I was 28, having dinner with my former partner David, and, simply stated, I was disappointed with my life thus far, with the fact that I had accomplished more in the decade before I was 20 than I had in my 20s. Things needed to change, and I needed to go back to school to make them change. I hadn't a clue exactly what that meant yet, but I was ready to try.
I bounced around a few ideas. I thought I would get my M.A. in English literature, and I actually was accepted to a program, but I had second thoughts. I did have one idea that kept resurfacing no matter what -- and it was an idea I never thought I would be attracted to. It was law school.
Law school? The mere thought of it frightened me, but not because of the horror stories attached to that dreaded first year, and not because of the stories of non-stop reading, head-pounding exams, and professors who have absolutely no sympathy. It was just this: my father, the man I was named after, was an attorney. My entire adult life was spent desperately trying not to be a carbon copy of him. And I was thinking of going to law school? I think not.
However, life would have other plans, plans one doesn't put down in a day planner. David became very ill and needed my care. My life did change, and I did get an education. Instead of desks, my new classroom was filled with IV drips, syringes, and pills. I had the lists of medications memorized. I could recite each and every treatment David had been given in the past year like it was a lyrical piece of verse from a Broadway musical. It was a course I didn't think I would take in my early 30s. This was something for my 70s, right? Wrong.
After David's death, and after I finally got myself up and dusted myself off, I knew the time for change was now, that this change I really wanted to happen in my life could happen now. My life was mine to recreate, right? Wrong again. What I got instead was a marathon run at a sprinter's pace from my grief. I ended up in entertainment public relations for all sorts of reasons -- mostly damaged ones. Working in the entertainment industry is comparable to having an addiction. You know you should leave it, but you really can't live without it. I would kid around and ask when Betty Ford would have a 12-step program for publicists. I wasn't really kidding. I wanted to find the exit for years but didn't know how.
Confronting that pain deep in my heart was more than I could bear. When someone is known as your boyfriend, people automatically assume that his departure doesn't mean the same thing as someone they call husband. But what they forget is that this is all I get to call my husband. Although names, in some way, are just that, it's the meaning society gives them that hurts. They don't get that no matter what you call it, you are left crying on your living room floor because you, for the first time ever, are alone in that room, without that man that everyone simply thought was a boyfriend.
In the middle of my grief ride, life would take another hairpin turn. It was my turn in the hospital with the IV drips -- this time in my arms. Nearly 11 years ago I was told I had two days left to live. With 60 T cells and a completely compromised immune system, the emergency room staff at Cedars Sinai really had no reason to think anything else. Thanks to modern medicine and my stubborn attitude, I managed to, clearly, make it past those two days and actually walk out of the hospital.
However, the years that followed would not be as easy. There was that weekend I had to stay home because they thought my retinas were going to detach. (What does one wear when one might be going blind? Something with lots of texture?) There was that one month that my neuropathy was so painful I could barely get out of bed, much less take care of myself.
In spite of these obstacles, these seemingly insurmountable roadblocks, change was about to happen. When I lay in that bed at Cedars, this thought moved to the front of my mind again. I started to realize that there was a life beyond the red carpet. It was going to be law school. I knew I had to do something else with my life, and now was my chance. AIDS, in spite of nearly taking my life just a few days before, was giving me a new one. AIDS would be the precise reason I would go to law school, for there is nothing like fighting for your life with an insurance company to make you wish you had a J.D.
On Aug. 11, my journey to take on the insurance companies and help bring about our long-overdue health care reform began. Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, Calif. would become my launching pad. Like the rest of my life, it is filled with unexpected directions. This new chapter began with its bumps -- for my virus would not let me forget that it wanted my attention, too. For a moment, I thought that this dream would be put on hold -- again.
That would not be the case. Much like the rest of this battle, I was not going to let my virus get the upper hand. I completed my first mid-term the other day -- in Criminal Law. My Legal Writing paper was handed in last Monday. And this past Friday was my Contracts mid-term.
These first weeks have been a blur. However, there is one moment that will stand out in my mind forever. It was the very moment I picked up my first mid-term, for it was then that the magnitude of what I had just achieved finally hit me. I just sat there and cried. No matter what happened now, no one could take this away from me. I achieved what I wanted to achieve, in spite of it all.
Take it from me: a virus may slow you down, but it doesn't always have to stop you. My life may have been delayed, but it was never denied. It wasn't denied because I never let it be.