Living with HIV for the Long Run

What's Done in Darkness by John Francis Leonard

What’s Done in Darkness
Living with HIV for the Long Run
by John Francis Leonard

I no longer care whether or not a prospective partner cares that I’m POZ. There, I said it, and it was sincerely said with great veracity and much weight. The reason why is simple enough on the surface. I am happy on my own. Truly. I’m no longer on a search for Mr. Right, or Mr. Right Now, for that matter. For my physical needs I have a man I love, but don’t answer to. I see him when I see him, and while I wish it were more often, I will not mess up a good thing. I’m accustomed to living on my own, a creature of my own habits. I remember a particular episode of Sex and the City. I believe it was titled Secret Single Behavior. While the ladies were dining out, their discussion turns to the odder habits that they don’t allow others, much less the men in their lives, to see.
Where to begin? They’re not all bad habits, per se, but they’re particularly my own and often quotidian. My routine, while it would inconvenience a potential partner, gives me comfort. I’m in bed early, eight is late, with Anne Cleeves, P.D. James, Lynda LaPlante, et company in hand, and with my cat at my feet in bed, soul and R&B on my Bluetooth. This is after dinner and a bit of my glacial binge-watching (I only watch during meals as of late). I simply can’t enjoy a meal without some television, almost always a British crime procedural. Gone is the nocturnal life on dance floors across the globe. I’m nothing if not predictable in my looming dotage. Then it’s up at two a.m. or so for what started as four- to six-mile high-intensity walks and now is steadily becoming a solid run for the same distance, as a goal and without stopping. These walks and runs in the middle of the night give me strength physically, creatively, and spiritually. I’m countering the long-term symptoms of HIV in, what seems, at times, the fight of my life. As bad as I feel at times, I would be much worse off if I didn’t have this discipline.
That gives me emotional strength and, yes, in turn, the spiritual. Bottom line, I wouldn’t give up that routine for any man I’ve met as of yet. I’m also writing this at five a.m. It’s when I’m most creative. Another part of this process that some might take exception with, I smoke pot beforehand. It works for me, and both enhances the experience and improves my performance. It’s rare that I smoke weed during the daylight hours. It’s not something I like people to see. I begin my walk going to the gas station up the way, and there I catch up and chat with the overnight cashier while I get a coffee. This walk of 1.2 miles warms me up for my workout. One attendant, in particular, has become a good friend. I don’t mind either of the two of them seeing me stoned, and I laugh when they call me ‘stoner John.’ It’s the only drug I do or have done in many years, and I rarely drink other than one when out to dinner.
The list goes on and on. I eat in bed. I’m a bit of a slob. I don’t want to seem obdurate, but yes, I’m set in my ways. Even more meaningful for me is that for these past years, I have been beholden to no man. My happiness is my priority, not someone else’s. What I have is mine. I worked for it. The bald fact is that it always was to a degree. The perception that I was completely dependent on my affluent partner, and yes, I was to a point, is not entirely accurate. What those men really did was present me with opportunity, at least the last two did. I was smart enough to make the most of those opportunities. What I wasn’t smart enough to do, despite some great role models, was to build a long-range financial picture. Be that as it may, I enhanced those men’s lives as they enhanced mine. They wanted a dog and pony show, and they got one. Unfortunately, my demons made me a definite liability at times. But I gave as good as I got, and I walked away, having learned many valuable lessons. What they saw was that I had a good head for business, and I learned a lot about both building and running one.
More important are the lessons I learned about happiness. My grandmother always said that you start the way you mean to go on. I don’t start with the selfish now, I start with kindness. That’s behavior from which I will not deviate. I still serve myself, but I do it by being a better person. That’s my secret behavior. It seems that I’m conscious of outward appearances, and I am to a degree, but it’s with the hard-won knowledge that those things aren’t what’s important in the end. What’s important is kindness and the inner self. My secret behavior? I’m a good person, I strive to be so. It was always there, but what I once saw as weakness is now my strength.


John Francis Leonard interviewed filmmaker Micheal Rice for the July cover.