Sitting in the doctor's office after class a few weeks ago, I had a sense of what was coming. I had blood drawn a week prior and got the call that my doctor needed to talk to me about the results of my blood work. A thousand cups of coffee couldn't have gotten my blood going any more than it was that day. When I got into the room and had my doctor sitting in front of me, I thought the veins around my temples would explode. He ran down a list of other sexually transmitted diseases, and at the end of the list he looked me in the eyes. I was told that I'm HIV positive.
My body shook, uncontrollably. I imagined all the blood running out of my face. He offered me time to get my thoughts together. I turned him down and asked for a smoke instead. He obliged but only if I promised to come right back. That's what hit me the hardest: his concern. I thought about his worry that I might not come back or that I could possibly hurt myself, that the severity of this diagnosis worries someone so much that they can hardly let you leave their sight for a smoke.
I walked outside, a friend was with me and before I could say a word, I looked into his eyes and broke down. A ton of bricks came crashing down square on my shoulders and I wanted to disappear -- and to think this was only five minutes into the disease. I had a rather normal gay boy's life growing up; there was my time with drugs and depression, I was beaten up a few times, and safe sex practices were preached to me like the Bible. But at this moment I couldn't help thinking about how even in the queer community we sometimes make it pretty rough for each other. Gay guys don't always get along with lesbians and we sometimes laugh at the transgender community. The men and women affected by HIV/AIDS are outcasts to us. I know because I've treated them that way myself. I used to think that these people had dug their own graves and played a losing game with the devil; that their problems were their own doing.
Suddenly, standing outside the doctor's office, I realized my world had changed. The reality of living with HIV might be very different from what I had in my head that moment. I know there have been medical advances. I know that compared to only 10 or 15 years ago, the disease has become somewhat manageable. And I know people can live full lives being HIV positive. But all that doesn't change my fears. It's hard for me to separate the reality from what my mind has turned into reality.
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotion and I've started to learn that I need to throw out all the prejudices I've harbored. What makes me any better than anyone else? I'm just a twenty-four year old college student living in Seattle. But more importantly, who knows what tomorrow brings, good or bad. The only thing I can concentrate on now is my health and my friends and family. The weight of those crashing bricks from just a few weeks ago has eased away a little. I've come to terms with many of my misconceptions. A calmness has set in. When my mother died in 2003 I got a tattoo of her initials on my left wrist to remember the love I have for her and the pain of losing her. A few days after my diagnosis I decided to get another tattoo: the outline of a plus sign on my right wrist. My tattoo of my mom's initials is a constant reminder of love and pain, and to take advantage of the time we have and the people we love. I feel the same way about the new tattoo. I guess you could say I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve.
This post first appeared on Hivster.