Erica Stern is a student in the MFA writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
This is your brain, the teacher said. He projected a picture onto the white wall. It looked somewhat like a brain, but then again it looked like no brain the class had seen before. First of all, this brain was lopsided. One lobe curved like a swollen eggplant; the other clung on, round and small. The brain artist had tinted the image a deep purple, also reminiscent of an eggplant.
The teacher held his laser pointer up to the diagram. See this, he said, this here, this is the simulacrum factory. Remember that, class. This will be on the midterm. This part of the brain creates the dreams you see at night. It takes in light and words and faces from the day and mashes them all up, right here, see, with this gear and this little stone in the middle? The class nodded. Then, when you are asleep, it pieces the bits together, using this little tube, right here. He pointed again with the laser. The red dot wavered over the spot with the tube. It looked more like a hook than a tube, but everyone nodded again, anyway. They had not heard anything quite like this before on the public television science shows they watched when nothing else was on, but they tried to accept the teacher’s teachings as fact. This was what was expected of them.
The other side of the brain, he explained, housed the malevolent vixen, so named for the way the spindles of brain tissue merged and bent like a woman’s hips. He did not explain the seeming irrelevance of the word “malevolent” in the name. He also did not explain the function of this part of the brain. At least one of the students began to raise a hand, formulating a question silently in an effort to strike the right balance between curiosity and irreverence, but did not have the chance to verbalize the question. The teacher had finished with this segment.
Now, he said, moving the laser to the middle where the two uneven lobes kissed, this here, this is where the magic happens. He got a smile on his face. It was as if the smile had dropped down on him, out of nowhere. It was obvious that this was his favorite segment of the brain, like it’s clear when some people have favorite children from the way their faces light up when they switch from discussing Melvin’s orchestra concert to Melinda’s soccer game.
This is the identity column, the teacher said. In here, in each person’s brain, lies a rod. Each rod contains a different shade. You might think that there are a finite number of shades of red, say, or blue or yellow, but you are wrong. There is not only sunset red and cherry red—no. In fact, there are enough shades for each person to get his own. No repetitions in all of history. This is the miracle of life. Just think: every caveman had a shade.
He grew excited; he grew beet red.
The teacher continued. Each rod corresponds perfectly to an individual’s identity. Everything about that person, he said, crammed in.
The boy in the front row with a faint mustache the color of mustard thought about the tube and what it might contain: grey hair at fifty; slightly wobbly speech in public; paunch in late twenties as a result of too many keg stands; affair with professional foosball player eleven years into seemingly happy marriage; child with intractable drug addiction; penchant for strange plastic surgeries; tendency to engage in risky behaviors, like driving through hailstorms (part of rather dull mid-life crisis); acute loneliness brought on by certain movies, especially ones that tried to be funny, or certain books, or certain songs, played at a certain volume at a certain time of day.