When I was young, I was deathly afraid of dying. Not because of the afterlife part—the possibility of nullity that haunts most people, even children—but because I had no brain.
Don't ask me how I knew, but I did.
head felt too empty, too light with fluffy pink cotton candy and
carousel pony dreams to be the three pound mass that the Fun Facts side
of my cereal box promised. (fuck you Honey Nut Cheerios) I would have
felt that heap, I was sure, would have known if there was something
between my ears besides catchy A*Teens songs.
I didn't think, I never thought…especially not before opening my mouth. Words burst out like uninvited fireworks, flashing loudly before fading in the "hush" of adults, dissolving in my apple juice cup and then soaking into soggy submission.
I didn't mind about not having a mind, as long as they didn't know. I had a backyard of trees to climb, entire bags of Tollhouse Sugar Cookie Dough to swallow whole and then vomit back up in acidic rainbow sprinkled chunks, dares to do because it was Dare, always Dare, never Truth; legs to bruise and knees to skin.
You remember because you were there.
We didn't need a brain for those sort of things…just guts.
People thought I was eccentric or maybe just straight-up stupid. They never guessed my secret. They didn't know about my hollow motel of a head and its constant vacancy; no neon sign lit up my face in advertisement and apology. But I knew. And that's why I didn't want to die.
When I finally croaked, choked, hit the bucket, bit the dust, what the fuck ever, the coroners would do an autopsy like the ones I had seen while surreptitiously spying on my mother's late night shows. And then they would finally know, the once intangible truth now accessible on medical records for the entire world to witness and dissect, to marvel and laugh at; they would finally know like I knew. What would the newspaper headlines read? What would the television screen think? And my parents…what would they say, if they were around to find out? I mean, they couldn't ground me if I was already six feet under, but I could imagine their shock and repulsion, the furrow in my father's forehead deepening and the corners of my mother's lips drooping downward.
But as time crawled across preschool, marching into kindergarten and then tetherballing through elementary school to awkwardly pass onward, I acquired enough knowledge to acknowledge there was something in my head. If not a coherent conflagration of ideas, a trashcan bonfire at least. I read the right books and asked the right questions, I colored in the lines and stayed in line and stayed up at night to study; I began to judge myself quantitatively.
In middle school, I sacrificed—my parents sacrificed—much of my social life to acquire a 4.0 GPA. A 4.0, a number on the Richter Scale, proof of the fault lines on the earthquake of my brain—my brain! Yes, my brain.
Because as you grow older and grow some sort of something in your head, that's how you measure yourself as a human being:
You are only as beautiful as the weight you see when you look down at your worn-out scale; looking down at yourself, you are only as desirable as the cup size of your bra, the inches of your manhood. You are only as smart as your SAT score and the numeric conclusion of those IQ tests. Your success, it's only the width of your wallet, the amount of your annual income and how many shiny red cars and plastic soulmates that can buy.
Yeah, all those figures convinced me of that three pound mass heavy in my head, a paperweight. I knew it was there because I could feel it beginning to weigh me down.
When it happens to you, you'll know. And you'll be so, so proud.
We'll all be so, so proud—congratulations darling, you're growing up!—when your dreamsicles melt into decimals and Nickelodean shows no longer constitute an afternoon but waste it because time isn't the hour you meet your friend by the swings but the short amount you have left before your life's hourglass drains—half empty—and when space ceases to be toilet paper roll rocketships and the glow-in-the-dark stars on your first heartache's ceiling but instead the distance you feel between yourself and the rest of the world because you're too busy dwelling yourself into a black hole and burning with anxiety about the future and what-ifs and maybes and Truth, always Truth, never Dare; and when the parents you once wanted to impress don't impress you anymore so you have nothing left to become but another shitty TV rerun before "God" pulls the plug and you go off the air; we'll all be so, so proud.
I finally realize the extent of my stupidity. Obviously, I have a brain. Its weight registers on the scale—three pounds—and its ability can be measured in test scores and paychecks. What's more, I wouldn't be able to function in society without one.
Now that I am older and wiser, I'm afraid to die because an autopsy will reveal I have no heart.