by HEATHER TOURGEE
In middle school we are told that we are made of stars. Literally, that the elements that make up our hair, our skin, that make up everything else on this planet and the next were forged eons ago in the impossibly energetic bellies of supernovas. It’s not a new thought, nor a unique one, but it is a nice thought, one that justifies our existence in the vast expanse of an unknowable, unforgiving universe, especially at age twelve, when being the same stuff as stars might finally be enough to get Bobby Mills to ask us to the seventh-grade formal.
Someone my size can expect twelve pounds of her weight to be carbon, pulled from food and air and recycled into the fibers and strands and cells of her body. A scientist told me recently that of these, three pounds account for carbon emitted by the burning of fossil fuels. This is approximately the weight of my upper arm, two feet and a hand, or one third of my head. That is less than a sack of flour, yes, but considerably more than a pinch of stardust.
The same carbon molecules that lodged themselves in the cell walls of prehistoric swamps, pressed and churned and chemically mutilated to become bituminous, or maybe anthracite, have been burned, released, and sunk into my own flesh and accounts for a significant portion of my own embodiment.
If I am to rid myself of these three pounds, as I now feel it is imperative that I do, I should like to give up a third of my head. My skull, along with its contents (peach-colored tofu brains) and dressings (brown hair, pink skin, red muscles), weighs, on average, ten pounds. I will start at the eyebrows and make one clean cut above my ears, missing my external occipital protuberance by less than an inch, the way a potter might pull off some clay with a wire. In doing this I will sacrifice most of my frontal lobe, which, as chance would have it, is responsible for my sparkling personality, my ability to think coherent thoughts and translate them into text, whatever self-awareness I have left, and the small amount of concentration Netflix has not yet deprived me of. I will be lobotomized and I will be happier.
I will next mourn my parietal lobe. It is in this, the gamiest lobe, that resides the ability to transform ricochets of light and color into a half-hearted, incomplete rendering of life on earth. I will feel around blindly for the tree bark I so love, and I will learn to tell the difference between pine and hemlock with my fingers, and I will have no way of knowing how high these trees stand above the water line. Then again, in a few years it won’t matter that I can’t see these, because they, like the Marshall Islands, like Tonga, like Kiribati, Isle de Jean Charles, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Calcutta, Miami, New York, Boston, will be, but for spires and skyscrapers, underwater. And open sea isn’t much to look at.
It is also in this lobe that sound waves are translated into a comprehension of the toad’s creaking, songbirds’ screams, the sound of my own name. Even if the mechanisms that carry the soundwaves onward (we left my outer and inner ears intact, remember), my poor lopsided brain can’t process the sounds of the plovers or the pipers, nor will it notice when they stop singing. My hollow ears will be grateful not to overhear their discovery of an empty nest, clutches having been stolen by predators emboldened by warmer waters, or the oscine debate between mates over fleeing the formidable climes or risking their lives to incubate and protect theirs.
Finally, my occipital cortex will get a bit off the top, most likely taking my primary visual cortex with it. Though most of my vision will have gone with the parietal, the ability of my eyes to detect motion will go with this lobe. This could be a boon, though, because as water levels change visibly over the next ten years, or ice shelves break apart on live television, I will be none the wiser. I will amble aimlessly, blind and ignorant to the stars of which I am wrought, the planet likewise borne of ash, and its destruction at the hands of a few conscious atoms.
Heather Tourgee is a writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is fascinated with the impacts of climate change and our cultural lives. Originally from New Hampshire, she holds a BA in environmental studies from Middlebury College and is pursuing her MA in environmental humanities at the University of Utah. In addition to writing nonfiction and poetry, she co-hosts a feminist climate change podcast, which can be found at cwordpodcast.com.