What If?

What If?
If Wishes Were Horses…
by John Francis Leonard

who, what, when, where, why, how brainstorming or decision making questions – a napkin doodle with a cup of coffee

I don’t hold much faith in nursing regret. Everything that happens in our lives, both good and bad, happens for a reason. There’s a lesson to learn in it all. What we learn, and how we proceed, in the face of adversity is something we do have a choice in, however. I try to count my blessings and always remember that the road is much rougher for some——and in that lies my faith. When wracking my brains for something to write about this month, I had an idea I wanted to explore. What if I wasn’t HIV-positive? I wasn’t comfortable with the idea, at first, I’m HIV positive——end of story. Why bring regret into it? The more I thought about it, however, the more that I wanted to talk about it.

When I look back to the years preceding my diagnosis in 2003, it seemed inevitable. A lifetime of caution had led me to a point where I was taking risks, too many to count. I was single for years and my drug use and partying were prolific, all bets seemed to be off. I got into a serious relationship, but the risks didn’t stop there. Randy and I never used protection from the beginning and often had sex with other couples and protection wasn’t used in those instances, either. We both strayed as well and that sex was never safe. It was a perfect storm. Randy was diagnosed first, which led me to get tested and the results were hardly shocking. Through further testing, my physician was able to narrow down a time frame for my infection and, to Randy’s great relief, I had likely been infected long before I met him, sometime in the late nineties. But what if I had been more careful and had been negative? Our mutual diagnosis was a bond between Randy and I; we had each other to lean on. If I had been negative, I really feel it would have been a strain on an already troubled relationship. Before I was diagnosed, Randy was nothing if not troubled by his own news. It was awkward to say the least.

So, what if? What if I had been negative? I like to think I would have changed my ways. We had already relocated to L.A., where Randy had taken a high-pressure job running the billing arm of a major hospital and its medical groups. The partying had dwindled, but, to be honest, the drug use did continue on occasion. I would really have had to take the lead on eliminating it completely. Randy’s health problems were just beginning. He was diagnosed with a hereditary condition, polycystic kidney disease, as well as hepatitis B. The brutal interferon treatment for his hepatitis sent him into renal failure and eventually he had one kidney removed. I was as supportive as I could be, but my own mental health issues were coming to the fore. Challenges like this will either bring a couple together, or drive them apart and, for us, it was the latter. Even if I had been negative, there would have been plenty of challenges. My HIV became the least of my worries.

But of course, given my druthers, I would prefer to have come out of all that negative. When I think of the hours and money spent on doctors and medications alone! But you see, I still would be dealing with my mental health and all those doctors and medications. What’s a few more? Being HIV-positive has made me stronger, has made me part of an international community of activists and advocates. It’s given me a career I never dreamed of, a career as a writer. It is part and parcel of who I am and what I do. When I lived in New York in the late eighties and early nineties and the city seemed to be a graveyard, when my friends were dying around me, I never felt like I did enough. I no longer have those regrets, I find great joy in my contribution to a cause, a conversation. I’m not thrilled that I’m positive, no, but here I am. What matters is what I do with that now.

So, no, like Edith Piaf sings, ‘Non, je ne regrette rien.’ I’m here, I’m positive, I’m fine with that. Life would be a lot simpler if I wasn’t, but that’s not in the cards I was dealt. So my initial reaction to the idea of this column does hold true, but I’m glad I wrote it. We can’t change the past, we can only move forward. As long as I am alive and as long as I have the privilege of a platform, my own little soapbox, I’ll continue the conversation. Besides, like my Irish grandmother used to often say, ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’


John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.