The restaurant isn’t busy, yet it takes forever before a young woman sashays over with menus. It bugs. I waited tables for years. Certain tempos are expected. And while my guy and I are here for a break from the week’s push and shove, I have budgeted one hour fifteen minutes for the pleasure, and waiting isn’t how I want to spend it.

Seated (at last), Dave looks around. Nods. “I like this place.” I’m reserving judgment. We choose the same dish, though he’ll ask for maximum spiciness. He updates me on a work thing. Asks how my temporalities project is coming along. It’s been several minutes and the server–the same person who showed us to the table–appears oblivious to our closed menus and my increasingly pointed looks whenever she saunters by.

But I am here to talk with Dave, so I tell him I’m not sure yet what, precisely, I’m looking for. All I know is that I need the contact with other, living minds to find my real questions about what I’ve come to see as a crucial diversity issue that’s all too often overlooked. Our ways of being in and thinking about time—our temporalities—thrum under the surface of our interactions. Often rumble. Sometimes erupt.

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“Working on the questions still,” I say. “For instance, some people get this one right away, others don’t: ‘When you think of a year, does a particular image come to mind?’” (For as long as I can remember, I see a year as a tilted plate: June and July at top, December and January at bottom. Different colors along the rim.)

Dave mulls before saying his image of time is oceanic. “When I think about time I feel like Pip, floating alone in the neverending blue.”

This being a date, I don’t suggest this is why he forgets to put his events on our family calendar. The thought crosses my mind that this may be why he also doesn’t care that the server still hasn’t taken our order. Meanwhile, my inner clock is getting noisier by the minute. I left my desk thirty minutes ago. At what point should I propose we leave and grab a quick sandwich somewhere else?

I drag my mind back to our conversation. As I said, some people don’t have a ready image for a year. Case in point: I ask and get a reference to Moby Dick and a shoreless ocean for all of time. I try again, asking Dave about his early years in Brownsville, Texas. Did different times of year affect how they dressed, what they ate, what they did?

The server appears at our table. We ask for iced tea and noodles. She vanishes.

I repeat my question. “Not at all,” Dave says, explaining that the weather was fairly steady. There were holidays like the Day of the Dead, but no big changes. Now, living in Utah, he feels there’s summer and not-summer, with blurs of transition between. Profoundly different from the template in my head, where each season is as sharply delineated as a kindergarten teacher’s flashcards: Flower. Sun. Orange maple leaf. Snowflake.

As we talk, an understanding forms. Dave prefers time as a sublime, indivisible force, not a resource to be harvested. And while I have my moments in which I wallow in wide-open, unbounded, nonproductive hours (usually with a trashy novel), the only way I know to execute my job for money and be able to pursue independent scholarship/art-making and be a wife-mom-human is to parcel and protect my time. To me, my work log, planner, Pomodoro timer, and written goals are Queequeg’s coffin. Something to cling to so I don’t drown in eternal possibility. But Dave—I realize his irritating and persistent disregard for time management has deep, philosophical root. And this root may be necessary to the kind of person he is. We might both lose something invaluable were he to lean closer to Ben Franklin than, say, Rumi, who tells us that “Lovers are patient and know the moon needs time to become full” and “This moment is all there is.”

Is this why he’s more patient than I am? Why he’s here, now, enjoying the ambiance and, lucky me, dilating with the conversation while I’m calculating how late into the night I’ll have to work to balance this ever-expanding lunchtime?

Forty-seven minutes since I left my desk. Twenty-eight remaining until I meant to be back at it. Where is our iced tea?

At one restaurant I worked in, a manager tested us with a stopwatch on how fast we responded to each round in a service. Draconian, yes, but the discipline helped me earn more money—money I badly needed in those precarious times. Has anyone told our server to deliver drinks promptly so diners don’t stare at the wood grain of the table, contemplating their dwindling life force amid the swells of time?

Eventually she appears, not with drinks, but with our food. Mine has an ingredient I can’t eat which wasn’t mentioned on the menu. My plate drifts back to the kitchen no faster than it arrived. I encourage Dave to go ahead and eat. At this point–fifty minutes in, twenty-five remaining–I’m more amused than annoyed. Clearly, the universe is not interested in my urgencies.

I surrender. So I’ll be working until 10 tonight. Whatever.

“This is good,” Dave says, plunging his fork into his meal. “I like this place.”

Our server never brings the tea, but I see she’s sitting down to a plate of noodles at a back table. As Dave makes happy noises over his food, I wonder about the resources and challenges the server has brought to our encounter. Does she have a screaming hangover? Did she pull an all-nighter for a major test? What is her notion of a year, a month, a day? How does she suppose time is or should be shaped–its rhythms and pace experienced? No doubt we have vastly different notions of how the instants are passing, should pass, on this day, in this place.

Watching Dave savor his meal, gratitude opens in me. How lucky to be here with one I love thinking about one of my favorite topics. How lucky he isn’t like me. I mean, I know there’s a cost for having a clock in my head. This noisy, noisy clock that ticks and clangs to warn me that time is always running out. My stark, perpetual terror that my strength will fail before a ship arrives to pull me from these waves.

I flag down another server and ask for tea. Wait with something almost like patience.

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