It should come as no surprise to anybody that if you need to break into your piggy bank every time a bill has to be paid, sooner or later you will run out of money. It took a while for this to sink into Robert's brain. I suspect that he thought his illness would eventually pass, he would go back to work, and life as he knew it would be normal again. Sometimes, living the harsh reality of AIDS can be too much for people to bear on their own, and no matter how much we are loved by others, we are ultimately alone in our shell. Even if it's cracked on the outside and rotten on the inside, it's ours to carry with us, faulty wiring and all. No trade-ins are allowed, at least not in this lifetime. So, when it comes to matters of health, I don't really blame anybody who lives in that river they call denial.
As winter was approaching, though, Robert needed help. After reaching out to a local HIV/AIDS support service, the process of applying for Social Security Disability and Medicaid was initiated. At times like this, you just have to swallow your pride and go with it. Then there's the stigma of AIDS, or, as Tootie called it, "the germ from D.C." For that reason, Robert worked out a rationale to explain to others why he wasn't working. A good game to tell was that the doctors had discovered a rare blood condition that had made him susceptible to HIV. He referred to it as merely "bad blood." So, given his frail health, he decided to retire early. It was Robert's belief that one shouldn't give themselves away all at once. Better to reveal yourself slowly and let life unfold at a natural pace. Having an air of mystery around you can be captivating to some people.
Nov. 14 started a long tradition of commemorating Jim's birthday by lighting one of those "Jesus-Mary-Joseph" candles you get at the dollar stores. Because of the holidays, it was also a time to be open to meeting new people. Loneliness can devour a soul left alone for too long. So, when Robert's case worker called him with an invitation for a Christmas party, he was anxious and started to feel alive again, goosebumps and all.
First things first, though: Before any social occasion, Robert had to plan. First he checked to see if he had an ample supply of cologne. Cool Water has an enticing scent, but it's always best to couple that with a hint of cinnamon or even clove, especially if one is on the prowl. A backup cologne was needed, too, just in case the intended boyfriend had some allergic reaction to the Cool Water. Next, he doubled up on the supply of Shower to Shower body powder, so he could get in the habit of sprinkling it into his underwear as he was getting dressed, bringing a fresh, clean aroma to his best asset. He worked out a retort, in case someone inquired as to his HIV/AIDS status, and decided not to reveal that he had full-blown AIDS. That would be a complete turn-off. It would probably be easier to say "HIV-positive" or nothing at all.
Christmas, the season of miracles, was right around the corner. "Maybe, just maybe," Robert thought, "someone will save me." He kneeled at the side of his bed and said a prayer that night.
To be continued...
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Footnote: According to a 2009 study, at least 200,000 Americans are carrying the HIV virus and don't know it. If HIV is caught early and HIV drugs are administered, the drugs can prolong life.
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