I laughed, assuming it had to be a joke. Brian and I were both gay and she adored both of us. It seemed so ridiculous I'd never thought anything of the sort.
"Here's an example," Brian continued. "Name some of Charlotte's gay friends."
I thought for a minute. Charlotte knew a lot of people -- most rich and gorgeous New Yorkers did. To avoid confusion, then, she chose unique descriptive identifiers and permanently stuck them in front of names. If she knew two Alberts, she might refer to one as Crest White Strip Albert and the other as Republican Albert. If she knew two Matts, she might call one Cat Tattoo Matt and the other Staten Island Matt.
I didn't know why she did this, because it got her into trouble. Gay John wasn't too thrilled when Charlotte's mother referred to somebody named Handsome John and he realized it wasn't him.
"Well," I said to Brian, "there's Gay John, Gay Scott, Gay Stuart, Gay Toshi, ...."
"You don't think that's a little weird?" he interrupted. "To specifically single out everyone who's gay? Does she do it with anybody else -- Jews, blacks, Hispanics? If she really, truly accepted gay people, would she make such a big deal out of it?"
I blew it off as inexplicable but it planted the seed in my head. I had actually noticed how often she used the word "gay." As a gay man I hardly used it at all, whereas the straight woman used it constantly. In fact, that morning she'd asked me if I wanted to go with her and her "gay husband" to a gay club for some gay drinking and gay fooling around.
Charlotte had also raised a red flag with me when I was talking with Joe and David, a middle-aged couple who lived on the fourth floor. We were whispering about her upcoming birthday when she showed up out of nowhere. "Ohmigod," she gasped, eyeing us suspiciously. "If you guys are planning a three-way, I don't want to hear about it!"
We all laughed, but after she walked away we exchanged baffled glances. We agreed that her comment wasn't just clueless -- it was patently offensive. If she'd seen a guy talking to a hetero couple she wouldn't have assumed he was going to bang both of them.
I tried to forget about the whole thing during our usual Project Runway-watching night. While I was telling Emma about my trip to Berlin, though, she started acting weird again. "A lot of guys in Berlin have rings tattooed around their forearms," I said. "And I don't know if it's true or not, but somebody told me it's coded information about fistfucking."
"Ew!" Charlotte snapped, dropping a tortilla chip.
I scowled at her. "He said, 'Those rings mark how far they've gotten their arms into another guy's ass."
"That's disgusting," Charlotte sang.
I ignored her and went for the punchline. "I told him I'd have to get a ring tattooed halfway down my index finger."
Charlotte jumped up off the couch. "THAT'S IT!" she yelled, cranking up the TV. "STOP! I'm not going to hear about this!"
"About what?" I asked. "About gay guys having sex?"
"ABOUT ANY GUYS HAVING SEX! CAN YOU PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT IT?"
"FINE!" I shouted as I stomped toward the door. "I WILL! And you can talk about whatever the fuck you want, but you won't be talking to me!"
I slammed the door behind me, and after that Charlotte and I didn't speak for eight days. Before the fight she'd invited me to her birthday party, and when the day came I decided I'd still go. There would be enough people that it wouldn't be awkward, and I could leave a gift as a peace offering. I didn't think I'd done anything wrong but I felt kind of guilty, so when I shopped for her gift I went overboard. I went to a shop down the street that specialized in all the Brooklyn clichés: everything was handmade, sustainable, and organic, from the Peruvian bags woven from hand-twisted yarn to the incense made by Patagonian tribes from fossilized yak poop.
I finally settled on a bracelet made of hand-carved beads from Namibia. It was really beautiful -- as it should have been for $320 -- with chunky tourmaline and lapis beads carved with intricate tribal designs. It was totally Charlotte: it had style, it supported indigenous people, and she wouldn't have to worry about running into somebody wearing the exact same thing.
I toted the gift to the birthday party and Charlotte spotted me the second I walked through her door. Our eyes locked. Without a word our eyes exchanged everything we needed to say: that we both felt terrible, that we'd made a horrible mistake, and that we couldn't survive another minute without making amends.
We ran toward each other in seemingly slow motion, shoving the other party guests aside. We met in the middle of the room and hugged each other like we were never going to let go. "I'm sorry," I cried. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever done. I know you're not homophobic. I was just being stupid or I had a stroke or something, and I promise I'll never bring it up again."
"Really?" Charlotte said, wiping away tears. "You promise?"
"I promise. I'll never mention it again."
We hugged once more, and when we separated I noticed that both of our eyes were filled with tears. That's the mark of a great friend, I thought. When one of you does something unbelievably stupid, it just brings you closer together.
Naturally the party was brilliant, since Charlotte's friends were all six-foot-tall Russian models or handsome Norwegian musicians. We drank and laughed until the sun went down, and then a tipsy Charlotte took center stage to unwrap all of her gifts. She gushed over a pair of shoes, a painting, and a crystal vase before she got to my offering. She shot me an excited look and I veritably glowed with pride. She tore the paper open, pulled the lid off the box, and extracted the bracelet from the box.
With fifty people watching breathlessly, she held the beaded string at arm's length, and her expression turned from glee to disgust. "Roman," she spat like a third-grade teacher, "I never stick anything up my ass."