“Once upon a time,” you say. Or “when I was little”. Depends. But you always dip your head a bit, an acknowledgment of how far outside of societal boundaries it is to say such a thing, to have done and been such a thing. You dip your head, and you fidget with a straw wrapper or trace your finger around the steaming mug of coffee or wrap your arms around yourself, and then you say “I went elsewhere.”
The person you contacted through Craigslist or Facebook or the newspaper or sidled up to at the bar always gives you a look - half-puzzled, half-intrigued. Most of the time they only e-mailed you or called you or bought you a drink because you’re a pretty girl and they think you might be a little bit crazy, so you might be a little bit easy. Those are easy to chase away with what’s next, because then they think you’re a lot crazy.
And then you’re left with the people like you.
You take a deep breath, and you say “I used to just dream about it. A magical land where I had all sorts of adventures. But then, one day when I was eight, I crossed over. I still don’t know how. And I spent months there - going on quests, and meeting my real parents, and learning magic. I had an enchanted cottage, and a best friend who was a sort of faerie, and a talking horse.” Another deep breath. “I was there for ages. I’d actually forgotten about this world. And then my best friend and I wandered into the forest, and something sucked me in - and I was back here.” You watch their eyes when you say “And ever since, I’ve been trying to get back.”
Some write you off right there. Some ask if you’ve had any success.
So you tell them about all of your research. About Dorothy and Wendy and Alice, Susan and Lucy, all the girls who found themselves elsewhere. How it happened. How they got back home. And you try everything. When you were little, you would go down to the bottom of the swimming pool and hold your breath, going dizzy, vision hazing, trying to send yourself back. You would jump from unreasonable heights.
When you were thirteen, you broke a mirror and cut yourself with its shards, trying to get through the looking glass. Trying to bleed out just enough to cross over. You felt the falling, fell between, but never quite made it there. You grew up smoking opium from a college boy’s hookah, getting yourself lost in the woods. You overdosed on your antidepressants; you underdosed on your other meds. You tried sleep deprivation and sleeping pills. You tried everything.
And it worked. Just not the way you wanted it to.
“I found other people’s elsewheres,” you say, fingernails digging into your palm. “I found tiny islands with giant trees. I found parades of stuffed animals. I found dragons and mermaids. I found worlds where I could fly, and worlds where I was genetically engineered for zero-g. There was one where I had to pull a flaming sword from the meat of my thigh. I found other people’s magic.”
And you knew it was other people’s magic because you started to go out looking for people. Late night clubbing looking for the lost girls and boys with their haunted eyes. Long nights of telling each other your stories, spinning out all of these threads of lost worlds and lost magics. Every single one of you torn out of place and time and put back imperfectly. Because while you were gone, there was a skip, a heartbeat, and no matter how carefully you were returned, you were a bit out of phase. Not really ever here. And here was not really real.
“I don’t belong here,” you say softly.
You spend your life between this and other people’s elsewheres.
They may ask again if you’ve ever found your own elsewhere again. This girl does, this whippet-slim girl with her thick pink hair and thick green eyeliner. She reaches out to you, but pulls her hand back at the last second. You look at her and evaluate, and you say yes, and you tell her how.
The club scene led to the BDSM scene, and you found new ways to cross over. A hand at your throat, cutting off your breath, sending you falling between; you could almost get there, feel yourself pulling through, but every time you faded back, gasping.
It was the whip that led you back all the way. Endorphins shoving you over the edge. Breathing through the pain, each lash writing lines of liquid silver on your back, and finally emerging into euphoria -
And seeing home. Actually seeing it. Your cottage, right there, and your horse, and the whole gorgeous kingdom laid before you, and you laughed, and your tears were from joy, not pain…
…And then you were back, hanging from your bonds, sweaty rag-doll crying because it almost worked.
You pushed harder and harder, further and further, until no one in that crowd would do anything with you anymore.It was too much. Unsafe. Disturbing.
And so you went on alone.
The girl takes your hand now, turns it palm-size-up, examines the lattice of scar tissue on your arms. You used to look away at this point, but you have become inured to it. You stare your examiner down, defying them, daring them to judge you. “I kept trying. I had to keep trying.”
She nods. Her thumbs press into your palm; her hair falls forward and obscures her face.
You wonder if she is like you.
Maybe one out of every two dozen you find is like you. Most are just trying to get laid. Some of the rest have sort of been there - they’ve had recurring dreams, the kind you had before your visit. Serial dreams, or just dreams set in the same world. Walled cities. Eternal wars.
But then there are those few like you. You feel like you should start a religious order or something. “Sisters of Dorothy and Lucy”. The few, the proud, the forever fucked-up. Girls who had been warrior queens, now relegated to college dorms. Boys who had tamed dragons now stuck in dead-end retail jobs.
The one thing they all had in common was how much this life sucked compared to their other lives.
You used to keep track of them. A notebook under your pillow, endless scrawled notes about them and their elsewheres. But little by little, they left - drug overdoses. Suicides.
You wonder if they really died, or if they went elsewhere, just leaving their crumpled broken extraneous bodies here.
You wonder if it was worth it, and if you should have followed long ago.
The girl squeezes your hand, and you wonder about her elsewhere.