There, and Back Again
Reconsidering the journey between that day and now
by Nigel Bray
So. There we are then. The 11th day of the 11th month, at precisely 11. a.m.. a day of remembrance, that’s for sure. Armistice, when peace was to blanket the land. Not for me, though. Not my day.
I look back at this moment, this moment in which my past, present and future all imploded, somewhat fragmentedly now, some fifteen years ago, in the way that you stare through the windscreen of the crashing car: in slo-mo, turning, giddy, lost, seeing the mouths opposite, telling me this life-changing news, opening and closing, soundlessly, and their words blurred and in stretched out syllables, the “last syllables of recorded time”….
I know I am not unique, that my Moment has been echoed over and over in clinics, hospitals and doctor’s exam rooms the world over; some of us survivors, some not. I also understand that I am blessed to be able to write this. I was diagnosed in 2004, but infected before 1988, and so I am able to breathe, bless my luck (and my caregivers) and reconsider the years in between now and that day.
I was sick, oh so sick, having been deteriorating for years, silently, unknown to me, or anyone around me. I had been positive for more than half my life and knew nothing of this..this…thing….and I know how often this happens, and how profound the shock is. Some recover from it, some do not; some die, some do not. I have lost and lost, as have all of you, reading this. Our brotherhood of grief, and our brotherhood of gratitude.
The next few moments….minutes?….hours?…passed in a fuzzy kind of reality, where things were done to me, things I didn’t understand, but accepted dumbly. Nicky, my savior, and since, dear friend, though we see each other rarely, said that day, “I know this must be a shock, but we can get you on the right drugs and soon you’ll be saying to yourself—I have hazel eyes, I have size 8 feet. Oh and I have HIV. It will become that normal.” I just stared at her. How could it ever become normal? “Your CD4 (what’s that?) is 38, a bit low, but we’ll soon sort you out…..”
Bollocks, bollocks, BOLLOCKS—this was not in the plan….
And she did, and they did. My terror, my shame, my horror of what was to come slowly, oh so slowly, dissipated and I recovered. Bit by bit, illness by illness, small victory by small victory, and the fate that had befallen so many of my fellow travellers, those long lost souls, passed me by…..
The question of disclosure has conflicted me for many years now. When my diagnosis had been confirmed, I also shortly after that, had a misdiagnosis of cancer, which became a convenient mask to hide behind, an excuse, and a way to comfort my friends, who all knew I was sick but they now had a respectable label on which to hang the sorrow they all felt. CHEMO! YAY! THE DRUGS DO WORK!, they all chorused, relieved that they had to think no further….of course, my true friends were not so easily fooled, and in the fullness of time I confessed 1) that I’d lied, 2) that I actually was HIV-positive, (which somehow seems easier to say than “I’ve got HIV.” I wonder why that is?) and 3) that I was a crap friend. Mostly I got a bollocking for all three crimes, which, looking back now, from the safety of years, was fully justified in each case.
The years between now and then have been kind. I had a few terrible months, or maybe years, in a toxic relationship which I have absolutely no doubt, hampered my return to full mental health, back to the light, and society, from which I had been so ferociously snatched that Armistice day, 2004. My eyes are hazel, I do have size 8 feet and I do have HIV. I can change none of these things, and, apart from the 3rd one, I don’t want to. Of course I would rather not have it; if I could be unfucked, that day in October, 1987, when I was at the funeral of my dead, dear, best friend Chris—I know, I know, but it felt right: it was a funeral fuck, a fuck for the fallen—then of course, I would be. But that of course is undoable. I have learned to put away childish things, defeated the rage, dealt with the fear and the anger, as of course, none of those things are of much help; at first they are; they are tools that help you to push through the weight when such a diagnosis, at least in my own case, threatens to crush you. Now, my drugs are my friends, they help me live and help me forget; my husband picks me up those rare times when I stumble….
ME: “I have the flu! It’s PCP! Oh God! I will die! It’s come back!” (the ghosts still lurk in the shadow; that’s why I always look forward now)
HIM: (Slap) “No you won’t….it’s a cold. Put another jumper on!”
And so, here I am, at least thirty years a host to my lentivirus, well and calm in the Andalusian sun. I know I am one of the lucky ones, and I never forget the fallen and those still fighting, but for me, now, all is just joy, acceptance and gratitude.
Nigel Bray is an Englishman, writer and actor. Long-term survivor. Boyfriend, fiancée, now husband, and eloper to Spain, where he now lives in peace and love, with wine and cheese, his man and his dog. For more information about his memoir, visit his website at: www.mrlucky-1956.com. E-mail Nigel at [email protected].