“I wrote you a note; it’s on the table,” was how Paul ended our relationship. I was inclined to laugh as he feverishly gathered the last of his belongings. He had moved in just as haphazardly. I’d spent a great deal of time trying to come up with some clever way to save things; this strange arrangement we had. And there he was, smug and unapologetic, ending it like a man. Did he really think a note was appropriate? Why not a text. It would have sufficed given my inexcusable behavior. “Fucking clown,” I thought as I heard the door close behind him.
The trouble that broke up Paul and me seemed at first minor, as minor as leaving the car window down the night before a storm. It all started one evening, after the Warhol exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It seemed innocent enough, Paul enjoying what seemed to be a casual conversation with someone we’d both just met. They’d both been to Every Man’s Theatre and had both seen a production of ‘Light on an Empty Room.’ Paul thought the production was brilliant. But Aaron our new friend, found it dull and unimaginative. From that conversation a friendship was born.
Aaron became a regular fixture. After the Warhol exhibit, we all exchanged numbers and swore to get together soon. I made nothing much of the exchange but Paul was disturbed, for lack of a better word, by Aaron’s abrasive personality, as he put it.
“Can you believe that guy,” he said as we drove away that evening.
The next incident occurred when out of the blue, Aaron phoned.
“There’s a wine tasting in Fells Point on Saturday; could be fun,” he said. I knew Paul planned to visit his parents in Connecticut for the weekend but I said I’d go. I’m not sure why but I wasn’t going to let Paul bully me into not going.
“Are you joking,” he said when I mentioned the invitation. I iterated that the invitation was extended to both of us but Paul wasn’t buying.
“I met him first and now he’s hitting on you?” I had a great desire to laugh at Paul’s jealousy but opted instead to ignore it. He was originally going to leave town on Friday morning but it became unnecessarily necessary for him to hang around long enough to see Aaron arrive for our date to drink wine. Their fight, naturally enough, consisted of Paul asking Aaron what his deal was and Aaron acting as if vexed by the question. Paul hugged me, shot Aaron his best “fuck you” look, and set off for his weekend.
Aaron and I became inseparable after Fells Point. I couldn’t tell Paul I was meeting him for lunch or cocktails. I couldn’t mention the evenings with Ailey. I didn’t talk about the weekend at Strawberry Creek, and I never brought up Grand Central. Ah, Grand Central where we danced all night, made new friends, and drank from Long Island. With Paul it was different. We were a habit. Paul and I had sushi in Towson once a week. We shopped in New York once a month. We watched the same movie every time one of us experienced a disappointment. And above all else, we were each other’s keeper.
The incident that caused the fight, that caused the silence, which lead to the breakup between Paul and I occurred when he finally got the promotion he’d been waiting for his entire career.
“We’re going to celebrate,” he said. I already had plans with Aaron but I said nothing. Of course we’re going to celebrate because that’s what we do, celebrate Paul. His wish was Grand Central. “Let’s dance until one off us pukes,” he insisted. I’d come to think of Grand Central as our hangout, Aaron’s and mine. Cowardly, I suggested no other place, dressed like a diva, and we hit Grand Central.
It was Friday night, everyone was there. A circle of blank stares met my gaze as we reached the table of a friend. Although I gave the appropriate “don’t say a fucking thing” stare, Megan Devine fired the first shot.
“Oh my God, what are you doing here? Aaron said you totally weren’t coming.” I tried to ignore her, as if the music were too loud to hear her stupid comment but it was too late.
“Aaron? Why would Aaron know anything about you coming to our spot?” Paul was insistent. I coughed into my palm, trying to buy time. Megan fired shot number two. “Paul, you have to know Aaron. He’s fabulous, totally the type of man this fag-hag wants to hang out with.” As those dirty words left her dirty gin-soaked lips, I turned to find Aaron headed right for the table. It was clear that explanations were needed but I chose option number two, say nothing and watch it all explode in your face. Aaron came right up to me, kissed me on the cheek and said, ” Glad you changed your mind. Oh, and you finally convinced Paul to come out.” It was by now becoming quite apparent to Paul, I’d been playing with another child, the wrong child. I could see he was hurt by the revelation and yet I could say nothing. Paul reached for Megan’s lighter and lit a cigarette. And then, the words, that started the fight, that ended in the silence, that lead to the breakup between Paul and I:
“Dude, you can- not- smoke in here!” When Aaron spoke those words, it was as if no one else in the club was speaking. I could no longer hear the music and for once, Megan’s lips weren’t moving. As if possessed, Paul grabbed Aaron by the throat and slammed him on the floor. We were all slow to respond. I could see blood spewing from Aaron’s face. Aaron fought back and things quickly got out of hand. By the end of it all, they both sat handcuffed, covered in each other’s blood.
The last time I saw Aaron, he was being released from central booking in Baltimore. My calls went unanswered but the gossip got around to me soon after the legal mess was settled. He believed it would never be forgotten or forgiven, the way I just stood there that night at Grand Central. He said that he sincerely believed Paul had no idea we’d been hanging out and that he believed me to be a liar. There was nothing I could say or do for either of them, thus began the silence.
It took me two days to read the note Paul left on the table. I believed foolishly that as long as I didn’t read it, Paul and I were still friends. But after there were no returned calls or texts, no postings on Facebook, and no gossip that made its way back to me, I decided to read the note:
–This would be easier if I was simply losing a roommate. But as much as I’d like to believe we were best friends, I am persuaded that my best friend would never hurt me so carelessly.-Paul