The Uninvited Guest
A Survivor’s Reflections on World AIDS Day 2019
by Hank Trout
he first World AIDS Day was observed on December 1, 1988.
Less than a year later, in July 1989, after I awoke one morning with my right eye swollen shut and cysts covering my torso, my doctor informed me that I had just joined the community of millions of people worldwide carrying the virus that had already killed hundreds of thousands.
This virus, this uninvited guest arrived without notice or fanfare, looked around inside me, decided it liked what it saw, dropped all of its heavy bags, and took up residence in the blood coursing through my body. It arrived brandishing a death certificate with my name on it, just waiting for the appropriate date to be filled in, and planted it like a flag in the front yard for all to see. With its insatiable appetite, the virus began gnawing away on the muscles and bones, the foundation and the struts in my body, and with its appetite for destruction, wrecking every room it visited inside me, breaking everything in sight, attempting to demolish its ungracious host.
Thirty years and some months after it moved in, this uninvited guest has still not left. For thirty years I have tried to evict this unwanted tenant from my body——I have talked to it, reasoned with it and pleaded with it, begging it to leave while there is still some part of this old facade left standing; I have swallowed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of toxic chemicals hoping to power-wash the virus out of my body; I have filled bathtubs with tears, hoping to submerge the guest’s ugly head and drown it.
And still it hangs around. In the thirty years since it broke-and-entered my body, the virus seems to have declared “squatters’ rights” and planned to stick around until the building falls. Although doctors can no longer find the virus in my body, they know it is still there from the trail of rubbish and detritus it leaves behind it in my blood. Doctors and researchers tell me the virus is now hiding in unlit rooms and corridors, in the darkened spaces inside me where they cannot reach it to kill it.
And lately, that uninvited guest has been waving that death certificate under my nose again and again to remind me that the final payment on the mortgage is coming due any day now. I’ve come to fear that the virus will cause the entire structure, from foundation to rafters, to collapse before some great exterminator arrives with the proper tools and chemicals to eradicate it.
Abandoning this metaphor for just a moment…
On this thirty-first World AIDS Day I am more mindful of my own mortality than I have been since the earliest days of the Plague. Perhaps that is because 2019 has been so unkind to me, rougher on me than any of the other years that I have lived with HIV. Perhaps it’s because I lost yet another few friends to AIDS complications this year. Or maybe it’s simply because I’m unexpectedly getting old. I will be sixty-seven years old just thirty days after World AIDS Day 2019, and I could be one of many poster boys for all the debilitating, painful, depressing, humiliating effects of aging with HIV. So, while I certainly don’t hope for this, I am prepared for this to be my last World AIDS Day, if that happens.
In the meantime, this old ramshackle house needs a lot of reconstructive work! I want so desperately to rid this house of the vermin virus that has squatted here for so long. But I cannot help remembering an old lyric by Rosemary Clooney:
This old house once rang with laughter
This old house heard many shouts
Now it trembles in the darkness
When the lightning walks about…
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more
Ain’t got time to fix the shingles
Ain’t got time to fix the floor
I ain’t got time to oil the hinges
Nor to mend the windowpane
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
I’m a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints.
Well, I’ve never believed in “saints” (except for Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Kramer), so I guess I’ll just have to attempt all the home improvement I can manage. And if this uninvited guest gets in the way of my taking back my house, I’ll just bulldoze the sucker, raze it the ground. Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more.
Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his husband Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.