Michel was angry. No, angry didn’t do it justice, and before he realized just how upset he was, the vase shot across the room, crashing against the wall, leaving a pool of water, broken flowers, and a thousand pieces of glass strewn over the floor underneath a wet stain on the wallpaper.
“Michel! What’s wrong?” Haakon flew up from the couch, dropping the book he’d been reading.
Michel fell to his knees, sobbing. “I’m fucking dying, that’s what’s wrong. For every day that passes, for every breath I take, I’m closer to my death, and I haven’t even lived my life yet.” Even to his own ears, his wailing sounded like that of a wounded animal. “What do I have to show for it, huh? In terms of a life? A closeted upbringing, sexual abuse in every sense of the word, no education, no accomplishments. Once I am gone, I’ll not be remembered by anybody.”
“That’s not true. I’ll always remember you. I’ll always love you.”
“Oh, fuck off, Haakon. You know what I mean. What have I ever done with my life? Nothing! Zero, zilch.” Michel’s anguish turned to anger. “How long have we known each other? A couple of months? Do you really know me? Do I know you? It’s not like we’re engaged or anything. You’re just another one-night stand in my never-ending stream of bad decisions.” Michel knew that one of the many men he’d encountered over the years must’ve infected him, and chances were that he’d passed it on to others as well, beyond Haakon. He didn’t want to think about that.
To really, and fully, accept that piece of information would’ve broken his heart all over again.
“Now you’re not being fair. I’m here, am I not?” Haakon had unexpectedly raised his voice to match Michel’s. This was a fight Haakon wasn’t backing away from. It was their first.
Michel looked up in surprise. There was something in his boyfriend’s eyes that he couldn’t quite pinpoint, but it made him reconsider what he’d intended to say. All he could muster was, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t direct my anger at you. It’s not your fault after all. It’s just so frustrating. Dying, you know?”
“No, I don’t know. Not yet anyway! I’m still waiting for the results of my test. So who knows?” Haakon added with emphasis, “Maybe we’ll be together again before you know it.”
Michel stared at Haakon blankly, having nothing left to say. He didn’t know if Haakon was accusing him of murder, simply stating the truth, or in fact, trying to console him. Whichever it was, Haakon seemed to get that he’d not been very clear.
“Look, I know you don’t believe in any life beyond this one, I just…” He didn’t say anything else either. Instead, he crossed the distance to Michel, sat down next to him, and held him as Michel began to cry again, letting out the sorrow over his all too short life.
The coming weeks were difficult. Michel’s general condition deteriorated from day to day, as his body was attacked and ravaged by any and all infections in his vicinity. But he fought valiantly for every single moment he had left, relishing the time he got to spend with Haakon, the occasional visits by Gaëlle, and the little things in life, like walks in the neighborhood, a cup of coffee, a croissant, or a hug. Sometimes he managed to venture all the way down to the Seine, sitting on the bench near Notre Dame where he had professed his feelings for Haakon the very first time. It wasn’t far, maybe a twenty-minute walk, but in his condition, it was a stretch.
The results of Haakon’s HIV test had come back, and they were positive, too. I have killed him! But no vases flew across his apartment after they’d received the news. While Haakon had acted bravely and had not shed a single tear at the announcement, for Michel, knowing he had infected Haakon was worse than dying himself.
Had the news been any other, Michel would have wanted to fight on, to stay alive in the hopes of a miracle cure, to be with Haakon for as long as humanly possible. But after the conversation at the hospital with Doctor Blanchard, who coolly insisted on a list of all sexual contacts Haakon may have had since he contracted HIV, Michel resigned himself to his death. Why fight on? Why struggle? What for? To see Haakon get sick? To see him develop sarcomas? Get pneumonia? Never-ending diarrhea? Skin feeling like parchment? To feel pain in every part of his body? No, Michel was done. He wouldn’t witness a death he had caused, not Haakon’s death. He couldn’t.
That was the day Michel stopped fighting his AIDS.
By the end of the month, he felt so bad that the hospital demanded to readmit him. But Michel had no trust left, and despite Doctor Blanchard’s insistence, he refused to go back. Haakon supported him, knowing that Michel was too stubborn to give in. Michel felt miserable putting Haakon through the extra pressure of caring for someone as sick as he was. Yet Haakon never complained, not once.
The man was a miracle, and he was his. Michel had killed him, even though the bullet would reach its target months or years after he himself had passed away, his corpse rotting somewhere in an anonymous grave. For the first time in his life, Michel had something he truly cherished, someone he’d have given his life to save, and instead, he’d take Haakon with him. There was just no way he could live with that. He wouldn’t have to for very long. The guilt ate away at his soul as fast as the virus ravaged his body.”