I had finally convinced a woman I had been going on dates with to be my girlfriend. We decided to meet up on Saturday morning for our very first date as an NYC couple: a day trip to the beach at Coney Island. It promised to be super cute.
Anyway, the Friday night before our trip, I decided to stay in for a night of smoking up, thinking, writing, and browsing Wikipedia—my actual idea of an ideal Friday night.
Anyway, as part of this particular Friday-night mental expedition, I realized an embarrassing intellectual blind spot of mine: I didn’t know why it gets hot in the summer. Does it have to do with how far Earth is in its orbit from the Sun? That seemed wrong because when it’s winter here, it’s summer in Australia. I must have been truant the day my third-grade teacher taught this. So, I Googled it.
I learned, at the advanced age of 27, that seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth relative to the Sun. On a given patch of land, more tilt away from the sun means the same number of heat-causing radiation-carrying photons get dispersed across a slightly larger surface area, delivering less heat to each square inch; hence, seasons. Oh. That made sense. But I did feel silly for not having known it earlier.
Anyway, the next morning, my new girlfriend (!) and I found our way to the W. 4th St. station, where we had coordinated meeting to transfer to the F train. I experienced the emotion of giddiness.
Anyway, at one point during a lull in our subway, I attempted to demonstrate vulnerability by confessing that I had to look up the literal reason for the seasons. I humored her by sharing the thing about the photon dispersement on the wild chance she also didn’t know. Our conversation meandered to the topic of planetary movements. I attempted a joke. “Well, unless you stop and think about it, it’s almost easy to forget why it gets dark at night!”
She paused for a moment and with the most breathtaking deadpan delivery I have seen, she quipped, “Wait, why does it get dark at night?” She was obviously joking, so I laughed, unable to maintain the deadpan banter. But then I realized she wasn’t joking. So, we, um, talked about it. She had, I guess, forgotten that Earth turns all the way around relative to the sun every single day and that the length of a day is defined as the arbitrary duration it takes Earth to do that. Fine. So what? My girlfriend didn’t know why it gets dark at night.
I didn’t know why it gets hot in the summer! Same diff, right?? It was too late. My laugh at her expense conveyed to her that I did not think it was the same diff. Implicit in that being that I thought I was better than her.
We moved on from the topic, but we both felt a tension had been introduced. The beach was nice when we arrived. We soaked in some sun. Applied sunscreen to each other. She waded in the water. I made a deformed castle. We held hands, as couples do. We displayed affection publicly as lusting young people do. We got ice cream in waffle cones, as beachgoers do. The motions were all there, but something was still amiss. Could we get past the dark-at-night thing? We dared not speak of it, but it remained the cloud on this photon-dense day.
As the sun drifted westward, we washed the sand from our toes and left the beach in the late afternoon After a long, oddly silent subway ride back to Manhattan, we exited the train at W. 4th where we could transfer to one of our places. She suggested we get out of the station and go for a walk instead. She seemed tense. Now more so than before.
We pushed the turnstiles and made our way through a meandering alleyway of the West Village. We made small talk about the weather and our surroundings. She grabbed a sidewalk tree and stopped walking. She looked down, then at me, then down again. A tear rolled down her face.
She said that she has been thinking. About this. About us. That she has really enjoyed getting to know me. That maybe we’re too different as people. That she had fun today. That she hopes we can stay in touch as friends. We embraced, exchanged pleasantries, and as parted ways as exes. Alas, there was no other way.