These Days

Death, dying, and no longer HIV

by Corey Saucier

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Beep beep beep.

I am a six year old crying in the corner. There is a nurse with eight arms and six hands; all moving faster than they should….

Beep beep beep.

There are nine or sixteen or 302 clear plastic cords; two bags of blood; three bags of antibiotics; one bag of saline; a feeding tube and a breathing machine. And I am pretty sure I am watching my mother die.

I think I’m going to vomit.

Beep beep beep.

I am wearing a Superman cape trying to be brave. But I am also sucking my thumb, picking fights with the hospital chaplain, and popping morphine pills two at a time: anything to distract me from this moment. This hour. This week.

It’s been a really bad last few months.

Beep beep beep.

The last few months have been me and my mother in a one-bedroom apartment with diapers and bed pads, and me preparing meals, and me complaining about preparing meals, and me and her arguing about me complaining about preparing meals, and me watching her get worse and worse and worse until I am calling 911 every two days because I really don’t know what else to do…. And she is too thin, and too swollen, and too pale, and too old to be my young beautiful hard-ass mother. This is not my mother! And yet it is.

I think I’m going to vomit.

And I am haunted by what it must have been like in the late eighties to care for our brothers as this blood-borne disease turned them into something we could not recognize. Eighteen years ago when I was first diagnosed and I was twenty-something and blond, this is the end I was prepared for….

In the Bible a beautiful green-eyed Mary with skin the color of butter and wheat finds her once magic and charismatic son in a stone room, dead and bruised and swollen and purple. It is three days after the soul has left his body. And she shows up dressed in silk chiffon earth tones: greens and browns and mid-summer yellows…. And she begins to wipe the feet of her son, to prepare the body of her first born, so that he will be buried with dignity. And this is how I always saw my death. Poignant and beautiful where white doves are released in slow motion against a distant pink skyline.

HIV was supposed to take me first. And I was okay with that; for my story would be epic and meaningful and timeless….

But something has gone horribly wrong. And the doctors keep asking for my consent to do stranger and stranger things to the woman who is not my mother lying in that cold white hospital bed.

Beep beep beep.

My tears are the river Jordan, and I am being drowned; because I just can’t catch my breath.

It turns out that diabetes is far more dangerous than HIV these days.

And for my brothers and sisters and non-binary family who are sitting in a free clinic downtown—two minutes from getting their first HIV-positive diagnosis—for them that is the good news…. That is what we have been waiting for.

But for my mother with the fierce fighting spirit, face as pretty as any Greek goddess, and an unending taste for jelly beans, it means that suddenly I am not the sickest person in the room…. And the universe has turned on its axis.

Beep beep beep.

And SHE is bloated and bruised and purple. And I am rubbing the hair from her forehead, and telling her I love her, and asking the hospital chaplain for holy water so that I can wash her feet….

And praying that somewhere in the distance white doves are being released.

And telling her I love her.

Beep beep beep.

And making sure that she is buried with dignity.

Beep beep.

And telling her I love her.

Because diabetes is more dangerous than HIV these days.

Beep.

I think I’m going to vomit.


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.