love at twilight in the digital age
A desert landscape of failed relationships stretched behind me. A few drops remained in the canteen of hope I carried when her email showed up in my Match.com inbox. My nights, restless and yearning, had sent me searching locales beyond my present one, scanning picture after picture, pausing at some to gaze with fanciful hope, yet hesitant to leave a note of my passing. The ever-present goddess of Match noted these stops, leaving tiny “viewed bys” behind. Sleep came on fanciful possibilities.
A notice of email lifts even the most pessimistic of hearts. My carefully crafted profile intrigued her – Passion. Without it you sit on the couch and watch life go by…– and she wanted to say so. I replied, asking questions, downplaying much about myself, contrary to my gender’s usual protocol. Our first exchanges, tentative yet relaxed, led to more exchanges, which led to more revelation, which led to more exchanges.
“After these weeks of writing I wonder how your voice sounds,” I emailed. Her reply was short. “Quit wondering.” Her number followed.
Eighteen hundred miles apart, our feet were firmly in lives not easily uprooted.
The distance gave a safe space to be more revealing without the awkward anticipation of a first kiss.
“Tell me about that line in your profile,” she asked on the second call. “To what line are you referring?” I feinted.
“The one about men leading women.” Her voice was inscrutable.
“How come you’re asking now?”
“How did that line go?” she asked.
I knew she knew exactly how that line went.
“You mean, I believe men should lead women in two places. One is the dance floor and the other…?” I stopped just like I did in the profile, leaving those three dots dangling from a ledge.
It provoked a lot of responses.
“Do we need to discuss this?” I asked.
“Uh-uh. I just wanted to hear you say those words.”
“No comment to make?”
“Not at this time. Maybe later.”
Was that a smile I heard in her voice? The topic was replaced by a broader one of dating, mostly her adventures as I wasn’t dating. Seems some of the men she dated had made little social progress since high school. A nice dinner, a nice time, and sex – all on the first date! Had they learned nothing about women? I understood women.
“What do you think you know about women?”
I prattled on the topic for a couple minutes. It was quiet on the other end when I finished. “Hello?” I said. Damn! It had been a good prattle. Was it now lost to the vagaries of cellular?
“I never heard a man say what you just said. Never. How do you know this about women?”
“I’ve known a lot of women; some were my best teachers.”
A deeper vein of trust was struck. Into the pockets of our lives we dug, pressing the smallest lint balls of our past into the other’s eager hands. A simple “hello, how are you” call would spin itself into a timeless three hours. We could laugh until our bellies ached. We were mining our common language.
We veered from convention one Sunday morning. “What are you wearing?” I asked from left field.
“Why don’t you come over and find out?”
“Know what I would do, if I did?”
“Tell me what you’d do. Very slowly”
We followed that path to a sweet spicy, erotic patch of the man/woman dynamic, dallying long enough to leave us breathless, and wondering, not because it was awkward but that it had been so easy. Never spoken of; it just simmered unnoticed.
Weekly conversations became daily. For 18 months we’ve talked, never running out of things to say. She lived in Dallas, and I was flying there for business. It was a short trip but long enough for a dinner. She picked me up at the hotel and we went to Hattie’s, a southern low-country bistro in the Bishop Arts section of Dallas. What we ate I can’t recall. What I remember was the energy drifting across our deuce in the corner.
A long distance affair. An idea not as exciting as it was once. The lesson I found on that road was that love was bound in the little moments spent together. Now what? This was churning in my head as we pulled up to the lobby. It was a fine night. That awkward first kiss? Wasn’t. My landing was perfect – feather light. Her mouth parted, as did mine.
Bouncing off the high dive of lust, that kiss dangled us from the top of the arc, weightless, neither rising nor falling, suspended in a moment that obliterated everything. We lingered a long time, and broke only for air. The kiss was found not wanting; we went again.
A woman’s yielding excites me as much in my sixth decade as it did in my third. I savor that energy. I broke off the kiss – my maturing having found some discretion – before my hands went exploring.
“Better than I dreamed,” she whispered. I like that about her; she unabashedly shares without a hint of coyness. I’ve opened a door I wasn’t committed to walking through. The first kiss was magnificent, the second even more.
Now a second awkward moment loomed – the first good-bye, ours being seconds away. We shifted back against our doors like boxers to the ropes. My hand reached for the handle, hers for the steering wheel. Thankfully, it was gracious and short. Out and headed for the lobby, I stopped to turn back. She was staring, her head shaking. I smiled knowing what she was thinking.
In that first week, I told her I liked to write, and sent her a couple of my stories. One story had a scene like the one we finished, except the woman in that scene wasn’t watching when the guy turned around. I see her lips move. I think she’s saying I’m not going anywhere.
One’s “regular” life welcomes you back then swallows you up. The day-to-day issues, the have-tos, and the want-tos crowd through the door like college kids at happy hour. Her kiss lingered, unforgettable, and stirred my heart.
I tumbled from the perch of uncertainty on one of our phone calls. “Why don’t you come for visit?” This I blurted out.
“What? When?” she asked.
“I don’t know. What…what works for you?” That sounded lame.
We dashed for our calendars. We hashed out dates. We made the commitment, and scheduled our anticipation.
A few weeks later I stood at the bottom of the escalator that would drop her into baggage claim. Her excitement last night on the phone was undisguised. I was apprehensive. I live a life alone. I like it. I liked her presence, but a week with her could get complicated. My heart, trashed sufficiently in recent years, was reluctant. I didn’t want to mislead her. Suddenly she’s at the top of the escalator – my doubts went poof.
She greeted me with a kiss, and a whisper in my ear. “I’m so glad to be here.”
My response was a full court press of my body to hers. “So am I.”
Where do you take someone for her first lunch in a new city? The Swan Oyster Depot, the best hole-in-the-wall seafood place in San Francisco is where. Half the years on deposit in my life’s account have seen me share the Swan experience with family and friends. It’s a long, well-worn marble counter with twenty wire stools, and you wait on the street to get in. I hoped to surprise and delight her. It did.
Settled on our stools she leans in, “Order for me.” Spoken with a half lilt ending up like a question. Those Georgia roots. “Okay.”
The cacophony of the Swan swirled around us. Order for me, she asked. I reflect upon her phrasing. A subtle statement, an implication of trust, that I would provide nourishment. How woven into our DNA is that simple interaction?
A young man in a white apron, wanting our order, interrupted my thoughts.
“Two Anchor Steams, two cups of chowder, and two crab cocktails, sauce on the side. And while we’re at it, a half dozen mixed oysters.”
Manly done, I think.
The Swan was a sweet, short takeoff to a weeklong schizoid journey – my weeklong schizoid journey.
Her luggage abandoned just inside the door we began the perfunctory house tour, which ended abruptly in my bedroom. Our bodies pressed tightly as though in a vice. We unbuttoned and unzipped and unbelted, and tumbled into clean sheets. This was not going the way I expected.
The next day found us in Carmel, in separate rooms, a strange thing considering the night before. I was thinking propriety when I made the reservation, of being reserved, to protect my heart, and hers. Being noble can be short sighted. I ached in the wanting of her. How to release myself from jail?
The twine of her constancy tethered my flights of uncertainty. She went with the flow, showing me the sweet spots – the unconscious finding of the other’s hand, the binding stillness while gazing at the sea, the feather-light touch of a head upon a shoulder, a hand slipped around a waist. I lay in bed that night, alone, and feeling foolish.
Her bag stood outside the office, a sentinel in the morning Carmel fog. She stepped from the office with two cups.
“Good morning,” she said, lifting one of the cups, “You like your coffee black, nothing in it, right?”
I nodded and told her that was perfect. Now I dashed between uncomfortable and appreciative.
“How’d you sleep?” I asked, and wished I hadn’t.
“Pretty good. Would have been better if you were there.”
An embarrassed, stammered reply was begun and stopped. I recomposed. “A lack of imagination on my part. Regrettable.”
She smiled. “And you the writer. Who’d a thought you’d ever want for imagination?” She waited a beat. “Where we headed today?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“Get in the car and we’ll go see it.”
Big Sur is a spectacular collision of sea and land and home to the famous, the wealthy, and the counter-culture. It was the first place I lived when I arrived in California. There was magic in the air then; it’s still there.
Our conversation dwindled as the landscape expanded. At Hurricane Point, with its sheer drops to the ocean and breathtaking vistas to the left and right, we stood buffeted by the wind. Grabbing my arm and squeezing herself to me, she whispered, “I want to know everything about you.”
Revelation is the dark underbelly of new relationships. You can’t throw it all out there at once; it’s got to come in dribbles and drams. Yet in the revelations lays the risk the other turns away, unable to embrace the new detail or quirkiness of behavior. I was hiding; she was not. She hadn’t but once.
“I have something I want, I need to share with you.” She speaks softly. “Okay.” My sensitivity meter spiked.
“Um. Um.” The quivering in her voice is unmistakable. My mind races down the tracks. That’s not her picture on the website? She’s married?
“Go on,” I encourage gently. There’s a long pause, then some heavy breathing with sighs on the other end of the call.
“I so appreciate our connection.” I’m waiting for a ‘but.’
“I can’t go on…” she stops. My stomach rises, twisting into a knot. I want to speak, to get her to spill whatever it is but I don’t. I wait.
“I haven’t been honest with you. It’s lie. Not a big lie. I…I just don’t want anything that would get in the way of our friendship.” There’s sniffling on her end.
“Okay. What’s this not-so-big lie?
The answer comes down like a landslide. “I’m not the age I said I was. I’m older. I’m five years older.”
Screeching to a stop, I rerun her words. What did she just say? Shit! That’s what this is about? I want to say this but don’t. I can’t dismiss her difficulty nor overlook her integrity. I need to say something.
“I’ve always had a thing for older women.”
“I don’t think five years qualifies for that.” She’s quick.
“Oh! Leave me my fantasy, please.”
We laughed, and left it there.
I’m out of my comfort zone. This woman slipped into my life and not found me lacking. Oh shit! My deepest desire realized. Now what?
Esalen is what happened. A serene oasis of self-awareness tucked between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean. The Esalen grounds peel off the overcoat of your concerns like a hat check attendant at a swanky restaurant, and tussles your hair with the promise that everything is gonna be all right. My thaw began here. The afternoon sun played hide’n’seek through the trees, casting shadows and light, and the ever-present ocean was the soundtrack as we wandered the property. Her discovery of the magic of this place made me happy.
We did all the Esalen things – the tubs, massages, and dinner. We sat in chairs watching the sunset. We held hands and wandered the grounds until twilight, finding our room after dark. We glanced at the two beds in our room; she glanced at hers, then to me. Reminiscing my twenties I shed my clothes and belly flopped on hers. She crawled into it on all fours, kissed me tenderly, and put her head on my shoulder.
In the darkness my watch said two am. She was in the same spot where we’d fallen asleep. I gently kissed her eyebrows.
“Wake up, sleeping beauty. I want you to come with me.”
Her eyes fluttered but stay closed. I readied another gentle assault.
“What do want to show me, handsome?” It was a throaty whisper that prompted other possibilities. I shook those off for now.
“I can’t describe it. You just have to see it.”
“What time is it?” She opened her eyes.
“It’s early, or late depending upon your view.”
On tiptoes we left our room, smothering giggles, to follow the path past the main lodge that led to the baths. The steps were a flickering yellow-orange lit by dozens of candles. The scent of sandalwood danced with the salt air. We undressed, crossed to the furthest tub, slipping under its waters. The sky was an awesome chockablock of stars.
Warm in the water, shoulder and hip touching, we watched the stars tumble from a black sky into a blacker ocean.
Silence is hard for humans to endure. I speak aloud often if for no other reason than reassure myself I’ve not gone deaf. I’m needing to break the quiet and not wanting to when she speaks.
“You know I’m in love with you.” A small meteor ziplights the sky.
“But how do you know? We’ve talked plenty but we’ve hardly spent any time together. You don’t know what I look like in my underwear.”
“You don’t wear underwear. We’ve covered that. I fell in love with you when I read your stories. Those stories, those words showed me you. I knew you were the man for me.”
How do women know these things?
“I’m so flawed.”
“Which makes you an interesting man. You know you’re flawed and still you don’t give up. I love that about you. I’d go anywhere as long as we go together.”
Silence settled again. I’d wanted to believe this all my life – that I could be loved, warts and all. What I got was one romantic soap opera after another. Am I going to chance this again? She turned to snuggle, her breasts pressed against my arm. God! That drives me crazy.
“I’m not a young girl. My expectations are different. What I want you have in spades. You’re an amazing man.” She kissed my cheek. “I’m turning into a prune. Let’s go back to the room.”
We retraced our path to the room before dawn. We shed our clothes, found the same bed, wrapped arms around each other, made love like the old hands we were, and fell asleep entwined.
The distance in miles is 1800; the distance between us is zero. We’ll negotiate the distance and the two houses with extended visits for now, while we write the story that will be ours.
-by Kemper York