The Same Black Line: A Dating While Dad Story

Sunday, October 11, 2015. 3:30AM.

We lie back on my bed, sweaty, sticky, exhausted. L.A. is in the midst of an autumn heat wave, and my tiny studio apartment has no air conditioning. 
 
 I offer her a cold bottle of water, and after she drinks, she splashes us both with it. The air from my small fan hits our bodies and the momentary chill makes us wriggle like children splashing in the cold Pacific ocean on a hot day.

“What are you thinking?” Anne asks. Anne spent the first eight years of her life in France; I hear the tiny flicker of an accent that appears only when she’s aroused, angry, or tired.

Anne was my student for one semester back in 1997, when she was fresh out of high school. I did not remember her, but after my public breakdown in 2013, she wrote me on Facebook to offer support. She was beautiful and sarcastic and incapable of small talk. Something sparked. Soon we were trading poems, and by that point, all that was left to decide was timing.

Anne is visiting L.A. for the weekend. She lives just outside Philadelphia and teaches high school history. She has two daughters. She also has one soon-to-be-ex husband with whom she shares a house, but not a bed.

I study her face, I watch for that look, the one I so often saw on the face of students right after we’d first slept together. That assessing look where you know they’re trying to reconcile the naked, raw, vulnerable you with the clothed and charismatic you they first met in the classroom. For better or for worse, sex pulls you off a pedestal. 
 
 Anne was my student half her lifetime ago. This can’t be an issue for her.

I smile. 
 
 “It’s been a very long time.”
 
 I haven’t been to bed with anyone in more than two years, since the summer of 2013. I haven’t felt a woman’s lips on mine in (I do the math in my head) 28 months. The longest period of voluntary celibacy since I was 16 has just come to an end.
 
 Anne snorts. She has a deep, rich laugh. 
 
 “It’s just like riding a bike. You don’t forget. And you didn’t.“
 
 But I did forget. The last five hours I’ve been given over to déjà vu, from the first passionate kiss to this tender, post-coital caressing and teasing. It’s been five hours of Oh yeah, that’s what this is like and Why am I so clumsy and I hope we’re both ready for this and Damn, I’d forgotten how good this can be.

She kisses me. “You’re an historian. You’re a professional rememberer.”
 
 For months, Anne has referred to me as a professor in the present tense, and I chafe at it. When we first met, I was the teacher and she was not; now she is a teacher and I, I am not. The truth is that a small part of my attraction to her is envy.
 
 “I won’t forget this,” I promise.
 
 “That’s the right thing to say,” she teases.

We snuggle despite the oppressive heat. She is tall, and I fit perfectly as little naked spoon. It is so good to be held. 
 
 Before I fall asleep, I remember something:
 
 On the way to my place the night before, I turned on the SiriusXM ’90s station. The Wallflowers’ “Sixth Avenue Heartache” comes on, and Anne and I both sing along. “I love this song!” “Oh, me too!” 
 
 Because we’re both historians, we know it came out in the summer of 1996. We compare what we were doing that summer. For Anne, it was the summer after she graduated high school, a summer of drinking, a summer of boys, the summer she read War and Peace on her own, just because. It was the summer where she said goodbye to friends going off to four-year colleges, fighting the resentment that despite her perfect grades and high test scores, she’d be spending the next two years at a community college. 
 
 And the same black line that was drawn on you

Was drawn on me

And now it’s drawn me in

For Anne, that chorus from the song is about her fraught relationship with her mother. “That summer was the first summer I really accepted how much my mother and I are alike, how bitter we both can be. That’s the ‘black line.’”

My black line is different. I tell Anne that my black line is the wild, disruptive instability within me, source of both my gifts and my destructiveness. In the summer of ’96, when I first heard the song, I had just left wife #2 for a girl I met in rehab. “I’ve spent my whole life looking for women who had that same black line.”
 
 Anne gives me side-eye in the car. “You think that black line is difficult to find? Black lines are everywhere. Stop romanticizing pain.”
 
 I laugh. I want to be careful how I say things. At this point, we haven’t yet been naked together.

Half-kidding:

“So, you’re saying I should look for women with erasers? Someone to rub away the black lines?”

“You’re hopeless. The eraser is on the other end of your own damn pencil.”
 
 “Thanks, doctor.”
 
 “You’re welcome.” 
 
 We’re at a stoplight. Anne leans over and nips my cheek.
 
 “You deserve that.”

9:00AM the next day, I drive Anne back to her friend’s apartment in Santa Monica. In the car, I put on a different station, one that also plays ’90s music. And the same song comes on.
 
 We hold hands and sing it through together.

“It’s just a song,” she says when it ends. “Just a song.”