This is the truth. I’m still terrified of dying of AIDS. I’ve been HIV-positive for fifteen years. And over those fifteen revolutions around the sun, there have been phenomenal leaps in research: There is the magical “one-pill-a-day” treatment, the new science that defines “undetectable viral load” as the promise of a non-infectious generation of HIV-positive people, and the “just-around-the-corner” miracle of a cure. A cure!! These are the glorious beacons of white light that warm our hearts, paste the pages of pharmaceutical adds, and these are the stories that we tell the newly infected after getting their first positive results…
“It’s all going to be all right.” We say.
“If you get into treatment and take your meds the way you are supposed to you can live a long and fulfilling normal life.” We soothe.
“HIV isn’t the death sentence it used to be.” We shout into the faces of anyone who will listen.
But when I’m in bed alone with a 103-degree fever, chills, and a rib-shattering cough deep in my chest, I mostly stare at the ceiling praying that the big bad AIDS monster is not finally coming to drag me screaming into a sad sad oblivion. I know I’m not supposed to say it out loud, but even thirty years after the “bad days,” with the best drugs on the market, in the land of milk and honey—with my pretty blue eyes and my proud activist mentality—every time I get a slight cough, I wonder if this is the one that is going to take me out.
Last month there was a blip in my viral load. This means that for the first time in many years, I am no longer the lauded gold standard. There are higher than 50 counts of virus per milliliter in my blood. I am not undetectable. My doctor is a short, bright-eyed, curly haired, talkative lady who I’m pretty sure is going through menopause. She comes in to the office with her bubble gum personality and her clipboard, and she reads me my results. She explains that it’s not that big of a deal, and that everything is going to be all right, and that anything below 200 is still within the “standard for undetectable” and that we will change my meds and go from there. She sees the white in my eyes, and hears that I am breathing heavy, so she holds my hand and repeats: “This is normal. It happens all the time. You are going to be fine. REALLY don’t worry about it.”
But what else is she going to say: “This is terrible; you are going to die! Go home. Freak out! And if you are still alive, I’ll see you in three months.” She’s not allowed to say that out loud.
So I go home and try not to worry about it.
But this last week I haven’t been feeling well….
Yesterday I had a date with a beautiful black “muscle bear” with kind eyes and a master’s degree in business that I met a couple of weeks ago while at the dentist….So we are at dinner at “Tinder Greens” in Hollywood on our first date. And I’m trying to me cute, and make a good impression, because he’s a top; and I like tops. But I have this little tickle of a cough. And I have to keep saying excuse me every few minutes.
Cough. “Excuse me.” Cough. “Excuse me.”
And we are talking about where we were raised, and the intersections of race and class and how that affects our participation in the queer community, and a couple of sentences about our exes, and about how one in three gay black men are HIV-positive….
Cough. “Excuse me.”
And I blame the cough on hitting the gym a little too hard this week. And I apologize, because for some reason we always feel the need to apologize for our illnesses.
And I tell him how handsome I think he is, because black men are beautiful.
But I want to tell him that I suspect that my HIV meds are no longer working, and that perhaps the cavity in my tooth has caused an infection that is now running rapid in my body, and that if I don’t go to the emergency room soon I’m probably going to die. But you can’t say that out loud.
So we cut the date early and I head home. And today I wake up fully and completely sick. I have a fever, and chills, and there is phlegm everywhere. And it’s Sunday morning so I can’t call the doctor. So I just stare at the ceiling and wait for the AIDS monster to take me.
And as my final act I go onto Facebook to tell the world: “Goodbye. I’m dying of AIDS.”
But on my wall I see that a few of my friends are also sick—which means that there is probably just something going around. Which makes me so happy!
I want to scream. “Hurray! I’m so happy you bastards are also sick! Because that means I’m not dying of AIDS!!” But you can’t really say that out loud.
Corey Saucier is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. He is a Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction and Non-Fiction and is currently penning his first novel. His musings and wanderings on Love, Life, and Nonsense can be found at www.justwords.tumblr.com.