You never know how someone you meet online is going to translate in "real" life. Photos are one thing, reality is another. I worry I won't recognize my date and I'll approach the wrong guy, which has happened, mush to my embarrassment. En route to our "meet & greet" I'll wonder, Will he be better looking than his photos? Will he even look like his photos? Might he actually be older than his photos? I've been duped before, but I try to remain cautiously optimistic.
I walked into the Oyster House just as the sun had set. Despite the dimly lit room, I recognized R immediately. His photos didn’t do him justice. As soon as he caught my eye, my body had a physical reaction. There was something about him, something familiar, something erotic, something inherently masculine.
I had what he was having. Tanqueray and Tonic. The perfect summer time libation: crisp, clean, refreshing. We bantered about this and that. His divorce. Mine. His nine year-old son, unplanned, sired during the honeymoon, the apple of his eye. My fifteen year-old daughter, very much planned, conceived during the fall after an evening at the movies, the apple of mine. We chatted about the travails of online dating, where we were at this point in our lives, as well as our families. His father and my stepfather, both having died of cancer within the last two years.
Midway through the second round of drinks, R took my hand and examined it. He admitted he had a thing for hands and thought mine beautiful. I liked the way his hand felt in mine. Strong hands. I liked the resonance of his voice, his confidence and that he was my age and had some life experience under his belt.
Finally, I thought. Finally. A man. Not a man-boy.
Our date ended all too soon. It was a school night, after all, and he had to get home to his son. As we headed toward the door, he told me he still had a lot of questions to ask me.
Well, you’re just going to have to save those for next time. I'll answer anything you ask, I flirted.
I like that, he smiled. I like that you're open minded.
We walked out to our cars and upon reaching mine, he pulled me in and kissed me. It was a butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of kiss.
We have to do this again soon, he said.
Yes, I agreed.
In a way, it was fortuitous that our date was cut short. Curiosity had been stoked. Desire. It left both of us wanting for more. I floated away on a cloud of the promise of a second date.
I hardly knew my biological father. I remember him in mental photographs. I remember him in bits and pieces. His name was Valentine. Val for short. He was olive skinned and muscular. He was handsome, masculine and funny. He was also drunk more often than not. He once left my three-year-old brother and me alone on Santa Monica beach while he got drunk near the pier.
Not long after that, mom kicked him out and we moved to the Valley.
The last time I saw my dad alive was at Rae’s Diner on Pico Boulevard. I was seven. If I close my eyes, I can see him tucked into the corner of the booth. White t-shirt, black cardigan, all cleaned up. In front of him sat a glass of milk. Demonstrating his momentary sobriety.
Not knowing where we lived, he’d send letters by way of my aunt, who happened to live next door. One time he sent a card: a bluebird on a branch with a tear trailing down his beak. “I Miss You,” said the bird.
Why are you crying? My mother asked. I showed her the card.
I miss daddy.
He’s not your father anymore.
As I grew older, I thought less and less about my biological father. On the rare occasion I broached the subject of Valentine, or showed any compassion for, or curiosity about him, the guilt was laid on thick.
Aw, poor Dave. You’re going to make him feel bad.
I love Dave, mom, but I love my dad, too. I miss him.
How could you possibly have any feelings for someone you hardly knew? He was a drunk. He never made any effort to see you.
Why didn’t you ever take us to see him?
You never asked.
My father died on September 6, 1983. I was eighteen. I found out at the funeral he’d been homeless and living near the beach. He asphyxiated on his own vomit.
I came across a photo of him once, as I was packing for a move. Save for the eyes, it was like looking in the mirror. I keep that photo in a special box, along with some of his letters.
Like my date with R, my time with my dad was all too short. Since then, it seems I've been trying to fill the hole left in my heart. More is not possible with my dad, so I hang onto the bits and pieces I remember. More is what I thought might be possible with R, only I never heard from him again.