11.11.11.: My War Began That Day

My war began that day
by Nigel Bray

What does that mean to most of us? Armistice, probably. The end of slaughter. Our boys, the ones that were left, coming home with varying amounts of limbs but still coming home. The memory of war. Poppies. Everyone in black. Mourning. Loss. One war ended. Laurence Binyon.

Well, for me, apart from being the old man’s birthday (Oh! The irony!), it was the day, in 2004, I was told I was HIV-positive.

11.11.11. 2004. My war began that day.

Mr. Lucky was, it seems, shit outta luck.

Let me take you back….

1980. Met Rod. Faithful(ish). Met Ken. Faithful. Moved back home to Cornwall. Met David. Faithful (apart from a couple of mutual wanks here and there) for eighteen years. So I know, having met Rod since, he was not infected. Ken is alive and well, and although I don’t know his status, I do know, that as a very scared ex-Jehovah’s Witness, I was the first person he’d fucked. And David, as it turns out is one of the blessed few that carries the gene which prevents HIV. Therefore, this puts the date of my infection somewhere before 1980, those few months of glorious sex, when I was putting myself about a bit. It MUST’VE been then. The freedom, you see—I was able to be me, a gay man, a walking erection, a thirst for identity. But oh, what bad luck was mine—AIDS, as it was, all lilies, falling tombstones and BIG CAPITAL LETTERS, was barely in the country then, or at least not amongst the people I knew. Clearly, I was wrong.

Looking back through wiser eyes, I know now that I was POZ—look at those three letters, standing out from the crowd, with no other meaning!—for TWENTY-FOUR years, without knowing, having unprotected sex with David (lucky for CCR5, eh?). POZ when I lived in Leytonstone, POZ when I lived in Walthamstow, POZ when I lived in Bodmin for seventeen years, POZ when I was in Hungary, POZ when I was in Germany, POZ while I was teaching…who knew eh? I didn’t, that’s for sure.

So, you can imagine my horror that morning on Armistice Day 2004 when the kind nurse said, “We’ve got your results…and I’m afraid to tell you that they’re positive….”

“HA!” I hear you cry! “What did you expect? We’ve read about your shenanigans! We know you were shagging in woods/cubicles/cars/junkshops/stranger’s beds… what did you expect? No more than you deserve, I say…”

But, no. Nobody deserves this. Not the sexually active, not the queers or the hetties, not the mainliners, not the whores, not the unwilling wives of African men, not the hemophiliacs, not the trauma victims needing blood. Nobody DESERVES it. Like cancer, it has no heart or soul, no freedom of will. It is just a bitty virus that some folks get—and yes, even straight ones—and their life choices or otherwise are irrelevant. It takes one needle from thousands; one fuck amongst many. You throw your hat in the ring and hope. Could’ve been a bus. At least you wouldn’t have judged me then, eh? Just be nice, eh? It’s hard enough as it is without you thinking I’m bad.

There then followed a thousand-year silence…funny that…not much earlier I’d been having a minute’s silence for my fallen ancestors…. I don’t remember much about it actually, other than saying, “But that’s impossible. You must be wrong.” in a very tiny voice, but knowing, judging by the looks of concern from the ring of nurses looking down on me, that they weren’t. But how? HOW? I hadn’t had sex with anyone else for seventeen years, and yet, and yet…I’d been feeling pretty shitty on and off for quite a while. Nothing definable, just a bit verk, a bit unwell, proper poorly. Looking back at my old passport photo, which I’d had to have for Hungary, I can see, now, a ghostly pallor, a kind of sickness…nothing obvious, just…well, as I said, verk. Unknown to me of course, the virus was multiplying and killing me softly, with its deadly song. Apparently, as I found out later, I was a “long-term progressor,” which means I had been infected long ago but the virus had been dormant for years and years. Why it begins its march toward victory and death is not known, but for me it was my salvation. Had I “converted” earlier, joined the church of the dying and the damned, I would have been given AZT which would have killed me sooner. As it was 2004 by now, the treatment and medication were exponentially improved and so, I was saved from the horror of cancers, blindness, dementia and death. For now, anyway.

Nigel Bray is an Englishman, writer and actor. Long-term survivor. Boyfriend, fiancée, now husband, and eloper to France, where he now lives in peace and love, with wine and cheese, his man and his dog. Visit his website at: www.mrlucky-1956.com. E-mail Nigel at [email protected].