George, Stephanie, and I came down to Greensboro on March 1, 2003, for a concert at the Greensboro Colosseum. After the show, George’s uncle allowed a bunch of the young people to sleep in some empty offices on South Elm Street.
We took my parents’ second car, a Green Corolla, and pushed down from Pennsylvania, past DC, past Manassas, past Richmond, and then into and west across North Carolina. Stephanie had a sign made and put in the back of the car window that said Goin’ Phishin’ or something like that.
I remember going to sleep that night on a foam pallet and my sleeping bag. Stephanie’s feet were near my head, and George was off to my right.
The next morning, George got the keys to his grandmother’s store that was across the street and told us to come look a it. He jingled open the door and the three of us walked in — George first, then Stephanie, and then me.
I stopped at the door to look at the books lined up there. Past the door, the things were piled up mostly in large cardboard boxes the height of a man. The lights were off, so in my memory, the building is drained of color.
We crossed from 608 to 606 and there gathered around a few boxes and started going through the things. Clothes I remember, and a cartoon map of the United States — George told us the story of some part-time help who had come in to sort after his grandmother’s death and had absconded with some of the objects — and we decided to do the same — packing up a box.
I took a book from by the front door, the Revolution Betrayed, by Leon Trotsky.
We left the building, and locked it up. George and Stephanie would graduate a couple months later (I had one more year left) and those months were golden — and then they left, and I, a loser-of-people, wondered **really** whether I would ever either of them again.
And way went on to way, and I knew that George had gone down to Greensboro, and I started my senior year, and was lost and mourning the Joe College life I loved, and that Fall, America caught Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole, and everybody joined a Friendster-knock-off that was Ivy League exclusive called Facebook, and one day, at my campus job at a place called the Writer’s House, Stephanie walked in.
We said hi to each other for a minute, and that was that. I had seen her again.
In March, I went down again for spring break, and saw the store for a second time, and learned that it had a name, it was called Elsewhere, and I thought about Sesame Street for some reason, and a show about a hospital from my childhood barely remembered, and we went to Charleston and sat on the beach and sketched constitutions in black-and-white composition books.
And then I went back to school, and finished my nothing-degree, and didn’t know what I’d do next, and went to first one music festival, and then a second, and I went to the second on a whim, because my friend’s friend said that if I didn’t, I’d regret it, and the festival was in Maine, but I didn’t have a ride past Boston, but George and Steph and Steph’s sister were there I know, and I hitchhiked (not really, but almost) a ride to their motel in Braintree, MA and made my case.
Of course, their car was half-filled with Elsewhere — clothes, and sheets, and toys, and books — George looked at that car, and then looked at me, and then looked at the car again, and then Steph said — of course, we’ll make room, we’ll re-arrange the objects — and we did, though it was tight, a wall of objects between each of us, so that the car was divided into four quadrants, like the ventricles of the heart or the hemispheres of the brain —
And up we drove to Maine, and then down we drove to Philadelphia, all the time being tempted to keep on headed south — and they dropped me off and went to spend a day in Allentown, PA, and I said, maybe I’ll call you, before you head back down, and I went to go see about a girl, and I saw about the girl, and that didn’t go well, and I said, what am I doing, let’s get this started, and I called up George and I said “come pick me up” and down we drove and I came to Elsewhere for the third time.
And there I lived, through August, and September, and October, and November, and December, and January, before I left again.
Elsewhere was quiet then. There were few of us. Sometimes, it was me by myself in that great big building. One night, I wrestled with two ghosts, and won from them a blessing. Another night, late, a homeless young couple walked by, and saw that the lights were on, and knocked on the door, and asked me what this place was, and asked if they could stay there. What hardness, to tell them that they couldn’t — and they went on their way, the man leaving a blue toy car among the collection.
I left. Everybody leaves eventually. I came back, time, and time. Each time, there were new people — new artists, new curators; each time, it was completely different — each time, it was exactly the same.
George and Stephanie never left. Where I have seen Elsewhere in flashes, in bursts, punctuated by my changing life in the real world, as I went from 20 to 30, they saw the whole thing — for me, Elsewhere was like a stop-motion animation, a Zoetrope — for them, it was real-time, high-definition, a living organism —
Still, every time I return a little bit of that first day comes back — maybe it’s the high ceilings, or maybe it’s the shock of color, or maybe its the smell or maybe its the dust — far less now, but still there, still there — and I think about the passing of time, and of all the times I’ve come to Elsewhere.