Traversing the Fantome – Karissa Morton
Theory: Every girl has a woman who’s broken her heart.
Maybe it’s someone she’s slept with, maybe not. I don’t mean she’s broken it romantically—in that I will never love again / I can’t go on kind of way. But every girl has a woman whose impact on
A. her sexuality
B. her belief in the existence of platonic love, or
needs a seismograph to measure.
When a girl sees this woman for the first time in weeks/months/years, she’ll panic. (Read: tonight I panicked.) I made eye contact with her from across the room, & suddenly knew what I had to do. I turned to a woman ( / friend) objectively more attractive, & grabbed her hand.
When I say more attractive, I don’t mean the woman who broke my/your/every girl’s heart is unattractive. She’s probably not. It’s just that when I/you/she fell in _______ with her, this didn’t matter.
Regardless, I or you or she turned to this other woman, this beautiful woman, concocting a grand scheme around her. I pranced my star Maltese into the ring, hoping the cameras would catch the way her fur/hair shone just so.
Lead one woman across the room to another.
I knew this wouldn’t make her jealous—I could rationalize this—but I hoped that it’d prompt her to have a dream that night or eleven later, & there, my face would show up pressed against this other woman’s. Maybe she’d entertain a flash of regret for the night she left it at something she thought was uncomplicated.
What you need to know: Every girl’s woman leaves.
Some go to a new job or back to their husbands or to an ocean, but they all leave. Mine left & came back in so many ways that I had to consider her gone in order to function.
Rebound comes from the Old French: re- (back) & bondir. From the French, bondir is “to bounce.” You bounce back, right? Your woman leaves; you move on. You re- / bondir.
Not me, though. I took the Old French route—bondir: to keep, to retain. You’re bonded to her.
I’m bonded to her.
This new woman, though—I wanted her to burn hot through us. I wanted her eyes to scream complexity & I wanted her wedding band to be completely visible through our knuckles. What I forgot is that all the leaving & coming back & leaving again had resulted in one bit permanently open wound.
What I remembered? Her ring—from the night her hand furled around a glass stem. The more time the tequila passed the dual thresholds of salt & lip, the more times I wanted, like a wild animal, to chew it off.
I wondered if it was really as dull as I remembered it from that night, but I couldn’t look.
Looking would have given me away.
I don’t know what made me snap to the hand that was clutched inside of mine, what made me realize that at that moment, there was blood coursing through her fingers & looping back against their tips. Her blood was so close to mine &, suddenly, I wondered why I was here.
I’d always heard that any animal can only bear so much cold before she shuts down. After my mama lion had left me to fend for myself, I’d dipped dangerously close.
But here I stood, adopted, someone else’s skin warming me.
My eyes refused to lift in the direction of either face. They were too busy holding themselves open, knowing that if I let top & bottom lashes meet, I’d need the hands of both women, need to scoop them to my heart & tack them there for the foreseeable future. But then again, what’s future at this point? Edmund Burke would say that no one can plan it according to the past.
Of course, she had given me Burke. The same Burke who claims that beauty is well-formed & aesthetically pleasing, sure, but that sublimity—now that’s the thing with the power to compel / destroy us.
Fact: The woman who breaks every girl’s heart is that girl’s first introduction to the sublime.
I see it everywhere now. This new woman carries within her a small vial of whatever strange material constitutes sublimity. I blink hard—twice, three times—parting my lips & arcing my tongue toward the roof of my mouth, hoping it’ll reinforce the containers my bottom lids have become. I look to the new woman & meekly bend up only the corners of my mouth. She squeezes my hand.
She knows I’m headed toward her, incredibly conspicuous trophy & all. Her faces confused me—an amalgam of joy & skepticism that works itself out to something I can describe only as knowingness.
When I smile back at her, I don’t do it from a place of condescension, but rather from one of exhaustion.
The word sublime shares its roots with sublimation—the process of purifying something by heating it up. (Medieval Latin would tell you that this is a refinement, a lifting up. In other words, deliverance.)
up to…………………………………………………. threshold
This is where I/you/she will always end up.
Because of this, walking past her will be the hardest thing every girl will ever do.
Karissa Morton is originally from Iowa, & currently lives in Texas. Her poetry & essays have recently appeared in The Indiana Review, Guernica, The Paris-American, Crab Orchard Review, & Sonora Review, among other places. She can be found at karissamorton.wordpress.com.