Six months after my one-night-stand with James in the back seat of his car I started getting sick. My family assumed I had nothing more than a bad case of the flu. The lymph-nodes in my neck had swollen to the size of golf balls, my core body temperature kept rising to 100º or higher and everything I ate came right back up. None of my doctors could figure out why my body wasn’t fighting off the infection they so far hadn’t been able to diagnose.
I laid on a gurney in the ER of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, an IV in my arm pumping fluids into my veins, fading in and out of consciousness. Around me were beeping machines connected to my body by countless wires. Day and night phones were ringing at the nurse’s station. Slip-proof shoes were squeaking on the linoleum floors as crash carts pushed by nurses and interns went rolling by. These were the sounds of another typical night in the ER. In the ER the one word you would never want to call any night is “quiet.” Then all hell would break loose as one trauma after another came rushing through the trauma bay doors. In my mind it became quiet, calm, as Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor played on my iPod. I find that piece of music to be soothing, comforting. It brings serenity in the midst of chaos. Nurses, interns, residents, fellows and attendants continued going about their business in perfect time with the music.
The attending physician, tapping my shoulder and motioning for me to remove my headphones, said, “For starters you’re pretty dehydrated and your body isn’t fighting infection the same way it used to. We figured out what’s causing this. You’re HIV-Positive. The good white blood cells that fight infections are being attacked and destroyed by the bad cells carrying the HIV Virus.”
He then proceeded with asking me his routine laundry list of questions. “Have you been in a sexual relationship with anyone? How long ago were you sexually active together? Did you use condoms while having sex?”
As I heard his questions I gave curt, honest answers but the truth of the situation wasn’t sinking in. Tears slowly began to trickle down my cheek, banging my head into my pillow I tried to numb myself out from the sheer rage taking over my body, eyes staring directly at the florescent lights in the ceiling.
I started thinking back to that night six months ago and couldn’t remember if James had worn a condom while he pushed and pulled himself in and out of me. I remembered it hurting; my hands gripping the black leather interior of the ’67 Impala, his warm breath on my ear with each exhale from his perfect lips. He whispered to me that the pain is part of it and I would always remember him being my first. He would always be there no matter whom else I was with. He groaned as he came before collapsing on top of me, his dick still inside of me. I knew it was him: he was the only person I had ever been in a sexual relationship with, that he is the only person I could have possibly contracted the virus from.
To this day I’m not sure if James knows he is positive or if he is still out running around having unprotected sex with a new person every night of the week. That would just be so very fucking typical of him. Granted he did earn the nickname ‘Brian Kinney’ because of his fuck the world attitude. How fucking stupid must he be to act so carelessly, recklessly, abandoning and disregarding all respect for human life? Even though we had never officially been a couple or an item- I hate him for using me as another piece of ass. I didn’t give him the permission to brag about how great of a submissive bottom I was that night at the bars. That fucking bastard used me and didn't even think of trying to protect me. He didn’t think about trying to protect himself. I’m not certain which of those two upsets me the most.
One week after being admitted into the hospital and diagnosed with HIV-related Pneumonia I was discharged and sent home. My prognosis had been deemed stable under the conditions I take all of my medications on time every day and show up for tri-monthly check-ups. The Doc reassured me HIV isn’t the death sentence it used to be in the '80s. I now have to take care of myself on my own. A new daily schedule of pills was given to me: three when I wake up and before going to sleep. The hardest part of this routine is remembering to take the pills. It comes from a place of questioning whether the side effects outweigh the benefits of the drugs. Feel shitty and live a longer life or feel relatively “normal” but live a shorter life.
There wouldn’t be anyone around to take care of me as the side effects hit my body in waves. There would be no one to rub my back as I’m bent over the toilet praying to the porcelain gods. I’d have to crawl off my futon to get a ginger ale from the refrigerator to calm my nausea on my own. I wouldn’t have someone to put a damp washcloth on my forehead after running to the bathroom all night. At the very least it was an upside that I didn’t need anyone to wipe my ass for me. The worst part of it all is not having someone there to hold me as I fall asleep when my entire body is sore and aching after being sick all night.
For several days after arriving home I sat on my futon in my studio apartment watching TV and playing video games. I had no one to keep me company or drag me out of my apartment. Nor did I really have the energy to go out and do anything. I never knew when I would be shitting my pants or puking as I adjusted to the medication. It was lonely not having anyone around during the hardest time in my life. It wasn’t that I was depressed; it was that I felt angry, betrayed, and as if part of my life had ended. Having to face the people in my life and confess my illness to them became a tedious, dark idea inside of my mind. It wasn’t that my family didn’t want to support me; it was that they didn’t know. I had made the decision to not tell them and now I would have to live with it.
On a Friday afternoon as I was in the middle of killing some zombies in the newest Call of Duty game my mate Mason showed up and forced me out into the world. Mason had been diagnosed as Positive a year ago. The day he found out his diagnosis was the day I met him. We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend at a meeting of our LGBTQ student group on campus. I can still remember his eyes being red and puffy from crying, his shaggy blonde hair not being in perfect place as it usually was.
The afternoon Mason came over to drag me out of my self-pity party he wanted to show me a new way of living despite the fact I had been diagnosed with a disease that has no known cure. I have always admired how he goes about life. Nothing could ever touch him and his good looks always got him what he wanted. It’s sometimes amazing how far being blonde- haired, blue eyed, and having a great ass can get you.
In my past I was unable to hold down a "grown up" job for more than a few months at a time. I tended to rely on my parents to dip into my trust fund and pay for my studio and college tuition. Being indoors wearing a suit from 9-5 just wasn't for me.
From the day I stepped into the loft apartment studio looking out over Lake Shore Drive that Mason took me to, I was hooked. The apartment was nearly empty with the exception of a king size bed with an iron rod headboard near the windows. The kitchen was modern, all new steel appliances and black marble countertops. You could smell the antiseptic cleanliness of the place. It’s atmosphere felt intoxicating and soothing. No matter which direction I looked there were hot, stereotypical twink type boys standing around in nothing but their shorts.
Mason had introduced me into the world of getting paid to have sex. I knew this would provide a means to independently support myself and start to move on with my life post-diagnosis. It was fast, easy, non-reportable income. This new gig seemed as though it would be right up my alley. Working for an adult film and escorting company that only hires Positive men became my home.
From my first shoot a week after meeting the production team and cast members I felt like a member of the tight knit family. Your family doesn’t always have to be the one you were born into. Your family can be the people you choose to spend your time with.
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Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice