Join Prism Book Alliance® as Brandon Witt goes Outside the Margins today.
I’ve wanted to do a blog post about PrEP for a while now. (PrEP is a drug regimen that is supposed to prevent HIV.) What kept bothering was how to really help someone, either who isn’t gay, hasn’t had someone in their lives touched by HIV, or is simply too young to remember the 80’s and 90’s in regard to HIV, to understand PrEP’s impact for many of us. Then, I remembered the first book I ever wrote, and that I’d included one of my most painful/terrifying times in my life within its pages. I wasn’t sure I even still had a digital copy. Look here, I found it! I’ve decided to do the post I want to write in two parts. This is the first. PrEP isn’t even mentioned, and it won’t be until part two, next month. The only reason I’m breaking this up is because it would be overwhelmingly long.
Disclaimer: I’d written for years before I wrote this book, which I entitle ‘Safe.’ But this was my first book-book, and, lord willing, it will never cross a publisher’s desk. Two-hundred pages of an 28 year old’s autobiography. (UGH) Half of which was flashbacks from my life (like the one that follows) and the other half telling the story of the four-month relationship and breakup with the first man I ever loved. All true (names changed). All very dramatic. And all very fourteen-year-old boy instead of twenty-eight year old man. When you don’t come out until 24, some things get stunted and take awhile to catch up. At least they did for me. I’ve not read even a portion of it since I wrote it. And what follows is the only part I plan on reading for the foreseeable future. There’s a lot of darkness in those pages. And even more terrible writing (as you’re about to see). I’d forgotten that I refused to use contractions in my early writing. I thought it was beneath me. (What fucking idiot I was, apparently). I’ve added some back in so that’s it’s readable (I use that term loosely).
This particular moment is when I was 25 or so, maybe 26. I was living with my first boyfriend (NOT the first man I truly loved). He moved in on date two (I was 24), and was abusive (not physically, but in every other way) for the next two years. Those details alone should clue you in on my relational development by that point.
This photo is the only one of me I could find from right before this time period:
“Well, you don’t have strep throat this time.” My doctor places the test trip in to the hazard bin.
“Well, that’s great. I am so sick of having that a billion times a year. I am glad I came in though. It’s always best to know.
She looks up at me and takes a deep breath. “Most of your lymph nodes are swollen, your throat is inflamed, and you have a temperature.” She stops moving and looks me in the eyes. “Do you have sex with men or women?”
My throat constricts, I can feel my heart expand in my chest. “Men. I have a boyfriend.”
“Do you use condoms?”
We’d never had intercourse. Did the other stuff count as sex? “We’ve not really had that kind of sex much. But, no. He doesn’t like them.” What will I tell my mom?
“You are displaying all the signs of the early stages of HIV. I am not trying to scare you, but I don’t want to deceive you either. When was the last time you had sex with him?”
I count back in my brain. I remember the night. I skipped massage school to stay home with him and watch movies. “A month ago.” Tears are already making their way down my face.
“Ok, we won’t know anything for sure then for at least two more months. It can take up to three months to have a positive reaction if you have been exposed. Are you having sex with anyone else?”
“No, I have been with him for a year and a half. I’ve never cheated. I got tested before we got together. I was fine.”
Her tone is soothing and motherly. “Ok, we don’t need to panic, but it seem like there is a good chance that is what is going on. Does your family know that you’re gay?”
“Are they ok with it?”
“No.” And this is why!
“I shouldn’t really tell you this, but my son is gay and he has HIV.” She continues to talk, trying to sooth me and let me know she understands. My consciousness fades in and out of the room. I won’t be able to teach. I won’t be able to work with kids. I’ll have to take medicine all the time. Everyone will know. I’ll die. My family will know.
She draws my blood and labels it. “We will get this test back in a week. Even if it comes back negative, we’ll still have to test again in two months since it may not show up yet.”
I won’t tell my family. Not until I am too sick to hide it. They don’t need this worry. This shame. I knew I was going to get this.
“Are you going to tell your boyfriend? It would be a good idea for him get tested.”
“Yeah, I’ll tell him. If he doesn’t have it, then I know that I don’t have it. He’s the only one I’ve been with in a year in a half.”
“If you need anything tonight, call here. We have a counseling line. If you need it, you can even get in contact with me. Her kindness is genuine. I can sense that. I don’t want it. I don’t want to need it. I am destined for great things. Everyone has always said that. This will ruin it all.
I slide off the chair and find myself in the driver’s seat of my car. How did I get to this point in my life? I turn the engine over and put the car in reverse. I slam it back into park. I break down in the parking lot of the hospital. Life as I know it is over. After I get my emotions back into control, I call Carlos. “Hey, it’s me. Can you meet me at home? I am skipping school tonight. We need talk.”
I am not sure how I’m going to tell Carols. How do you tell someone they probably have a terminal disease? Well, shit, I just got told. Learn from example.
He’s already home when I get there. He’s on the couch watching TV. When I come in, he turns the TV off and turns towards me. He knows something’s wrong. Of course he does, I didn’t really prep him for exciting news.
I sit down on the couch next to him. I look in his eyes. I have no idea what he will do. “I went to get my strep throat checked out today. My doctor said I don’t have it. I want you to remember that I’ve never cheated on you, even though you always think I have, I haven’t.” Deep breath. “She said that I’m displaying all the signs of HIV and seems to think that’s what is going on. Her son has it, so she’s familiar with what it looks like. I got tested before we were together. So, if I have it, you have to have it too, because I would have gotten it from you.”
I was expecting him to fly off the handle. Accuse me of cheating again, call me a whore. He doesn’t. He just sits there, lifeless. It feels like a funeral in our condo. Silent. Still. Dead. We’ve both just been given a death sentence.
“When will we know?” He finally comes back to life.
“She’ll get the test back in a week, but we won’t be sure either way for two more months. What’s your gut feeling on this?”
“It’s not good.”
We sit on the couch, holding hands. Both of us have silent tears running down our faces. I thought I’d be angry at him. I’m not. I’m too scared. He looks at me again, “Well, I guess this means we really will have to stay together. No one else will want us.”
I don’t say anything. I can’t. This thought has crossed my mind too, and I had thrown it out already. I would rather be alone than be with anyone because we are both sick.
We sit together in a daze for hours. I pretend to eat dinner and watch TV. Neither of us wants to be alone. We sleep in my bed together that night. We held each other. We were a million miles apart. “I am going to the free STD clinic tomorrow. They can test me and we can find out in fifteen minutes. We’ll still have to wait two more months, but at least we can get the first part over with. Will you come with me?”
“Yeah, I will.”
It was a long, slow, painful night.
The next day, we went to the clinic. We sat in the waiting room surrounded by people who were dirty, obviously high, obviously diseased, and others who resembled us. Some were gay, most were straight. Finally, they called me in and I got tested.
I meet Carlos outside on a bench by the clinic. He looks up at me. “Well?”
“They said that it came back negative, which is good. We still have to wait two more months. I could have it and it just isn’t showing up yet.”
He nods his head. Neither one of us is really relieved or feels any better. Just because the test came back fine didn’t take away all my symptoms that I was displaying. Or mean it wouldn’t show up in two more months.
“Would you please do me a favor?” I reach for his hands. “Would you go in and get tested. They said they’d make time for you today. We can get rid of the worry. If you have it, it would already show up and we would know that I have it. If you don’t, then there is no way I have it, so we could be done with it.” I feel relief. Why had I not thought of this before? Even if I have it, I will know. I am going crazy not knowing.
“No.” He shakes his head. “I can’t do it. I don’t want to. I don’t want to know. This scares me too much.”
“What?” I was dumbfounded. “We can get this over with right now. It only takes fifteen minutes. Then we can get on with our lives, either way. Please.”
“Carlos! Please take the test. If not for you, then do it for me. I can’t live like this for two more months, not knowing. Please.”
“I said no. It is not fair for you to ask. Quit being selfish and only thinking of yourself. You might want to know, but I don’t!”
“Either way you’re going to know. I’ll tell you in two months. Let’s just get it over with. Don’t make me go through this for so long!”
“You are the most selfish asshole!” He storms off to the car.
The next two months were consumed by terror. I begged Carlos several more times to take the test. I didn’t tell anyone, which is very unusual for me. The first thing I do when drama happens is to call one of my friends. I didn’t want to scare anyone and have to make them wait. I didn’t want them to look at me like I was dying or treat me differently. I knew I had it. From the minute the doctor asked if I slept with men, I knew I had it. This is what happens to gay men. My doctor said I had all the symptoms. I was just waiting to hear that I was dying. I began to play with ideas of what I could do for work when I got the news. I would drop out of massage school for starters and then find other employment that did not involve kids. Maybe I could go around and speak about AIDS and sexual disease prevention.
Two months passed and it felt like two years of my life. The test finally came back negative. I didn’t have HIV. I didn’t believe it for awhile.
Then I cried.
Carlos and I stayed together for six more months, but I never had sex with him again. I know he was afraid, and I know he was hurting. He also knew what misery I was in for two months. He could’ve spared me every minute of that. He didn’t. He sat back and let me plan my death because he was afraid. I may not deserve someone who loves me like they do in the movies, but I knew I deserved someone who would at least try to alleviate my suffering when it was in their power to do so—required no effort on their part to do so. And if I didn’t deserve someone like that, I would be alone.
We didn’t talk about condoms or STD’s in my small Missouri town of three thousand Bible-belt souls, there was a brief discussion on it during my sophomore year, all I remember is a game where all of us ended up with an STD and died. I knew that if you have sex outside of marriage or with people of your same sex that you would get pregnant or get some kind of sickness that would announce to the world that you were perverted and people should keep their distance. I had heard of condoms and birth-control pills, but I knew if you were living how you should, you wouldn’t need such things.
(Back to now)
Next month will be about PrEP, but how you’ll have an insight on what living in fear of HIV can be like (and that was only two months). Now go read something happy, or eat some cake.
Love ya! b
About Brandon WittBrandon Witt resides in Denver, Colorado. When not snuggled on the couch with his two Corgis, Dunkyn and Dolan, he is more than likely in front of his computer, nose inches from the screen, fingers pounding they keys. When he manages to tear himself away from his writing addiction, he passionately takes on the role of a special education teacher during the daylight hours.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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