I consider myself a fairly-educated person on HIV/AIDS, risks, and the importance of regular tests. I was involved in a 2-year study (Project T), that was looking for a preventative drug for negative men. I was tested every 3 months during that study and I learned a lot about myself and HIV. I developed healthier habits and tried to help others in my life understand how important safe sex is and regular testing.
Three months after the study ended, I was tested in a free clinic in NYC. Results came back negative. That was March of 2008. For a variety of (stupid) reasons, I didn't get tested again until Saturday, June 20th, 2009.
On that Saturday, I was listening to a guest speaker from Harlem United talk about safe sex in 2009, HIV/AIDS, and about the testing that was available for us that day. Most of it I already knew, but some of it was new to me. After, we were encouraged to go get tested... and since I hadn't been tested in over a year, I was really excited.
I honestly thought the lady was mistaken when she whispered to me, "It came back positive." I told her she hadn't even tested me yet, forgetting that the first thing she did was prick my finger to take my blood. I was in 100% shock. Don't get me wrong, I have had doubts before when being tested, but I thought that I had been so careful and "good" since my last test that it was impossible. I asked her if she was going to test me again to make sure.
We did an oral swab. While I was waiting, she asked, "You really didn't know?" I have no idea why this lady thought I would know. Since I was with a group of friends, I figured she must have thought I was only "pretending" to get tested so my friends wouldn't figure it out. But that worried me more. Did I "look" like I was positive? So many thoughts went through my head. Given the scene - we were upstairs in a church, sitting in what seemed like a preschool of some sort, one somewhat long table where people were being tested on either end - there was little we could really say without being too obvious.
She looked at the results of the oral test and said it was hard to see. She thought it looked reactive as well, but called over to the other guy to come look. All I could think was, "God, could this be any more obvious?" There was no door where we were, so my friends were standing in the next room talking. I couldn't bring myself to turn around to see if they were watching what was happening.
The guy stopped what he was doing (he was in the middle of talking to my teammate who was getting tested on the other side of the table) to come over. She asked him in Spanish to look at it and say what he thought. She told him it was the second test, that it was the oral swab and the first one came back reactive. He was moving around to try to get better light, commenting on how poor the lighting was in that room. It was agonizing. In some ways, I thought that the first test was wrong and this was going to show it. It just all seemed like a mistake.
He finally stopped moving around and just nodded his head. She showed me both. I still thought it was a mistake.
I just wanted to hurry out of there since my friends were behind me waiting for me. We still had to do one more test for the confirmatory test. This one was going to go to the lab. She grabbed the package from the middle of the table and started telling me about that test and about some of the services Harlem United offered. I was barely listening and was just so nervous. I did the test, she gave me a paper, and then I walked out.
"What took so long," everyone asked. Since she had messed up on my friend TA right before me, I just blamed it on her messing up again. We made a few jokes and then left.
I texted my best friend, DM. I knew he was away, but wasn't sure what time he would be home. I needed to tell him right away. He said he was about 1.5 hours away from NYC. I said I needed to talk to him, that it was important. When he asked if it was bad, I tried to downplay it because I didn't want him to worry the whole trip back.
I exited the subway with TA and CG. We had decided we would watch some TV to pass some time. We got some lunch and went back to TA's. I knew I needed to keep myself distracted as much as possible until DM got home.
For the most part, I kept myself distracted enough to not breakdown. DM got home and I went over. I think I just blurted it out when I got to his couch. It was the first time I was actually saying it and I didn't know how to tell him. I cried a little and he held me. We talked through things. I was in limbo between denial and absolute fear. All I could think about was a slow, miserable death. He helped me calm down and reminded me how things have changed in the last few years.
I wanted to tell DM first for a reason. He has been my friend for over 10 years and through all the crazy shit in my life, he stuck around. He also is one of the most grounded people I know and I knew he would be able to handle the news without getting emotional. Which I knew I needed. I couldn't tell someone who was going to make me worry more. He also knows me very well.
We talked for a few hours. Mainly about how I was feeling, what was I thinking, what was I going to do. And then I think we both got tired of that. He offered to tell me about his day and the kayaking. It was nice to get my mind on something else for a bit. Luckily he had a good, funny story to tell.
I had a very busy weekend planned. We talked about what I should do - still go out or stay at home. He wasn't originally going out with us that night, but he offered to go with if I needed him there. I figured it was a good idea for me to try staying distracted as much as possible. If I wasn't feeling up to being around people, DM told me to say I felt sick. With diarrhea. "It always works," he said. This is why he's my best friend.
I went out that night and actually had a good time. My friend is moving to Nashville and, since he loves country, we went to Big Apple Ranch for some two-stepping and line dancing. Although I was thinking about it at almost every minute, it seemed less scary when I was there. I think it was because that place was so carefree. It made me want to leave New York for some small town. I was thinking that it would be easier for me to not have to ever deal with people if I lived in a small enough town.
We went out to another bar after that. Watching all my friends dance around so carefree became unsettling. I just couldn't be around it any more that night. Luckily, we were across the street from my apartment. I said I was tired and went home.
My first day learning that I was living with a virus inside of me. That something inside my body was going to work against me for the rest of my life. That is something so difficult to understand and take in. I had hoped that it was all a weird, long dream. That I would wake up on Sunday and none of this would have been real.
Unfortunately, this is real and I have to learn how to live a new life.