Hello. We've met somewhere before, haven't we? Sometime in first year perhaps—you're right, it was in the elevator, wasn't it? Of course, I don't say that I remember you staring blankly at my midriff, clearly hoping either that my name might appear magically from between the folds of my scarf, or that your eyes might administer enough pressure on my indifferent posture to force an introduction. Deep down, we both knew it was really a reintroduction, but as long as you were content to play the coy game of deluded unfamiliarity, I was too. Because we had met before and our faces had the blurred knowledge of the other face's existence in the way that only a first-year orientation can generate. But the circumstances under which our faces last entertained each other's company is distant and vague—was it in a bar? Did you scream nothings into my ear? Or was it a more sober meeting? Perhaps we did something foolish, like have a meaningful conversation.
While I am contesting those first, unremembered days of college, you say something like “Hi I'm Elena. Philosophy, pre-med”—which is about as big an “up yours” introduction that can be made in less time than it takes elevator doors to close. But I don't say anything yet because I hope that by looking super mysterious with my face buried in my scarf, you'll say something else to breach the awkwardness of two bodies trapped inside a desperately slow eight-by-six metal box.
“Hi I'm Marti, that's with an i' not a y', Marti Brooks.” You can Facebook this boy later, I think to myself. If my introduction has caused Elena to remember that the last time we met my name was Martin, her face hides the memory most convincingly. Suffice it to say the name change was an artistic heralding in the vein of Dylan or Snoop Dogg—which is another way of saying that all college artists are entitled to change, a synonym itself for being high as a hamster hovering in a hot air balloon. (But of course, I don't say any of this because nobody says high as a hamster and I still have the honest intention of impressing this overachieving Elena character.) She says, “How was your break?” I say, “Good—I watched all seven Wes Anderson movies, ironically of course, and am teaching myself how to play the harp.” I clarify her puzzled look by adding, “Medieval music is totally misunderstood.” I consider asking Elena about her vacation, but by the time the thought has popped into my head, she has already begun immodest tales of luxurious Barbados. Of course, asking me about my vacation was pure pretense, a polite way of confirming that my rear end remained very much fixed in wintry American suburbs while hers went exotic. This ploy was immediately obvious—by either the kitschy seashell anklet resting below her upturned jean or by the putrid ,burnt tint her skin had acquired in the sun.
Elena's retelling of turquoise tides, terry cloth towels, and tiny terrapins endures until the elevator reaches the 10th floor, at which point, instead of exiting this uncomfortable (and rapidly shrinking) space she lingers and all five feet and eight inches of her blocks an intermittently closing elevator door (even the elevator wanted rid of her!). Perhaps there is something in my posture that indicates I couldn't give two hoots if she got upgraded to premium economy on the way home or if she's decided to become a pescatarian this semester because Elena abruptly changes the subject and says, “Wait, you were in my Calc class.” To which I say, “Um, not sure to be honest.” (But of course, I am really 100 percent certain she was; I even once sat behind her.) She takes my noncommittal response for what it really is—a hesitant affirmative—and gloats, “A+. You, Marti?” Let's just say I lied.
Hello. Yes, we've definitely met before. It's Helena, isn't it? Elena, I'm terribly sorry (which of course I'm not—I delight in my feigned forgetfulness). Yeah I'm still going by Marti, that's with an “i” not a “y.” (She might look me up, but this boy ditched social media years ago). I ask her how she has been and as she begins to talk, I think of how time flies and old versions of ourselves become distant and hazy. And yet, some things stay the same, like the way we re-re-reintroduce ourselves to the most familiar strangers.
Richard Whiddington is a Columbia College junior majoring in East Asian languages and cultures. Whiddy Banter runs alternate Thursdays.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.