How does a couple move forward from trauma? Slowly. But a bar-hopping, movie-star-stealing night on the town sure doesn’t hurt.
The first time we slept—or tried to sleep—together, Maggie told me she had once been raped. “It happened less than a year ago,” she said. “So this is kind of hard for me now.” Although we were attracted to each other, I could tell Maggie was having trouble not only with the physicality of our actions but also with her own psychosomatic reactions, her body’s refusal to follow her head’s lead.
I wiped the tears from her eyes and—shockingly, even to myself—said, “At least one part of you can still get wet.” Her laugh was as much a wonder as it was a relief to hear.
That was the third time a woman had made such a confession to me in the past year. Each happened after our having sex for the first time, and each was prefaced by the claim that I was one of a select few who knew.
I could only think, Why me? What about me made these women want to recount one of the worst experiences of their lives? Of course I consider rape a heinous crime, but I am not otherwise a particularly good person. I have lied. I have stolen. I’m arrogant. I’m vengeful. I have cheated. I have spurned. The pithy adage of not wanting to be a part of a club that would have me as a member is in my case a sober truism. That did not stop me, however, from caring about Maggie. Particularly after our sex snafu, especially after she explained the cause of the failure. I can be monstrous, but I am not a monster.
Johnny Depp came into our lives a year later on the night we saw Juno. At the AMC Loews in Lincoln Square, New York City, Maggie and I exited the theater after the movie, discussing what we thought of it. We passed some garbage bags. Among them, hulking around five feet tall and at least eight feet wide, was Depp, staring with those maniacal, despondent eyes from a discarded advertisement for Sweeney Todd.
Maggie and I agreed we desperately needed to take him home with us. She and I also agreed a few drinks were required before committing the theft.
Inside a bar called Emerald Inn, Maggie drank one, two, three vodka tonics while I drank four, five, six Johnnie Walker Reds. She had news. Maggie told me that a few days ago the court had dropped the charges she filed against her rapist. Too much time had lapsed since the incident.
“Forget all that bullshit for now,” I said, removing a pen from my bag. “We got ourselves a plan to make.”
On top of a cocktail napkin I wrote, “Mission Objective: Kidnap Johnny Depp,” under which I drew a rudimentary outline of five city blocks. I designated the location of the cardboard cutout with an X. The stick figure with a penis represented me, and the stick figure with boobs represented her. I said to Maggie, “You stand lookout here, while I hail the cab here. Understand?” Her eyes were dry as she raised her thumb.
The only slight hitch in the execution of our plan was fitting the cutout into the backseat of a cab. We folded it over itself, but things were still tight. That cab driver earned a hefty tip for being so congenial as he drove up Broadway with his rearview mirror obstructed by the visage of a famous actor with a large, crude penis drawn on his cheek. We laughed all the way home.
Later that night, back at my apartment, Maggie and I had sex while the cardboard cut-out loomed over us from the corner of my room. We never talked about her rape again.
It has been said the most selfless acts are the ones for which we receive no credit—but I can’t resist turning the events of my life into a narrative. By telling the story of our theft, I know I’m sacrificing the beneficence of my hatching it. But I hope that’s why women have been able to trust me with the knowledge of their assaults: My attention to story makes me a decent depository for secrets. Sharing our wounds won’t heal them, but I like to think it helps. For them, for me, for us both.
Maggie kept the napkin from that night. Even though we haven’t seen each other in years, I like to think Maggie sometimes looks at that drawing of five city blocks and two stick figures, remembering how it felt to have the wind, chilly that time of year, toss her hair because Johnny Depp was hanging out the window. Perhaps, too, somewhere rotting away in the basement of my old apartment building, the glossy cardboard cutout from Sweeney Todd reflects the light so that its eyes glisten, as though it remembers how it felt to watch two people smile, lean toward each other, and kiss.
—Photo Jaap Kramer/Flickr