Why you should care

Because words can hurt.

“You come to New York for your birthday and I’ll give you a present you’ll never forget.”

The speaker? An ex, but as casual of an ex as we had been partners — meaning we’d have sex with each other if there was no one else to have sex with. A year ahead of me in school, she had already shifted into her postcollege career strivings. Strivings that had moved her to the middle of Manhattan, friendships with folks who hung with Andrew Lloyd Webber and at least the early inklings of fabulous things to come.

Getting back to New York for my birthday after a summer of school and student starvation seemed like a good present to give myself. So, pre–credit cards, I scrounged money for a ticket and laid out some plans for a party. Which saw me calling as soon as I got to my family’s house in Brooklyn.

“Hey, I just got in.”

“Well, great. Have fun hanging out with your family.” I used to joke about publishing a magazine called American Sucker. It would consist of pages of guys waiting outside restaurants with flowers for dates who never show and men who pay for boob jobs for women who later dump them. The sine qua non of American Sucker is that a sucker never sees it coming. And the best part of me editing it? I saw stuff coming.

She had been an inconsistent friend, let alone girlfriend, so her cooling me out wasn’t much of a surprise.

“I will. Just wanted to say hi. I’ll let you get back to your stuff.” Better to fold it than try to hold it.

And then, a tad too quickly, she said, “But if you wanted to hang out, I might have time for a quick drink or something after work.”

“I don’t drink,” I say, because I didn’t back then.

“Well, coffee or something.” I didn’t drink coffee either, but you’re only 23 once.

“OK.” Another earmark of American Sucker is failure to cut losses — in this instance, me showering and heading up to Central Park West in the summertime heat.

The sit-down was stilted and marked by her attempts at New York arrogance, which invariably annoys natives and escapes the notice of other arrivistes.

Walking back to her place, she announced she had to work the next day, early. In front of her building I gave her a “friend” hug and said, “Next time you get out to California, give me a call.”

“Unless you wanted to come up …”

And me, having had enough: “Do you want me to come up?”

“Do you want to come up?”

“I asked you first.”

“Yes. Come up.”

Silence in the elevator. Then, in her place, as she talked and busied herself for bed: “You can take your shoes off. I mean if you’re going to stay …”

“Do you want me to stay?”

“Do you want to stay?”

“Jesus” — [let’s call her Netty] — “Netty …”

“OK. Take your shoes off. I’ll make up the couch for you.… Unless you want to sleep in the bed.”

“Do you want me to sleep in the bed?”

“Yes. Sure.”

“You remember when you were telling people I raped you?” I asked, head full of #metoo zeitgeist.

We climbed under the covers and, as any regular reader of American Sucker might have surmised, sex, or more specifically attempted sex, was miserable and ultimately a fail. I fell into a cranky slumber. An hour or so later, we woke from the evening’s strangeness, the strangeness sort of forgotten, and managed to do what I had dragged myself 3,000 miles to do. In the morning, she got up and dressed for work, kissing me goodbye before she left.

I left, eventually making my way back to California. A month later, I got a call from a friend. He had spoken to a mutual friend who had run into Netty on the street. “Yeah, she said you had just been to visit her. Said you raped her.”

I laughed. “That’s the last thing that happened.”

“That’s what he said she said,” he said, not laughing at all. “You might want to deal with this.”

Yeah, I might. The legal and nonlegal ramifications of a false accusation could be crushing. So I called.

“Netty?”

“Oh, hey. What’s up?”

The friend she had told was a comedy writer trying to get a gig on Saturday Night Live. A nice guy. Straight arrow.

“I just got off the phone with [let’s call him Klein] Klein. Said you ran into [let’s call him Dre] Dre. Dre told him that you said I raped you.”

Silence.

“I … I didn’t say that.”

“That’s a direct quote.”

“Well, the sex wasn’t very good.…”

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Me. A few months before the birthday party.

Source Photo by Nicole Rosenberg

“And that’s very different from the criminal act of rape.…”

“I didn’t really mean —”

“Goodbye, Netty.” Which is the way it remained. Until recently, when we caught up with each other via the regular means, Facebook. It had been a while since we had seen each other, but I had to ask.

“You remember when you were telling people I raped you?” I asked, head full of #metoo zeitgeist.

“Look, I truly apologize that the bitch I was back then said those shitty things,” she wrote. “Women are really raped by men. But for someone to say they were raped because sex was bad and they weren’t into it? That really diminishes the really serious thing that rape is.

“But I managed to find the journal with this entry about that night,” she continued. “As I read it, I remember just thinking that you needed a shower and clean clothes. You know, I feel like I grew up in a sexually promiscuous time, and for me to say ‘no’ to a guy would mark me as a prude. But that certainly isn’t why I said ‘yes’ to you.…”

There was other talk, about kids, colleges, husbands, wives and the twists and turns our lives had taken, and those of people we knew. Dre never worked on SNL but became a writer of some renown. Klein runs a corporation. Netty is married with two grown kids.

But at some point, it dawned on me that she was right about one thing: It was a birthday present I’ve never forgotten.

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