"I'm a big fan of coffee, so I started seeing her often in front of Capitol Roasters, on the corner of Summers and Quarrier streets," said Clay. "I don't think I was aware of getting involved in her story; more just a feeling that I didn't want to walk away."
But involved she got.
She and Agsten had already helped the man who many in the city called Aqualung, known for pushing a shopping cart piled higher than his head with a hoarder's collection of plastic bags filled with who-knew-what stuff.
"Carl and I had purchased a little home on the backside of Dixie Street for our friend Bill Dunn. Bill lived there for about a year and a half. He would park his amazing shopping cart in the laundry room like it was a garage."
One day, Dunn wheeled his cart away and disappeared. He has not been seen since.
His exit created a home for someone else. "Elizabeth moved into the house after Bill left," Clay said.
"Elizabeth was a friendly person and enjoyed connecting," Clay said. "As we talked more, I began understanding how vulnerable she was -- and how lonely. It was hard for me to see. So, Carl and I began inviting her to come to our house or helping her record her music. We saw her almost every week, at our home or at a coffee shop."
She shared Thanksgiving dinner at the couple's home. One time, Agsten helped Elizabeth mail a recording of her songs to singer Jennifer Lopez. Elizabeth was invited to pick out clothes and jewelry she liked from among Clay's own possessions.
Elizabeth had the semblance of a family again.
"She got to hold our daughter Ella when she was a baby, and I could see that this was very special for her," said Clay. "She would often try to give me money or buy me things as a way of thanking me. She bought thoughtful Christmas presents for each member of our family."
What drew Clay to become so deeply involved?
"Elizabeth was one of the kindest people I ever met. She was incredibly vulnerable, but she was also tenacious," Clay recalled. "At times, I was blown away by the injustices she faced."
She and Elizabeth traveled to a bus station one day to get an ID card she needed for housing. The woman at the window refused to touch the papers Elizabeth passed over. "They might make me sick!" she said, disgusted.
Clay was incensed. "Elizabeth had doors closed too often. I liked being her advocate and making it harder for people to say 'No!' because I was with her."
Growing up, Clay said, she couldn't stand to see anyone picked on. "I guess I still can't. When a person's life is so obviously difficult, I want to do what I can to lighten their load.
"I also think I was listening in Sunday school. God couldn't be clearer about how we are to treat our neighbor. The Good Samaritan didn't just nod and smile and walk by without looking his neighbor in the eye. He didn't just drop the wounded man in a clinic. He spent the night with him in the inn."
One time, Elizabeth agreed to talk with a youth group at Clay's church, First Presbyterian.
"She did share a lot about her life and her dreams, but not about her past," Clay recalled. "The youths had some thoughtful questions about whether she wanted to start a family. She said she would like to find a partner and have children."
As for this other person, George Bartlett?
"She was always 'Elizabeth' to me. She never talked to me about being George," said Clay. "We didn't talk about her family or where she was from. I may have asked some questions, but she shied away from answering them. So I backed off."
Where are you, Geo?
Interviews with three younger sisters and with old bandmates, decades-old issues of Rolling Stone and recordings by "Geo" Bartlett, reveal another life entirely.
George played in a series of bands with names like Krunch and NiteLife.
He was briefly married to a woman adored by George's youngest sister, then quickly divorced.
He seemed always to have been footloose, bouncing from town to town, state to state, as family and friends tried to keep up with his whereabouts. Even Rolling Stone noted his wandering ways in an April 3, 1980, "Random Notes" mention, which described how his music had caught the ear of a prominent band leader of the day:
"Cars leader Ric Ocasek thinks he's discovered one of the next great rockers of the Eighties -- now, if only he could find the guy. ... 'From what I know, his name's "Geo" Bartlett,' Ocasek says. 'I don't know if I'll ever find him, but it would be so great if I did, because I would immediately do something with him. His songs are amazing, and his voice is so unique.'"
George's Arkansas musician friends from back in the day tell how he encouraged them to listen to new music out of New York and Boston, by bands like Blondie and The Cars. They tell how they got a cassette tape of his music into Ocasek's hands.
His sisters, Sharon, Leigh Ann and Lisa, fill in gaps in the family history. The way they looked up to their older brother. The way one of them wanted to sing in his band when she got older.
And the way things got strange in small-town Arkansas, after George revealed something his family could not handle. And then, how George went away for a very, very long time.
And Elizabeth took over the story of his life.
• • •
Part 1 of 3 Parts
Part 1: Elizabeth in Charleston
Part 2: A musician on the go -- then gone
Part 3: A long-sought reunion, but with who?
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.