This Is My Brain on Boys - Sarah Strohmeyer


It is an accepted scientific fact that the brain of the average adolescent male thinks about girls every seven heartbeats. Which, when placed in perspective, leaves very little time for the brain of the average adolescent male to seriously think about anything else—including, quite possibly, imminent death.

Addie figured this was the only explanation for why the boy wedged in the seat next to her wasn’t freaking out like everyone else on Flight 1160 from New York to Boston.

A violent summer storm tossed the plane like a Frisbee; it climbed, then fell, banking to the left, then to the right, only to do it all again. The electricity flickered. Drinks spilled. Luggage actually broke through a couple of the overhead compartments. People alternately gasped, groaned, and clutched their stomachs.

Intellectually, Addie understood that their fear was illogical. With at least thirty thousand feet of space between the ground and the plane, which was specifically designed to withstand the external stress of high winds and the occasional lightning strike, the chances of a free-falling crash were ridiculously minuscule.

But try telling that to her amygdala. That troublesome almond-shaped segment of her brain too often overruled the cortex’s calm reasoning when it came to fear, anxiety, and, much to her embarrassment, love. So despite mentally recalling the statistical improbability of midflight crashes (eleven million to one) and trying to distract herself with the latest edition of Neuroscience Today, she was inwardly roiling in heart-pounding, palm-sweating, pulse-racing panic.

Unlike 11B, as Addie had mentally nicknamed him. He was blissed out to the music from his earphones, totally oblivious under his black curls, a silly half smile on his face, seat back, eyes closed.

Suddenly, the lights went off and the plane dropped, belly down, like a rock, which was so unexpected that the cabin went completely silent.

“I think we might have lost an engine,” said a man in row eleven, loud enough to be heard all the way to first class. He pointed out the right window. “It’s on fire!”

“We’re going to die!” screamed the woman in the window seat next to him, gripping the armrest. “Die!”

This was the third such outburst from 11A and Addie was growing mildly annoyed. For one thing, screaming was a primal reflex meant to alert others to flee approaching danger and was, therefore, completely useless on a plane. (Which was ironic when you thought about it—while they were in flight, they couldn’t engage in flight.)

Moreover, due to her frequent outbursts, 11A was increasing the cabin’s CO2 to dangerous levels.

“Excuse me,” Addie said, leaning across the long legs of 11B to get the woman’s attention. “Is that really necessary?”

She regarded Addie through thick lenses. “What?”

“Your pointless emissions.”

“I beg your pardon,” the woman exclaimed, reddening.

“I don’t mean to criticize . . .”

(This was Addie’s go-to opening line, suggested by her best friend, Tess, who had once gently noted that even though Addie might possess the noblest of intentions, occasionally, in an effort to be informative, she came across as, well, bossy. “But only because you’re so smart and right ninety percent of the time,” Tess had added quickly so Addie’s feelings wouldn’t be hurt.)

“. . . but considering the diminishing levels of oxygen in the cabin, it would be ever so helpful if you could keep your carbon dioxide production to a minimum.”

“Who cares about carbon dioxide?” the woman snapped. “Can’t you see? We’re about to die!”

A little boy sitting on his mother’s lap across the aisle began bawling.

Addie estimated his age to be approximately six to eight—old enough, surely, to not be treated like a baby. Her twin stepsisters were that age and already they were acquainted with the mysterious art of cosmetics and the climate-change themes in Frozen.

“Hey, what’s the problem, buddy?” Addie inquired.

The mother smoothed his hair. “Tommy gets upset when other people are upset. He’s very sensitive.”

Immature cerebellum, Addie deduced. Common among boys of that age group and, well, older ones, too.

“Perhaps this will allay your fears: flying has a 99.999 percent survival rate, and no American plane in modern history has fallen to the ground due to turbulence. Not once.”

He sniffed and rubbed snot from his nose. “Really?”

Addie nodded. “Really. You’re one-hundred-percent safe. Planes fly with one engine all the time.”

“See, Tommy?” his mother said. “No reason to cry.”

“I didn’t know that.” He sniffed again.

“It’s the first three minutes after takeoff and the last eight minutes until landing where you run into trouble,” she continued, hoping to nurture his nascent interest in aviation. “That’s why landing is nothing more than