When Maddie walks into the classroom, there’s a brain on her desk. Actually, they’re on all of them, a line of gray matter, although bleak, standing in stark contrast to the beige plastic tops on which they sit.
She weaves past chairs, some pushed in, others half out into the aisle, to her seat in the back corner. As she hangs her backpack on the chair, her eyes stay on the vital organ, and she wonders if they’re the ones some her classmates seem to have lost over summer vacation. Carefully, she reaches out and uses both hands to lift it. It’s heavier than she had thought it would be, denser, and splits in half with little effort.
Sliding into her spot, she eyes the lobes, while her fellow students react to their desks with a range of emotions: Gavin tosses it back and forth in both hands as he’s guffaws and Violet tells him to grow up. Leah peers down in disgust with the rest of her girl group. Reggie sets down his stack of sheet music and cracks his open, examining it with interest.
The bell rings, and immediately after it ceases its ding, Mr. Davidson steps out from his podium and announces with enthusiasm, “As you could guess from the models on your desk, today we’re learning about the brain and its functions. While you’re following along with your brain, you can follow along on it, too.” He laughs, and only a few chuckles bounce back at him. “Okay, let’s get started.”
He aims the remote at the projector and his PowerPoint with an ever-larger brain takes the screen. With each slide, he describes a different part of it and the role: the cerebellum’s control over voluntary muscle movement, the brain stem and its regulation of everything that keeps them breathing and awake.
Mr. Davidson encourages them to use their day-to-day life to remember the functions of each, and as Maddie makes notes, she doesn’t have to look very far for her examples. They’re right in the seats next to her.
She has this thought as she writes down the characteristics of the frontal lobe on her paper. Or as she’s going to remember it: Violet.
Violet sits tall in her seat while her Sharpie pen makes meticulous color-coded notes in her spiral notebook labeled psychology. Like the frontal lobe, she’s all about concentration, intelligence, and being a master in executive function—at times literally. After all, she is Student Council President. On top of that, she’s a member of about 10 different clubs that she keeps track of in her planner. Incredibly self-aware, a curl is never out of place, and when it comes to judgment, the displeased look she’s giving her next-desk neighbor as he beats his pencil against his desk just about sums it up.
His pencil taps aren’t random, but rather the rhythm of what sounds like The Beatles “Come Together”—the same song he and the band played at the back to school pep rally yesterday. Reggie’s the leader of the percussion section and can repeat any rhythm that’s thrown at him. He’s basically a human metronome, keeping the beat no matter how many noises are sounding around him, just like any good little temporal lobe does.
Almost directly across the U, Gavin rocks the pieces of the brain together and apart with a thump, while making eyes at Violet. He knows he’s going to piss her off. Maybe that’s his only goal or maybe he wants to increase the sexual tension like would happen in whatever teen drama he thinks he’s starring in. Without a doubt, he’s the hypothalamus. He’s a three-sport player: football, basketball, and baseball, and unfortunately, he’s everything the movies portray a guy at the top of the popularity food chain to be. Ripped, and convinced he and his friends are the greatest thing since… well anything, despite the fact that outside of the gym, all they do are the basic functions of the hypothalamus: sleep, drink, eat, and have a sexual response.
Somehow, though, people fall at his feet, including Leah. Right now, she’s taking notes, but not only the ones on the screen—the ones her friends are passing back and forth, too. With each muffled giggle, and scribble of a sentence onto the paper, her eyes fly in their direction and her teeth hold tight to her bottom lip. She might be part of the in-group, but she wasn’t always. In middle school, she was the object of scorn before her glow-up. Now, it’s like each move she makes she thinks could send her back to that place, so she’s follows along to keep the status quo.
And Maddie, well, she’s the occipital lobe, an all-seeing wallflower. For most of her school career, she has floated along the periphery of social circles, gathering a couple of good friends along the way. To most of the people in this room, she’s just another face in the crowd, but she’s also a watcher, interpreting the movement and color of the scenes around her to tell them things they might not want others to know. Like why the reason Violet stays so organized she’s afraid of failing like Leah. Or how even though Gavin makes fun of Reggie most days, right now he’s nodding to the beat of his song.
Or, how all of them are more alike than they’d like to admit—herself included.