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Everyone knew that they weren’t supposed to blame Margot for Joey’s suicide, but they couldn’t help themselves. It’s human nature to place the blame, sort out cause and effect. See a bullet wound, look for the gunman. Margot had called off their engagement not two weeks before Joey dosed himself to death, leaving her to hold the metaphorical firearm. Joey was gone and therefore unblameable, so it fell to the presumed causes. Besides, everyone felt too guilty to blame his own suicide on him. He already, apparently, had a lot on his plate. 


The suicide confirmed Margot’s suspicion that all of her friends liked Joey more. They had shared the same friend group since high school, but she’d always felt secondary to Joey. Margot didn’t like doing things without him; she was harder to catch on her own. She preferred it that way, though. She was a boyfriend person. While Joey was the boyfriend, he was more Joey than he was a girlfriend guy. No one ever referred to him as Margot’s boyfriend, but Margot was often introduced as Joey’s girlfriend. 

Margot suspected that other people possessed a stronger sense of self than she did, but it didn’t bother her the way she supposed it should have. The only reason she might have tried to curate a more defined sense of self was to convince others that she had one, which sort of defeated the point. So maybe, she reasoned, her friends weren’t ignoring her because they blamed Joey’s suicide on her. Maybe they just didn’t feel close to her without Joey there, mooring her to purpose. He had felt like her hobby as much as her other half; she made meals she knew he would like, bought clothes in his favorite colors, went to concerts where the bands on his T-shirts were playing. 

It wasn’t just their friends who liked Joey more; the world tilted inexplicably in his favor whenever possible. It wasn’t just that he was attractive, although he had always been handsome in a sort of princely way. It was just something about him: babies smiled at him extra on the street, customer service agents never put him on hold, even stray cats rolled over purring to show him their swollen bellies. He was intensely lovable. Margot too had loved him, a lot, even after he confided in her, even once she knew.  


In late spring Margot began to feel paranoid that Joey was cheating on her, that he was having an affair. He said he’d started going to group therapy, but wouldn’t tell her any more than that. Not even the therapist’s name. He’d never gone to therapy before, at least as far as Margot was aware. He didn’t have any serious problems or traumas to address that Margot could think of, and he would’ve told her. She was confident that he would have told her. After Joey started the mysterious therapy, he became more protective with his phone. He was always texting someone named Sam who he said was from the group, but he deleted their conversations and changed the subject when Margot brought it up. 

So she got suspicious. Tracking his location, his search history, his correspondence became an obsession. Watching his icon on the Find My iPhone app, she began to track his whereabouts and his schedule, to where and for how long he stayed at work, at appointments, at friends’ houses. It was a sick excitement that left her exhausted at the day’s end, lying next to Joey in bed starved to know which parts of himself she was not privileged to. There was only one place he spent time that she didn’t know about, a place he visited each week that had to be his new supposed therapist. After a summer’s worth of suspicion she decided to take action: on the day of his appointment, she plugged the address into her maps and followed him to the site of the supposed group therapy. The address was in the same residential neighborhood where Margot’s parents lived, and from a cursory Google search did not seem to be the site of any therapeutic practice. She pulled up to the house and waited until he emerged. She confronted him. He fell apart, weeping. And that’s how she found out Joey was a pedophile.


He’d never touched anyone, he told her. This seemed to be the main point that he wanted to get across, judging by his persistent repetition of the fact. 

“Anyone except me,” Margot clarified.

He said that she knew what he meant. 

“You mean any kids?”

He really was going to group therapy; it was a weekly support meetup. For pedophiles. She sat in the passenger seat of his parked car with her knees pulled up to her chest while he rambled. He seemed determined to say as much as possible, as fast as possible. 

“The group uses the DSM-5 definition, and no one there has ever hurt anyone, wouldn’t ever,” he said.

“How can you even know that? How do you know someone isn’t lying?” Margot asked. Joey shook his head a little and paused, before telling her that he just knew. 

The group was led by a woman who did research about this sort of thing. She had a social work license and a PhD in neuropsychology from Cornell or Johns Hopkins or somewhere notable, Margot couldn’t remember now. There were eight other guys in the group. Most of them had gone through some really fucked up shit growing up, but Joey wouldn’t clarify further. 

“It’s not my place,” he said. He also said that a lot of them, and apparently others—Margot’s stomach lurched at how he seemed to think of these others as his community, his people—weren’t exclusively attracted to prepubescent or pubescent minors. He said it like it was supposed to make her feel better, reassure her that he loved her or at least wanted to fuck her. That he hadn’t lied about that.

But, if Margot was being honest, it did make her feel better. That he did want to fuck her.     


After that evening, they didn’t talk for a week. Joey stayed at his brother’s place to give Margot some time to herself. He told his brother that they were fighting. She assumed he didn’t say about what. 

Margot was unsettled by how smoothly her life continued, as if nothing had changed. She had expected the world to seem different now, cleaved into two eras against which she could view her life. She’d felt the same way when she lost her virginity, as though the world shouldn’t be the same if she’d changed. 

She was glad to still have two weeks until her new job started, a project manager position at a nonprofit ad agency. Every time she told someone about the company, she had to clarify that she meant the agency worked for nonprofits, not that it was one itself. Work might’ve been a nice distraction, though. As it was, she had nothing to do other than play the conversation back over and over again in her head. When she woke up in the morning, she had up to three glorious seconds of peace before she remembered that her boyfriend was a pedophile. A nonpracticing one, she would remind herself.

It was a raw and stark feeling, to be a boyfriend person missing a boyfriend. Even if she’d wanted to tell someone, there wasn’t anyone she could confide in outside of Joey. Her world was extraordinarily small, Margot realized. This was usually a good thing. But now, she had no one who could point her towards a clear path forward. She didn’t have a therapist or any friends that weren’t his, but she didn’t want them. They weren’t Joey, they weren’t her boyfriend. She wished she knew how to find an online community or support group for people in her situation, the way Joey had.    

Being alone wasn’t an option. Margot saw what dating did to girls her age, all of the shapeshifting that turned their breath sour with want. She knew the shape of Margot with Joey. She had for a long time. Joey first kissed her at the tenth grade end-of-year picnic, their lips stained purple from rocket pops. She’d been dumped the day before by Ryan, her boyfriend, a graduating senior who was heading off that week for summer session at Yale. Things fell right into place with Joey. He asked her to be his girlfriend on the Fourth of July, and that’s what Margot had been ever since. She didn’t know how to be someone else. She didn’t have any practice.


Once Margot decided to pretend that nothing had happened, it was almost like nothing had happened. The night Joey returned to their apartment she told him that she still loved him and that his confession had only strengthened the trust between them, that it meant they truly no longer had any secrets from one another. It was a generous interpretation that Margot tried to believe in.

“I know you, and I trust you. I don’t think you’d ever hurt anyone,” Margot told him. She hoped that saying the words aloud might make them fully true, or at least feel that way. Where she’d expected to feel a sense of certainty, though, she felt nothing. But maybe, she reasoned, the absence of doubt was certain enough.

“I love you so much, Margot,” he told her. He began to cry and she hugged him, let him sob into her chest. She stroked his hair and was overcome by, more than anything, relief.

“I love you too,” she told him.


Joey proposed, and Margot said yes. He told her he had been planning on it anyway, that he’d bought the ring months ago and was just waiting for the right time. 

“I don’t want to spend one more second of my life not married to you,” he told her. Elation moved through Margot like electric shock, before a slower, slimier sensation settled into her stomach. Would they have kids? Would she want to have kids with him? She’d always assumed she’d become a mother, slip into the title as easily as she did girlfriend. It wasn’t that Margot had the deep maternal drive that she saw in some women; she didn’t feel destined for motherhood or compelled by a love for children. But she’d never considered not having them. Then again, she felt sick when she thought about children these days. All children. She went out of her way to avoid schoolyards now, changed the television channel at the sight of a child actor. 

Dizzy with unease, Margot worked to put the idea out of her mind. The easiest course of action was to promptly and purposefully ignore these kinds of thoughts, force them aside. She said nothing, at first, but leaned in to kiss his cheek.       

“I love you,” she said. He said it back. 

Their friends and families were ecstatic, and even acquaintances commented “Congratulations!!!” on the Facebook post announcing the engagement.

Margot started work and began to feel comfortable with her new schedule, new work friends, new open-concept office. She showed off her ring to her friends and her family and her coworkers and they all cooed in delight, right on cue. She and Joey began to draw up wedding plans, squabbling over color schemes and venues and invitation fonts. They caught up on the last season of their favorite TV show in anticipation of the new season, they tried out new recipes that they’d found on Instagram, they decided to switch cell phone providers and both got to upgrade their phones to the latest model. Joey started taking Zoloft. Margot decided to get laser hair removal around her bikini line. 

They held their engagement party at a new-ish wine bar in the next town over that people couldn’t stop raving about. Once everyone had drunk enough, they danced to electronic remixes of popular songs and the men joked to Joey that his “fun was over” and the women asked Margot if they were thinking about kids yet. Margot wore a satin dress the color of margarine with a slit up one leg, and she felt extraordinarily beautiful. That night she and Joey had sex for the first time since he’d told her he was a pedophile. While she didn’t come, she enjoyed it and didn’t think about Joey being a pedophile once the whole time. Afterwards, though, she cried in the shower while she removed her makeup. She did it quietly; she didn’t want to make Joey feel bad.


In January, Margot and Joey got into a fight when Margot drove home from a work happy hour after having a couple drinks. 

“You could have called me to come pick you up,” Joey said.

“I’m literally sober, basically,” she said.

“No, you’re not.”

“I am.”

“You’re not, and you know it, and I don’t know why you’re fighting with me about it,” Joey said.

“Even if I were drunk, nothing happened,” Margot said. “No one is hurt, and if you’re going to be mad at me about it then I don’t know what else to do. I can’t un-drive myself home.” 

She was tipsy, perhaps bordering drunk, and annoyed that he’d ruined her good mood. She’d finished a big project that day and he hadn’t said congratulations once, not even in a text message.

“I mean, thank god nothing happened,” he said, “but that’s not the point.”  

At this, Margot felt something begin to come loose in her body, and snapped: “So you’re saying not doing the thing is as bad as doing it? That maybe hurting someone is the same as actually hurting someone? Is that what you’re saying?” 

It wasn’t like her. She waited for the guilt to come, but it didn’t. Where the guilt might have been, something thick and almost gleeful began to well up. It was a strange sensation that Margot had never before felt, and she struggled to place it as either pleasant or otherwise. Joey’s eyes fell, and he sat down on the couch.

“Of course that’s not what I’m saying,” he murmured, wearing that exaggerated look of defeat that men do when they think women are being ridiculous. Margot clenched her teeth, but the fury still came up and out of her like hot vomit, all acid and rot.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” she said, “Because that would make you a pedophile.”

Joey stared at her. There was a long silence. Margot realized she’d never said the word out loud before, not when they first discussed it or when they made up. It didn’t feel right in her mouth, left her lips curled with the bitter taste. Her tongue felt fat behind her teeth, an unfamiliar slab of glossal meat she might have pulled out at the root but for its attachment to her throat. 

“Oh my god, you’re like, actually a pedophile.” She ran her hand through her hair and started to pace, on the verge of either laughter or screams. Joey sat still, and then began to cry. He started to apologize, over and over, hiccups replacing his breath, snot bubbling up in his nose like a grubby toddler.   

“Margot, I promise, I’ve never acted on it once in my life.” Joey looked up at her, pleading. She stood completely still, watching him.

“Then how’d you find out? How’d you realize?”

“I mean, I saw—I watched, I used to watch—” He tripped over his words and began to cry harder, not bothering to finish his sentence. 

“Oh my god,” she said.

“I would never hurt anyone, I would never, I promise,” Joey cried. 

“You watched child porn,” Margot said, half to herself.

“Not in years, really, years. I’m disgusting, I know, I won’t ever again, I’m sorry, I feel sick about it, I feel like I should die. I should die!” He crawled to her ankles and curled up in a heaving ball at her feet, repeating his apologies. 

Margot couldn’t look at him. She wasn’t sure she remembered how. 


She left him the next day. She moved into her old room at her parents’ house, at least temporarily, while she found a new apartment. Joey wanted to talk, he wanted to work things out, but mostly: please would she not tell anyone, and please would she talk to him, and please they could figure it out. They loved each other, didn’t they? Was she going to tell people? He went from pleading to angry in seconds through the phone: No one will believe you if you say anything, to I’ll kill myself if you tell anyone, to I’m so sorry I’ve fucked everything up like this, all in a matter of minutes in her inbox. After she ignored his calls and texts, Joey showed up at the house. Margot’s father answered the door, and she could hear the two men talking from inside her room.

“I’m sorry, Joe, but she says she doesn’t want to talk. I’m sure she’ll come around, ” her father told Joey. 

Their friends texted and called, too, pretending that they weren’t taking sides. But they were. She knew they were; how could they not? The split had come out of nowhere, as far as they knew. Besides, she was the executing party of the breakup, the one who didn’t get the benefit of the doubt. They implored her to talk to him. She told them to ask Joey. They wanted to know what was wrong with her, first as an expression of concern but then as an accusation. Joey told them to respect her privacy, which they did. They stopped asking.

After a week of radio silence from her friends, Margot realized she hadn’t spoken out loud in four days. She moved in and out of rooms like a ghost in her parents’ house, unwilling to risk their questions about the breakup. She realized that Joey might have been right, about one thing. Would anyone even believe her, if she said anything? The unfairness of it all settled in her like a kidney stone. Even without him, she still had to be Margot With Joey. He’d backed her into a corner; either stay with him and endure her disgust, her terror, her uncertainty, or leave him and become a martyr to his secret. It hadn’t even occurred to her, not seriously, anyway, to try and tell anyone. He’d asked her not to. He was content to let her shoulder his guilt for him. He said he’d have nothing if people found out, and seemed to find it fair that she’d have nothing in return. She contemplated going back to him, pictured how seamlessly he’d explain away the break as prenuptial nerves. She could forgive him for so much, she could forgive him for almost anything. Those were the roles, as practiced; he moved, and she bent. But this time was different. She couldn’t risk seeing just how far she’d bend for him, how hideous the knots and gnarls she’d become on his behalf.

So Margot decided to tell everyone. But she decided to tell him first. She told Joey that if he didn’t tell people by the end of the week, then she was going to. She said that it wasn’t fair for her to lose her apartment and her friends and her life because of him, and that the community deserved to know. But in truth, she didn’t care about her so-called community, or her friends, or even her life, really, not much. Not anymore. She just knew it was the only way she wouldn’t go back to him. If someone else knew. 

Joey got angry with her, which was rare. He texted her to tell her that she was being vindictive, that she was already ruining his life by leaving him and she didn’t have to do it twice. He told her no one would believe her, that he’d make sure everyone thought she was a liar. A perverted liar. A sicko, he said, in his last text to her. Margot didn’t respond. 

Joey killed himself in their apartment the next night. Even if there’d been space between the grief to tell people about his pedophilia, she no longer saw the point. There was no going back to him now. There were no hypothetical children to protect, and, like he’d said, no one to believe her. Not now. Not speaking ill of the dead extended to the truth, extended especially to the truth. It all felt pointless, after all. Everyone blamed Margot. Margot blamed Margot. She was pretty sure that, if she could ask him, Joey would blame her too. 


Margot still felt like Margot-with-Joey, carried him around like a phantom limb. She spent a lot of her free time wishing that he’d never said anything, because it made her feel guilty to grieve a dead pedophile. But she’d feel even worse if he’d never told her, she reasoned. Without a cauterizing agent to stymie her sense of loss, she would have had to endure the full weight of his absence. So instead she started wishing that he’d told her even more, told her something worse. She passed by the group therapy house and thought to herself that it’d be nicer, actually, if he had hurt someone. She might miss him a little less.