“Do you know how much a polar bear weighs?”
“That depends if it is a male or a female polar bear. Sexual dimorphism… you know?” Jane answered with a mix of know-it-all-ness and care-it-none-ness.
“Idontknowitdoesntmatter,” I mumbled incomprehensibly, clearly thrown for a loop. I get nervous talking to girls in school and am terrible in science, so this was just about the least optimal answer possible. I felt like I’d been jammed into a Venn-diagram locker by my biggest tormentors.
“It does very much matter. Male polar bears are, on average, a few hundred pounds heavier than females. Maybe you were thinking about reptiles or amphibians or fish or birds, which commonly have males and females of much closer sizes.”
“Now that you mention it, I was definitely thinking about females,” I said, a little too meekly for it to be as good of a comeback as it should have been.
“Well, I’m pretty sure a female polar bear can weigh 500 pounds,” Jane delivered, finally getting me back close enough to my original entry point, to deliver the prepared follow up.
“So you’d say—” I began before she steamrolled me again.
“But the truth is that climate change is massively affecting polar bears’ diets. As Earth gets continuously hotter, the sea ice melts faster. That limits polar bears’ access to their regular prey, like seals, and means they go hungry or have to settle for lesser options. So the weights of polar bears are likely falling sharply.”
Jane used to be one of the hot, popular girls. But then she started caring about the environment. I mean, we all got Ranger Rick magazines as kids, but while the rest of us flipped to the zoomed-in photos of everyday objects, she actually read it for the articles. By the first day of seventh grade, Jane proudly announced that she’d stopped wearing makeup because of animal testing. I went home and Googled animals in makeup, which didn’t turn up much.
The hot, popular girls left her behind, like we are leaving behind the manatee, Jane told us hundreds of times. While I felt bad for the manatees, I didn’t mind that Jane’s social status was getting closer to in my league. She was a victim of middle school popularity chutes and ladders, and lucky for me, her chute let out in my vicinity.
She wasn’t the first, or last, to level down for her non-compromising individuality, but in Jane’s case, I had a front row seat. As her biology lab partner, our small talk was mostly sterile and curt, but I could hypothesize and observe what was going on. I probably should have spoken up when a rumor started that Jane made her family adopt pigs and goats. But instead, when people started calling her “Mother Nature,” I realized another chute had taken her square with me. So I took a shot.
Like Mother Nature, Jane didn’t care about my plans and ideas. I’ve had numerous Little League games rained out and now here I was, feeling completely washed out again by Mother Nature’s younger, cuter attaché. I might as well have been standing in a puddle.
I’d never heard of it working out between middle school lab partners, but I’d also never heard sexual dimorphism, so maybe today was a day for breaking barriers. Or ice.