from After David (a novel)
By Catherine Texier
Logging on the site is like stepping into a candy store. Or walking into a party and waiting for someone to talk to you, some swaggering dude with a joint in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. Except he is the only one you’re waiting for.
All you have to do is leave your chat window open and the hot pink band will light up, and then they’ll rush in. One of the many amazing surprises of online dating in your sixties is to discover all the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who flock to you as the latest taboo to transgress.
Ethanb, 20 – You’re really attractive. It’s my fantasy to be with an older woman.
BMW1976, 37 - I love French women
Desire4Mature, 42 – The dynamic is unmatchable when it’s the right older woman and a younger man
Eljefe86, 27 –I know I am a bit young but I think you should give me a chance…
How could I resist clicking?
The first time we met was in Tompkins Square Park, around noon, before he went to his day job at a nearby recording studio. He had contacted me on the dating site a couple of weeks earlier – Hi, I’m Jonah, you seem quite lovely. I liked that word lovely. Almost old school, anachronistic, even. So much more respectful and charming than the raunchy pick-up lines guys on the site tossed like so much hastily knotted baits in the dating river. A touch of old-fashioned gallantry that contrasted with the pictures of this cool guy - sexy as hell, with his scruffy beard, dark curly hair, beat-up Converse, and an electric guitar on his knees, in the heat of the action. Still, when I saw how young he was – 37 – I hesitated. I was 62. A full generation older. He gently insisted. I gave him my phone number and he called me. His voice was smooth, just a little nasal, relaxed. Social ease. Not pushy. When you meet someone online, you make your decision to go ahead or not based on tiny clues. He worked two blocks away from my place. Why not get together for coffee? It was mid-September, a few days after my birthday (another birthday to ignore, forget, tread lightly over – because what else is there to do with the years that pass?). The weather was warm, with a trace of cool, the elm trees still glorious, their green just a bit dusty after the hot summer. I waited for him by the dog run and watched a pair of pit-bulls frolic. I had an envelope under my arm, with the bank statements proving that I could cover her rent in Brooklyn in case she came short. I had to have everything photocopied so that Louise could sign the lease. I was nervous about whether I had enough money in my relatively small investment account to qualify as a guarantor. New York landlords require solid cash in the bank. I was still getting royalties from the book I had written about the end of my marriage with David, but they were dwindling, so I was mainly living off my paychecks as a freelance commercial translator, and my teaching. Louise and Juliet were at home, Juliet visiting from Jacksonville with Vivian, her baby, who was now exactly one year old. I didn’t tell the girls I was going to meet him. I just said I was going to the copy place. I wasn’t dressed for a “date.” Skinny jeans, t-shirt, denim jacket, booties, casual. My usual look. He was a jazz guitarist. No point dressing up. He strolled up to me in his sneakers and bomber jacket, looking straight out of Brooklyn. Laid back. Cool in a kind of nerdy-sexy way. Jewish, I realized later, when I looked him up online (he had told me the name of his quartet). Dark hair curling in his neck and tumbling forward, dark stubble of a beard, sensual mouth, soulful look in his hazel eyes, strong – but not too strong – nose, tallish, but slight. Elegant. Sexy smile. Where had I seen that smile before? These warm, smoldering eyes?
Shall we have coffee? He asked.
I didn’t think of David at that moment, but as we walked side by side across the park, falling into step with each other, he felt familiar, as though we had been lovers in a previous life. But it was the same immediate chemistry that I’d felt with David when he had sat down next to me that first of January at our mutual friends’ apartment, our bodies moving towards each other like magnets before we even said a word. I forgot the envelope under my arm, the financial responsibilities. There was a quality of silence around him that I found relaxing, a mute complicity, as if his presence released in me a long-forgotten insouciance. He was immensely appealing.
We headed to the little coffee shop along the park. He asked me if I had told my daughters I had a date. I said that I hadn’t. Then he asked me if they were his age. I said, no, younger. And we laughed with relief. That was that, at least. And then his smile, head a little to the side, almost shy — as he offered to pay, because I was taking out my own wallet, not sure. Was that even a date?
I told him I had to photocopy some paperwork and he offered to walk me all the way to the copy place (I’ll be a little late for work, but that’s okay). Later I thought he had arranged our date close to the time he had to start work, so that if it turned out we had no chemistry he would have a good excuse to cut the date short. We got out of the café, coffees in hand, and I spilled some on my feet. He squatted to clean up the stain with a napkin and said he liked my boots, and I handed him my cup while I went in.
It’s when I waited for the paperwork to be photocopied that I thought of David and of our move to the neighborhood more than twenty-five years ago – when everyone lived in the Lower East Side instead of Brooklyn. Writing the first short stories, sending them out, applying for grants, selling articles, writing all day long, giving readings and going to readings every night, scrambling for money, the excitement of belonging to a group of young, edgy, emerging writers. I could sense – or guess – that he was holding out for the same dreams. Did he see that in me, too? Or did he only see an older, attractive French woman, with whom he wanted to experience the thrill of the forbidden?
I was surprised that he was dating online. He was in a band. He must have girls fawning all over him.
At this, he laughed.
Actually, the kind of music I play, it’s all guys. It’s not like pop music. I don’t get to meet girls that much. And people are so guarded in New York. If you talk to a girl in the street, they think you’re a creep.
Why did you contact me? I am so much older than you.
I thought you were cute.
I hope it’s not because you’re into older women. I wouldn’t want to be a fetish.
His face didn’t give anything away. He would be a good poker player, I thought.
He had dated a German woman for three years, he said, going back and forth between Berlin and New York, when she finally moved back for good a few months ago, and he stayed in New York for his music.
I understand, I said. I told him I had been in a relationship for six years with a Russian guy who worked for the UN in Geneva. He had asked me to go and live with him. But I didn’t want to uproot my life and my daughter’s life. Besides, Geneva’s deadly. Berlin’s better.
That’s when I asked him the name of his band. He was playing tonight, but way out in Bushwick, (I’m not going to ask you to go that far). Then he pointed to a metal door covered with graffiti in a still grimy block that gentrification hadn’t reached yet.
I work here. It’s a recording studio.
I double-kissed him, French style, and on the way back home I sipped my cappuccino with the kind of lightness and excitement one has after the promise of a new love – or a promising encounter – such an unexpected surprise, tendrils of desire rising in a limpid sky, not a cumulus in sight, thinking no further than the moment, no further than that immediate mutual attraction, that ease we both felt, then joyfully tossed the cup in the trash can at the corner before walking up to my apartment.
He sent me a message two days later. I was in a taxi headed to JFK with Juliet and Vivian. Juliet lived in Jacksonville with her husband who was a jet pilot in the Navy and I was going to spend a few days with them while Scott was away on a detachment.
I am on my way to Florida, I texted back. I glanced at the baby who was wailing while Juliet precipitously unbuttoned her top and pulled out a breast dripping with milk. The driver, who looked Afghan or Uzbek, stole a quick, possibly disapproving look in his rear-view mirror but said nothing.
I only mentioned that I was traveling with my daughter. I didn’t mention the baby. Her existence was off-limits, of course. Unmentionable. Unthinkable.
Let’s get together when you come back, he texted.
It wasn’t my first experience with virtual encounters. One day, a couple of lonely years after my breakup with Vadik, Irishactor sent me a direct message on Facebook. On the thumbnail photo a sexy guy in his thirties, with pale blue eyes, cropped hair and a light beard, looked thoughtful. His page was filled with dreamy photos of a farmhouse by the ocean, and shots of a white mare peacefully grazing in the fields, the rocky Irish coast in the background, and of a stone fireplace in front of which a Persian cat slept, its paws folded under its bosom, next to an open laptop.
We started to message every evening – which, for him, being five hours ahead on the West Coast of Ireland – often meant 3 or 4 AM. But he was a night owl. I imagined him in the rugged farmhouse, within hearing distance of the tide, waves crashing menacingly on stormy nights. And me, flying to Dublin and showing up soaked from the diluvian rains while he greeted me, bathtub full of steamy water, fragrant Irish stew (he had given me the recipe) on the stove. The affair lasted two months. I was stunned to feel how powerful the letdown was afterwards, as if we’d literally spent all our nights together, flesh to flesh. I knew that imagination was the most powerful organ of desire, but here was the proof of its power.
After Irishactor, signing up on the dating app was a natural step, like shifting from smoking weed to shooting hard drugs. I had no expectation, really, just a bit of excitement: choosing the photos, writing the profile, and the trepidation of exposing myself publicly, as though I was about to stand half dressed in a skimpy outfit on a street corner, waiting for the first clients to show up.
Justpassingby, 42, Manhattan, PhD in literature from Brown, worked in advertising. No photo. But the picture he sent me on a bucket site was very cute – at least, what I could catch of it before it got swallowed up in cyberspace. Smart and fun and a good flirt. A girlfriend who traveled a lot for her job. Did I mind? I did not. We’d log on in the evenings and I’d take my computer to bed or chat on the app on my iPhone. What are you wearing? Usually a plaid pajama bottom and a tank top, or some evenings, just the tank top because it was May and it was getting warmer, and one thing led to another. We both watched Mad Men and debriefed afterwards from our respective beds. Did you see Megan tonight? I don’t like her. Too big a smile. Tonight it was really dark. Do you think he’ll end up killing himself, throw himself out the window? He was extra cautious. No photo and no personal details on the site, no mobile number, only instant message on the app, and he only gave me his first name. Matt.
One evening, a few weeks after our first contact, he jumped the gun.
Do you want to meet tonight?
He picked a bar in K-town, on the first floor of a hotel. The bar was deserted, with a “Lost in Translation” lounge vibe, a Korean barman wiping glasses behind the counter pretending not to pay attention. He was sitting at the bar, in the corner. I slipped on the stool next to him.
He was good-looking, preppy-cool, short dark hair, blue eyes. Dark jeans. Blue canvas jacket. Would I have been attracted to him if I’d met him cold here in this deserted bar? We were already way past that. We sat on a couch. After a glass of Chardonnay he leaned towards me. Shall we kiss? Thirty minutes later we were breathlessly making out in the cab that was taking us back to my place. I didn’t invite him up.
A week later he booked a room in a hotel in Soho, one late Saturday afternoon in May, and waited for me, reading a novel by Ann Patchett. Bel Canto. Good choice, I said. The room was lovely, elegant, all shades of taupe and gray. I was wearing a long, black summer dress that I had just bought with a pair of flat sandals. He sat next to me on the bed and ran his hands up my naked legs.
Through the sheer curtains the late afternoon sun filtered a soft light. No noise came from the street. A big mirror on the dresser played our reflections, streaked with splashes of slanted sun. It did feel like New York, but a foreign New York we were both visiting for the first time, coming from other, far away countries, and we had just met and booked a room.
We were good together. The chemistry, the fluidity of our moves. A perfect bubble out of time and place.
It was a shock, afterwards, to be back in bustling Soho, warm, sunny. I floated back home, in sex afterglow.
We stayed in contact for a while. And then I didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks. One night he messaged me and apologized for being out of touch. He wasn’t single anymore. I liked that he had been graceful enough to let me know. One day when I looked for him on the site, I saw that he had deactivated his profile. I knew it would just be a fling, since he had a girlfriend. But I was grateful for what he had given me: the reassurance that I was still desirable, still sexy, still vibrant.
Four months later, Hey11211, 37, Brooklyn, jazz guitarist, appeared in the flesh between the Elm trees of Tompkins Square park, having magically slipped off the small window of the dating app, like the genie floating out of Aladdin’s lamp.
Hi, I’m Jonah, he said.
Almost instantly, it felt like love.
I couldn’t say why, exactly. Of course, all the red flags shot up simultaneously, wide age difference, casual online contact, jazz guitarist, laid back attitude, non-date coffee date creating a perfect storm of arousing danger, making my heart beat. But at the same time, this uncanny feeling of complicity, as though we had already slept together, and we could just seamlessly slip into bed without missing a beat or embark on a trip tonight – last-minute tickets to the Maldives, for instance.
I couldn’t remember when I had the dream, whether it was after the first or second time he had come to see me. But I’m pretty sure I hadn’t had it in Jacksonville at Juliet’s, although when I was there I woke up several nights in a row in a sweat, wondering whether I should pursue or not because he was so much younger than me. But when had I ever put the brakes on anything in my life, especially where men were concerned? All the men I had been with since David were younger than me, so what’s an extra few years? Thinking back, I must have had the dream after the first time we had sex, or maybe after he’d asked me about anal sex, online. The word anal blinking dangerously on the little window coiffed by a band of hot pink. I was being pursued by two black wolves, up the stairs of a house I shared with my mother. The wolves had cornered me against the wall. I woke up, drenched in sweat.
He texted me the afternoon I had flown back from Jacksonville. I was doing some errands in the neighborhood and my phone buzzed. I thought maybe it was Louise and fumbled to pull my phone out of my bag. When I saw his name, my breathing accelerated.
Hey Eve. So when are you going to invite me up to your place?
Me: Why don’t we have a drink tomorrow and talk about it?
He: I think you’ve already made up your mind.
I thought of that line from a song that had been a hit all summer: “I know you want it, I know you want it.” My heart beat a little faster. He was right. We had both made up our minds within a few seconds of seeing each other.
He continued: Considering our age difference, it would play out like an affair rather than a romance.
I was walking through the park, phone in hand, close to where we had first met, coming back from depositing a check at the bank (later he would show me how to deposit checks directly on my phone, and I downloaded the app), it was a sunny day, but the light seemed to darken, as though a cloud was passing in front of the sun. I shivered and sat on a bench. So that was his opening gambit. All risk and benefits calculated beforehand. I just want to fuck you. Let’s not waste our time in niceties like dates and candlelight. That’s the deal, take it or leave it. No room for negotiation. I swallowed hard.
Fine I thought. He only wants sex? I can handle that.
I played it coy to hide my agitation: What about seduction?
He: Yes, seduction, of course. Always seduction.
But my legs felt weak when I got up and started to walk back home, as if he had already backed me into a corner and taken control. I didn’t know whether I was disappointed or aroused – the two sensations blending together in an explosive mix.
Later it occurred to me – how could I have not realized it at the moment, how could I have been so blind – that it was no coincidence that I had met Jonah just as Louise was about to move into her first apartment, and just as I was leaving behind the role of mother. That I would try to make him fill a void left by Louise’s moving out, Louise who, herself, had filled the void left by David’s absence.
After the breakup with David, I couldn’t wait to shed the role of wife, like a snake sloughing its skin. The truth was that I was shell-shocked. I couldn’t imagine embarking on a new relationship. With whom? How do you start again meshing your life so intimately with someone after a 22-year long marriage? My body was running way ahead of my emotions. The sudden freedom was intoxicating. All I wanted was lovers. Hot sex. Right away there were a few, in quick succession, fleeting, passing by. And then there was Vadik, who was living far away in Europe and travelled all the time for his UN job. The long-distance didn’t scare me. On the contrary, it allowed me to be a mom for Louise without bringing a man into our home on a daily basis and confuse her. In fact, when he asked me later on to live with him in Geneva, I panicked. I couldn’t see myself taking Louise and moving in with him, in that apartment complex on the outskirts of Geneva, which frighteningly resembled the Soviet-era apartment buildings in Moscow where he had grown up, and be a wife.
And now, just as Louise was about to leave home, I felt a new burst of sexual energy. It was a funny thing, and unexpected, that in my sixties I felt more self-confident than I had been at fifty, when David had left, or even at thirty, when we had met. I knew I looked way younger than my age, like my mother did, slender, toned body and a halo of blond hair, lucky genes, I guess. And I had in me that same fire she had. That fire that I hated, that I was jealous of, when I was a girl, when she lit up a room with her energy, her seduction, sucking up all the attention to herself. My own fire had just been smoldering all these years in the safety of the couple. And I believed that charm, seduction and vitality came from an inner radiance, not, or not only, from youth.
In La Maman et la Putain, (The Mother and the Whore), the Jean Eustache movie, Alexandre (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud) has a live-in girlfriend, Marie, but starts an affair with a hot Polish nurse which threatens his relationship with Marie.
I had grown up with that story, the constant swing between pure wife and naughty lover, the oldest story of romance as told by men in the Western world – and perhaps in the whole history of humanity. My family had embodied that split. In my grandparents’ home, where I grew up, my grandmother played the wife and mother: her role was to keep everyone fed, clothed, educated and controlled. Meanwhile my mother, defiant, pregnant by accident, was the bad girl with the platinum blond hair and the stiletto heels, cigarette dangling between her fingers, whose mysterious life played out off-stage. I navigated between them, the straight-A, straight-laced, good girl, secretly yearning to let my wild side loose as soon as I could.
With men, I was always torn between the two, even way back when David and I had gone down to city hall for a shotgun wedding, one-month old Juliet in her little bassinette at our feet; and even years later, when Louise was born.
He texted me the following Monday, mid-morning. I was getting out of the shower, thinking about him.
When will you invite me over?
An hour later he was running up the stairs, his guitar case slung over his shoulder. It was noon. The sun was pouring in. I made him espresso in my stovetop Italian moka pot. Dark, lanky, he watched me with a look of expectation and ironic detachment, perhaps not sure of what I was expecting of him. And I watched him watching me. While the coffee was brewing, he strolled to the baby-grand piano and opened the lid.
Better not, I said. It needs to be tuned. The wood got cracked when it was shipped from France. It was my grandparents’ piano, from the 30’s. I played on it for ten years.
Afterwards, I regretted not having heard him play. I remembered my mother talking about a lover she had had – a Jewish concert pianist – as a “grand tenor,” which I imagined alluded to his male seduction, (or, who knows, perhaps even to his love-making), an expression that seemed appropriate for a musician. Jonah didn’t strike me as a “grand tenor.” Perhaps that was why I was attracted to him.
He leaned against the kitchen counter, sipping his coffee, smiling at me with that dazzling smile, all dark skin and dark beard, like a Middle-Eastern movie star, waiting for me to make the first move. Maybe he was intimidated. David, too, would lean against walls, against doorjambs, against bedposts, and look at me with a half-smile, offering himself to me. Do with me what you wish. Take me. I am yours. I had never wanted a man so much since David. It was that open invitation that was devastating.
I came to him. He put the cup down.
Shall we rip each other’s clothes off? He asked ironically, or rhetorically.
I pressed my body against his. I could feel how big he was though the canvas of his cargo shorts.
I took his hand and we went to my bedroom. There was a bookcase outside the door, with all my novels, in English and in translation, stacked on the shelves. He picked up the memoir I had written about the end of my marriage with David, twelve years earlier. It had a big, glamorous photo of me on the cover, black and white. It’s me, I said, although it was obvious. He studied the photo for a moment and read the blurbs, then put the book back without saying anything. His face blank. For a second I wondered if he compared my book cover photo – the one that my agent had qualified as “glamour-puss” – to me now, but I didn’t think I had changed that much, and I let that fleeting thought go. In my bedroom, he looked around, taking it all in, the mirrors, the antique dresser, all the windows. With an air of calm detachment.
The light was too bright for a first time.
In full daylight, the first kiss. Without the help of darkness, soft lighting, conversation to soften the edges. Neat, like a shot of vodka.. His lips, deliciously pulpy. He was skinny, with a slightly hairy chest, narrow shoulders, a soft stomach, not a gym body – but that body felt like fire between my arms.
I collapsed on the bed under him, and he helped me out of my jeans. I was wearing black socks. He put his hand on mine as I was about to peel them off.
No. Keep them.
There was no foreplay, just him inside of me, filling me up so hard I wasn’t sure that I could take him all in, afraid that he would chafe the tender skin inside. And then, as he moved ever so slightly, as his eyes searched mine, something gave way in me, and I dissolved around him.
You’re so wet, he whispered, and his face went soft, his breath came faster.
We were not ripping each other’s clothes off. There was a slow deliberateness to his moves. A shyness, even, as though he was waiting for a signal from me to let loose. There was something elusive about him, withholding, as if he had been detached from his body – his mind floating above us, watching ironically. And the chemistry between us was so intense I could barely abandon myself, my body was trembling, holding back from fear of being consumed. One time, many years ago, I had smoked sinsemilla with David during a trip to the Keys in Florida, and while we drove on one of the bridges headed to Key West, I had hallucinated a higher power, a God watching me from the sky. This felt like a high too, but a high that was more emotional than purely sexual. I came in long, almost silent sighs, just before him. I leaned against his chest and touched him gently where his sex was resting on top of his thighs.
I am not a good rebound guy, he apologized. Not like when I was 25.
I was touched that he worried about not living up to my expectations. I wanted to take him in my arms, to reassure him. Instead, I teased him.
You aren’t so young anymore. 37 is practically middle-aged.
I had forgotten my own age, by then. I was just the right age. Or no age at all. I ran my fingers through the hair that curled on his chest.
Hmmm. So soft.
I put lotion on it, he joked. L’Occitane.
L’Occitane? That’s a French brand. How come you know about it?
Men who live in New York can’t help being metrosexual, he said.
It was funny to be so attracted to a guy who labeled himself metrosexual. Also a jazz guitarist. When I was a teenager, my crushes had been musicians: Liszt, Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven. I played their music on the piano, the same one that was now in my living-room, and I listened to their albums on my little orange turntable. But they were all dead. A few days after Jonah’s visit, while doing research on a book I was working on, I randomly opened one of my earlier novels, and was astonished to discover that the heroine’s boyfriend was a guitarist and that her ex-husband and the father of her daughter was a musician. I had completely forgotten about it. I never re-read my books after they were published. It was as though I had hallucinated them. But these coincidences happened a lot in my life: I’d create a character, and then the real-life counterpart appeared, as if I had manifested them unconsciously years before.
He got up. He couldn’t stay. He had to go to work. Men, always busy, always running from one activity to the next, all action. Buttoning his shirt over his t-shirt. Pulling on his shorts. I had lost all sense of time. I took him to the door and stood in front of him, naked except for the knee-high socks.
I watched him cross the landing, guitar case on his back, in shorts and flip-flops (it was a warm day). In a flash, I remembered David in his flannel shirts and ripped jeans – the very incarnation of the eternal American sexy boy. And then that other flash: David, just back from the red-eye, walking up these same stairs with the bag he had taken to LA to meet his lover. All night I had prepared myself to ask him to leave. All night I had repeated the words: It’s over. You need to leave. You need to leave now. NOW. Furious to have been caught red-handed, he had mashed his hat back on his head, the Fedora he had taken to wearing lately, and bolted for the door, didn’t even put the bag down. He only turned back on the landing for a final goodbye with these cryptic words – you and I are still us. The us of the past, presumably. Because the present us was dissolving at that very moment.
Jonah waved at me from the stairs with a smile that was a bit lopsided, tender, with a dash of smirk, a dollop of irony, erasing the last image of David.
To be continued, he said.
Catherine Texier was born and raised in France. She is the author of six novels, including Love Me Tender, Panic Blood, Victorine (winner of Elle Magazine’s 2004 Readers’ Prize) and Russian Lessons. Her memoir Breakup was an international bestseller. Her work has been translated into 10 languages. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Award and two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships and was co-editor of the literary magazine Between C and D.