Hanna Elden, September 22, 2014
Two years ago I opened a Facebook chat window to my friend, The Honorable Rorey Smith.
"I want to be Hanna Elden," I wrote.
"Well, that would be difficult," he replied.
Of course, beyond the impossibilities of being someone else, there was also our very different physical attributes. Hanna was a tall, blonde, popular girl living in Cambridge, who was friends with Rorey. She drank with friends in manor houses on large estates. The rooms had wood paneling, club chairs and ancient bookshelves and books. She played croquet in the summers wearing white dresses and borrowed the boy's oversized blazers at sunset. She was crowned queen of the Hare and Hounds dinner, and she attended it in a gorgeous, floor length purple-pink gown. She punted the river Cam with Rorey and it looked idyllic. I was inspired immediately to add “punting the River Cam” to my bucket list.
I know all of these things about Hanna because I once came upon her Facebook through Rorey’s Facebook, in the strange way that we find ourselves in a social media rabbit hole, suddenly privy to someone else's world. It helped that all her pictures were public. Her life was so attractive because it was a life I once sought. [Ed note: Rorey, the hyper-sexualized, titled, English, rake, is an essay in himself for a later date.]
If you've known me longer than a few months you've heard my regretful university swan song. I had two options for college: studying in London millions of miles from my sleepy Mobile, Alabama home town or studying at home (and living at home). I chose the latter, thereby creating a minor tragedy. People whine about “the one that got away,” and I whine about the four years that were supposed to be something else. It’s the regret that keeps on giving; the cocktail party conversation that sends a person back to the bar and powder room mid-conversation.
This is only relevant because just this week Bo suggested we do dinner at his universities undergraduate cafeteria.
"I've never eaten in a college cafeteria before," I told him. He reared back his head, surprised. I lived at home and ate at home. "I jokingly called college the 'High School Extension.'" I said.
So Wednesday night we met at the campus gates and walked to the cafeteria. I'll admit, the environment alone made me feel nervous and out of place. I was head-to-toe in ruffly J. Crew and heels (straight from the office) in a crowd of hoodies and leggings and bookbags.
The cafeteria had a large, wood paneled room with wooden tables. Kids were everywhere, filling every table. Bo explained that there was an undergrad dorm next door. I assumed most of these kids were as young as 18! Their faces were so...cherubic.
I leaned into Bo. "I feel so old."
He laughed. "We could both pass for teenagers."
We loaded up plates and took them to the outside tables right off the campus' main square.
After dinner, I stood waiting on Bo in the lobby of a dorm, watching the students filter in and out, catching remnants of conversations.
"Is that the Times?"
"What do you think of professor so and so?"
"...it's for class…"
"But she isn't…ya know, in that way."
We left the campus near twilight, the lamps were starting to light themselves, and a steady crowd of students still populated the planters, grass and steps. “This is an oasis in the city,” I said to myself before coming to the conclusion I always come to. If I had lived in London, I might have missed out on the greatest love affair of my life to date: the one I’m having with New York City.
Later that week, I caught Mr. Smith online again for conversation, which reminded me to check Ms. Elden’s Facebook profile. I wondered, as I clicked my way there, what kind of international life does she live now? What new things can she inspire me to do? She’d sewn her profile up nicely (read: entirely private). I couldn’t see a thing beyond her lovey-dovey profile picture with her beau, and that she’d moved – to St. Louis, Missouri. Like the punchline to a joke.