The last time I saw Kiyomi, we were huddled together with a group of about 15 others, standing in a circle at the top corner of Dolores park for a special radio transmission of “Dispatches from Elsewhere”. Clutching candles and white balloons, we had come together to remember the fictional missing person Eva Lucien, whose mysterious disappearance was said to have occurred some 21 years earlier.
We miss you Eva, someone scrawled in Sharpie on a balloon. We love you. Come back.
Eva was a starring character in the Games of Nonchalance, a truly mind-bending alternate-reality game that collapsed the space between fact and fiction to such a degree that for many players, it became impossible to know where the game stopped, and reality began. That night in the park, we were seeking to make contact with “Elsewhere”, the “extra-dimensionally located” realm into which we expected Eva might have disappeared.
Watching in silence as our message-laden balloons gracefully drifted into the ether, we followed their swirling, floating ascent until they became invisible. It didn’t feel like a game. When they were gone, I truly wondered, would our messages reach Eva?
How far — or close — is Elsewhere?
These days, I wonder more and more about the idea of Elsewhere—not in the terms that the Games of Nonchalance established for it, but more as a metaphor for another reality running parallel to our own.
Is it here or Elsewhere that news and ideas can be abstracted, twisted, and weaponized into sharp prisms? Is it here or Elsewhere that bright friends can be taken from us so quickly, without a note or a clue as to why? Is it here or Elsewhere that so many of us could inhabit the same physical planet, yet experience the world in such unbelievably, devastatingly different ways?
In early morning hours, I pick at these questions like scabs. I dig my nails into reality’s tough skin and peel back layer after layer, exposing a strange, soft substance underneath. What’s there feels delicate and collapsed; spider-web like; organic and ghostly.
I wonder: What do we owe the reality in which we currently seem to be stuck?
A year ago, driving with my husband just before dusk on New York’s Taconic Parkway, we passed a boastful road-side sign for Donald J. Trump State Park — something we’d driven by many times before, but never bothered to visit or think much about. I assumed the park to be some sort of stately green expanse, perhaps golf course-like, with trees and trails and a parking lot. In my mind, I assumed there was a “there” there.
Feeling investigatory, we decided to see what the park was like. Despite the sign stating that we were headed the right way, phone directions told us to exit the highway, turn around, and get back on the Taconic going in the opposite direction. We did this, and finally—after several miles—we turned up a winding road studded with humble houses, chained-up dogs, and foreboding “No Trespassing” signs. As we climbed further away from our original path, we wondered, where would this take us?
Upon cresting a final hill, our satellite directions declared that we had reached the park. We looked around, blinking, unsure of our arrival. A crooked fence barred us from continuing, so we pulled off the dirt road into a small, uneven turnout.
Beyond the meager gate, an overgrown trail disappeared into a clump of gently swaying trees. Reality melted into dissonance. Had we uncovered a truth? There was no “there” there — this was not a park, it was a piece of land, left untended and disregarded.
For the first time, I wondered: to what degree could this man bend the truth?
This was over a year ago. Today, we have our answer.
Events that transpired in 2016 have irrevocably altered my idea of reality.
Ground that once felt sturdy now feels flimsy, almost hollow. Ideas that I held as facts now show signs of wear and tear, their once-gleaming surfaces chipped, warped, peeling. On the worst days I find myself wondering: who am I to make judgments about what’s real, and what’s not? What if the most devastating conspiracies of our world are true? What does it mean to fight for a better world if what’s evil is allowed to dress up as what’s good, knock at the door, and be let in to spaces that once felt safe?
How tethered are we to the earth as we know it?
I remember a tingly sensation sweeping over me as we released balloons into the sky that night back in 2009. The city twinkled as twilight faded into dusk, and the magic of the unknown slowly soaked the sky with darkness. At that moment, our world showed itself as one of many alternates. Yes, we are here now, but we might not always be.
Heading into 2017, reality seems to be crumbling.
But through the cracks, perhaps we’ll catch a glimpse of Elsewhere.
A message to Kiyomi, whose life was tragically taken by the Ghost Ship fire:
Seven years after we stood together in a park, happily losing ourselves in a reality-blurring game that offered us glimpses into Elsewhere, it’s impossible to believe that you’re gone from this realm. Wherever you are, you are missed. ❤