by Viva Flores
I curved my leg around her in the kind of urgency only temporality can bring. It was our last morning together before she was scheduled to board a plane and fly two-thousand miles back to a home that over the course of her visit, I had become quite sure I’d never see. The remnants of a four-day visit were evident on my nightstand and in the kitchen sink, both cluttered with coffee cups and wine glasses stained bright with burgundy crescent moons.
I turned around in time to see her wake and instantly regretted not ordering the rolls from the bakery. “Morning, beauty. We have a little bit of time. You want some coffee?” I leaned over the edge of the bed, reaching for my robe.
“I would,” she said. I felt her watching me intensely. “What I’d like a little more though is to check in with you about last night. Are we okay?”
I looked up. “Of course we’re okay.”
“Okay,” she said, her voice small.
“Sweetheart, regardless of the distance, it’s just hard for me to accept. I’m not poly. I mean, I don’t think I am.”
“You’re a serial monogamist, V. I know I’m not the only person you see.”
“There is no one I’m serious about. I’m… I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Can we just, have our morning, please?” I had shut down emotionally, thoughts and articulations hopelessly jumbled.
She makes films in a city far away. We had met at an opening and talked all night about the perils of being single women, artists, solitary in our crafts. “Do you want to get out of here?” I had asked. A kiss unraveled us both. In the morning, we agreed that every six months we’d spend four days together. I knew eight days a year was not much of anything, but I was hopeful, imagined love could take flight.
When she mentioned her almost-live-in-lover back home, I could not help but feel a twinge in inside, a tiny howl. I became upset and stopped wanting to try.
It was our last night together. I turned my back to her in bed and stared silently at the wall, at its jagged pattern. I thought about the simple act of turning around and reaching my arm over, painfully aware of the so many nights spent thousands of miles far apart in anticipation, and how my sudden irrational jealousy had become an ocean, separating us.
I thought about her partner; wondered what her days were like. I feared her every detail and everything else I could not control or comprehend, like how well-crafted her mind and body were and what books she read before bed. I wondered if the bird tattoo on my lover’s back that I had traced with my finger and tried to memorize was familiar to her; so much that she hardly noticed it at all.
Through all of this I wanted to know why my visitor had packed her violet suitcases and traveled to my home if there was a woman across the country, clutching a pillow tightly for its perfume, like I would surely be tomorrow night. Internally, I felt angry and regretful of the physical intimacy we had shared.
“Does she know you’re here, with me?” I whispered.
“Yes, of course. It’s okay, she understands. We’re polyamorous.”
“Why did you come here?”
“Because you are beautiful. We both think so.”
I was taken aback with what to me sounded like a difficult conversation for them both, and as much as I wanted to understand, I was not sure I held the emotional fortitude to have the same type of relationship.
Innovation is a silent revolution.
I become irrationally attached sometimes. Books, special paperclips, ceramic mugs, people. There are a few old earrings that I’ve never found the other halves of still swimming around the bottom of my jewelry box. The jewelry box itself, a gift from someone who once felt compelled to give it.
If we have ever gone to a concert together or taken a laughing picture in a photo booth, you can bet I still have the souvenirs, tucked away in a keepsake box or silently peeking out of my favorite book, made into a makeshift bookmark.
What is it about loving someone that can make us feel the intrinsic need to claim ownership on aspects of their person?
“I’m sorry I turned my back on you. I’m embarrassed. This is really hard for me,” I said.
I grew up in a very traditional Mexican home, with my mother and father both taking on very hetero-normative patriarchal roles. My father worked long office hours in the button-up shirts my mother would iron with care. I would sit and watch him shine his shoes in the mornings, slivers of his navy blue socks showing from underneath freshly pressed slacks.
I was there to see her standing at the door silently waiting when it was late in the evening and he hadn’t come home. I would wait with her and then watch her put dinner away. Our eyes would meet and even then, my child’s mind understood the sacrifice of love and the deep rumbling pain of betrayal.
“Esas putas,” she would say, about the faceless women who left their homes, who drove the cars on the roads that sprawled outside her front door.
Now I understand the fear and powerlessness she must have felt then, to be compelled to say those things. She did not speak any English, did not drive a car. She equated being a free woman with the women who went to the places where my dad went after work, knew what it was to silently scrub traces of lipstick off of a collar and have to throw away wads of scribbled bar napkins. To her, free women did not care whose families they destroyed. To her, free women destroyed families.
I forgive her now because I know she did not mean to hurt me. How could she have imagined that at night, her only daughter would have recurring dreams of unfolding maps and skylines of unnamed cities, of flights of stairs and blurred lights and music?
I do not want to fear my partner’s desires, or pretend that they do not exist. I have my own, deeply embedded. I wonder if monogamy is another patriarchal system I should strive to unlearn, or if it is simply human, vital to love, and true commitment? I have felt the hollow pleasure of sex when my heart belonged to another. It’s not who I am or what I want.
There is no map.
It is a fact that some of my greatest teachers have first been disguised as lovers, although this truth tends to self-reveal long after the relationship occurred, after what seems a period of inevitable heartbreak once I discover monogamy is not possible. This has included relationships with men, although I feel that the tendency to emulate inherited social roles can be especially detrimental to fostering a relationship between two radical women who are themselves in the process of unlearning damaging power structures.
The faceless woman who is holding the pillow tight 2,000 miles away and who knows my name is revolutionary to me. Is she really okay, or are my unknown details too much for her to bear as well?
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Viva Flores began her ambitious writing career at the age of eight when her Valentine’s Day poem was placed at the center of the construction paper heart on the classroom door by her third grade teacher, Mrs. Fairbanks. She is now a grown woman who silently carries flammable stories and poems in nondescript shopping bags.
Get BGD creator Mia McKenzie’s debut literary novel, The Summer We Got Free. It’s the winner of the Lambda Literary Award.
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