Last week, I had my regular MRI check-up, and once again, by the grace of science and luck and the universe, it looked good. “Unremarkable” is the technical term that radiologists use. It’s one of the few times in your life that hearing that is just … nice.
So don’t have to get another MRI for a whole year now, but as I stare at those images my the inside of my head, I realize my fascination with the human brain remains. Looking at the cross section of grey matter, at the organ that makes me me, I find myself amazed at how we all function.
Or, rather, I’m amazed at how I function, and I just assume that everyone else operates the same way.
The other day, I couldn’t remember the name of the actress that I think bears a striking resemblance to my friend Katie. So I just gave up on the matter, knowing that my brain would come through. And sure enough, a few hours later, while Katie and I were having dinner at a Japanese restaurant and talking about something entirely different, I looked up at her and screamed, “LINDSAY SLOANE.”
(Thankfully, Katie’s known me long enough to not get fazed when I do stuff like that. She just stared at me, nodded slightly, and went back to her sashimi.)
But … it’s amazing isn’t it? I mean, how the hell did my brain do that? It has, on occasion, been unable to identify people that I’ve met a half-dozen times, but is able to pull the names of random actresses from deep within the folds of my grey matter when I’m not even consciously focusing on that.
The machinations of my mind become even more intriguing during long trips, when sleep deprivation and jetlag start trashing the inside of my skull like college-freshmen in a summer rental.
As we flew to Sydney, I curled up, exhausted, in my seat. I had earplugs in, over which I’d placed noise-reducing headphones. My sleep mask was pulled down over my eyes, and my blanket was tucked in around me (with the seatbelt fastened over it so that the flight attendants needn’t wake me).
I was about as comfortable as an adult human could be in a premium economy seat. And so I tried to lull myself to sleep on a trans-Pacific flight (a near-impossibility for me).
You are so comfy, I thought to myself. And so tired. So let’s just think about how you are relaxing in a hammock, and all the sounds of the plane are actually someone mowing their lawn a few houses over. Yes. And you are drifting, drifting … Nope, nope. Nevermind. You have to pee.
No, wait. Maybe you don’t. Nah, you’re fine. Anywho, you are drifting, drifting off to sleep and …
On second thought, you do have to pee. Like, really badly. Do you hear me? YOUR BLADDER IS FULLER THAN IT HAS EVER BEEN. IT IS LIKE A WATER BALLOON IN THE HANDS OF A FIVE-YEAR-OLD. It is just waiting to bust. Go. Pee. Now.
So I begrudgingly got up from the cocoon that I had created for myself, and wandered over to the bathroom, where my bladder managed to produce not a flood-like deluge but a mere trickle as if to say, “Take that, sucker.” I walked back to my seat a tired and broken woman.
Once again, I reentered my cocoon, tried lulling myself to sleep with visions of hammocks and lawnmowers or whatever, and just as this process was beginning to sort of almost work …
MY BLOOD RUNS COLD, MY MEMORY HAS JUST BEEN SOLD!
My brain, in an act of treason comparable to Brett Favre playing for the Vikings, started blaring the lyrics of “Centerfold” by The J. Geils Band. Are you familiar with this song? It’s about
a guy who purchases a nudie magazine and is horrified to see that his high school crush is You know what? Never mind what the song is about. It totally doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it is one of the worst songs ever written. I can only assume whoever penned it hates humanity and created this ditty as a sort of punishment to inflict upon us. Seriously. It’s soooooo bad.
And my brain was mercilessly blaring it at 30,000 feet. I have no idea why it decided selected that song, but it did.
MY ANGEL IS A CENTERFOLD! MY ANGEL IS A CENTERFOLD!
I tried every trick I had to rid my mind of it and attempt to sleep. I counted sheep. I hummed the “Girl from Ipanema” (which I’ve heard works to unstick a song in your head). I even tried a tactic I devised as a kid, where I imagine the song is emitted from a small radio, that I subsequently bash with a sledgehammer, ending the noise. This latter technique almost always works for me.
But this time, it didn’t. What’s worse is that I don’t even know all the lyrics to this godawful song, so it was just the chorus, playing over and over and again. It. Did. Not. Stop.
We finally got to Sydney. I had had no sleep.
In a daze, we took another flight to Hamilton island, and from there we took a boat to Hayman island, where we’d be staying for the week. I was half awake through all of it, yawning and stumbling as I watched the Great Barrier Reef unfold in front of me. It was glorious, and I vaguely remember it.
A few days later, we were well caught up on sleep, and exploring some of the islands of the reef. We found ourselves on Langford, which is uninhabited and, at high tide, a little more that a narrow spit of white sand surrounded by turquoise water, and a reef that is exceptionally popular with the local sea turtles.
That’s right: there are friggin sea turtles in the water and YOU CAN SWIM WITH THEM.
Rand and I did just that snorkeling around and hoping that the turtles would approach, but found that they were feeling a little shy that day.
Except for one. I saw it resting on the sea floor, slowing moving around. And because my world is full of magic, it gently began to rise up for air directly where I was. It was so close to me that I could touch it. Which I did, gently, my gloved fingers touching its shell for a brief moment.
You’d think that my brain, now well rested, would have quietly let me enjoy this moment. That it would be silent as I encoded in this memory in its folds, to be revisited again and again until the day I die.
Instead, perhaps aware of the significance of what was happening, the sheer incredibleness of it all, it began to screech like a drunk sorority girl. A rapid-pace color commentary on the situation that was entirely unnecessary and vapid. And as much as I willed otherwise, it would not shut up.
Oh. Mah. Gawd.
That is a frigging sea turtle, and you just touched it. You just REACHED OVER and TOUCHED IT. That was, like, pretty much the best thing to happen, ever. IT TOTALLY WAS. Are you listening? THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MOMENTS OF YOUR LIFE AND I HOPE YOU ARE PAYING ATTENTION TO IT.
Followed by a brief pause, and then, as I watched the sea turtle gently swim away …
MY BLOOD RUNS COLD, MY MEMORIES HAVE JUST BEEN SOLD.
MY ANGEL IS A CENTERFOLD. MY ANGEL IS A CENTERFOLD.
Sigh. Just another day with my unremarkable brain.