What Comes Next

By: Desni Dantone

SUMMER 1973



There is no cure for heartbreak. I know because I’ve looked for it. Extensively.

Those that suffer heartbreak must eventually force themselves to do the one thing everyone expects them to do. Move on. I’ve found that not even that will cure true, unfathomable heartbreak. It’s merely a bandage, placed on a deep and complicated wound, and placing it is not as easy to do as others think.

Trust me, I know.

It’s been a year since I left everything I own behind in this tiny, two-bedroom apartment, and set out in search of the elusive cure for my own broken heart.

I still seek it. Sure, I have been to extraordinary places, seen beautiful sights, and done exciting things, but I’ve yet to discover the secret to finding true happiness again. I’ve yet to find a place worthy enough to call home. My yearlong deviation from reality has not given me the clarity I hoped it would when I left.

Ironically, reality has waited for me all this time, right here in this room, along with the few boxes that contain my life. Reality slaps me in the face when I stop long enough to actually look at the cluster of cardboard and strewn clothing I left behind in the corner.

I approach the mess slowly, cautiously, certain that I am hallucinating. My hand trembles as I pinch the photograph between my fingers and hold it up in the dim light. The frayed edges and thin scratches that mar the surface are not familiar to me, but the image of the moment frozen in time is one I know very well.

My leaden feet shuffle across the floor as I scramble to find my purse where I tossed it on the narrow bed. My hands dive in, withdrawing my wallet, some loose cash, spare change, two tubes of lip gloss . . . everything but the object I’m looking for. I upend the bag in desperation, and dump the remaining contents onto the bed. Hidden beneath a package of tissues is the photograph I’m searching for. The one I never go anywhere without, but never look at.

I hold the two photographs up side by side, and stare in disbelief at their matching images. One still perfectly crisp and vibrant; the other, worn and faded. Both printed on the same day, and split between the young couple in the image—split between me . . . and him.

The tenderness in both our eyes captures the love between us, as well as our obliviousness to what the future held. Looking at us then, and feeling the surge of unwanted emotions that comes with seeing our happiness, I can’t help but do what I have spent the past two years purposefully avoiding.

I let my mind wander back to when it all started.





With the new year comes a fresh start. That was what Mama told me moments before we tossed our bags into the trunk of Pop’s rusty Pontiac, and started the three-hour journey to Mama’s hometown. One thing I’d learned from being her daughter for nearly seventeen years was that Mama wasn’t usually right about a lot of things. But this?

More than anything, I hoped she was right about this. I hoped 1969 would forever be remembered as the year I found a home.

Not a homeless shelter. Not the back room of a crowded apartment conveniently located above the noisy bar Mama worked nights. Not temporary, after temporary, after temporary.

It wasn’t that my mama was a bad mother. She’d always done the best she could with what she had. Moving from place to place had always been her coping mechanism. For what? I never really understood. Fired from another low wage job—move. Dumped by a man that didn’t want the instant daddy to two young children label—move. No money to pay rent—move under the cover of darkness.

It was all my brother, Jeffrey, and I had ever known. We never moved far from the sleepy coastal North Carolina town where Mama was from. Far enough for Mama to hide when she wanted to. Close enough for Ma and Pop to help when she got into trouble.

Which she had. Several times.

Every year, for as long as I could remember, Mama had sent Jeffery and me to Stone Creek to spend the summer with Ma and Pop while she ran off to God only knew where, and did God only knew what. Until five years ago.

An argument between Mama and Pop had resulted in Jeffrey and me being corralled by Mama into the barely running sedan with nothing more than the clothes we were wearing. She drove off into the night, and we never returned.

Until we had to. Because when Mama eventually died, Jeffrey and I would have no one to take care of us except for Ma and Pop. It wasn’t some distant threat, some unlikely possibility of becoming orphans someday. No, it was happening now, whether my brother and I were ready for it, or not.