crashed right into our neighbors’ table. Their table collapsed as fast as I did. Their meals slid down the break and tried to cover my shameful maneuver.
Which brings us back to the beginning. But, you can’t hide under tater tots. I had gathered quite an audience; but no one was interested in an explanation. Instead, I was introduced to the curb before I could remember where I was.
On a positive note: I didn’t have to pay for my meal!
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR Kristine Lee usually wakes up in Los Angeles everyday where she draws weird things and visits dollar stores.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR BJ DeHut is a chimp living in Los Angeles. He takes photos of street art on his Instagram.