My life changed, June 19th 2006 at 12:34 p.m. I could count on one hand how many times he and I got together to have sex, but I could never recall how many times we had sex with her.
"Corbin, I'm sorry but you have HIV," the nurse said.
She said something beyond that, but my spirit became vexed, while my eyes, ears, and mind lingered on confusion and disbelief. I couldn't believe what she told me, so the rest trailed and faded in thin air before reaching my ears. The room seemed brighter and whiter. I heard myself laughing hysterically. It wasn't my usual laugh, rather, an odd, eerie laughter that I didn't even quite recognize. I heard the nurse's voice again, louder this time with a sadness that made all the feelings I had dissipate long enough for her message to hit me sincerely--in my heart. The news didn't seem remotely true. With agony in her voice and tears in her eyes she said, "I know about your brother and aunt's diagnosis of AIDS, but honey you have HIV."
A wave of peace overtook me like an undercurrent in the sea. I squared my shoulders back, smiled.
"Well, so what now? Do I just take medication until I die or what?" I asked.
"Corbin I prayed for you. I even submitted your blood work twice. When I finished praying for you, I felt in my spirit that you're going to make me proud."
I remember thinking, is this woman actually telling me I'm going to make her proud?! You just gave me a DEATH sentence! I have an infectious disease. I thanked her and made my way to the door. The first phone call I made was to my best friend. No answer. I was PISSED.
On to the next phone call -- my college dip -- who was one of the ONLY people whom I had unprotected sex. I was standing at the corner of Wabash and Roosevelt in downtown Chicago.
"Yo man wassup?! I just left the doctor's office," I said.
"Oh no," he muttered.
"What the hell do you mean 'oh no' bruh?" I shouted.
"Man, I thought I was good. I mean, when we were doing our thang with ol girl and everything. I mean, my doctor diagnosed me a year prior to us meeting on campus, but I thought cause I was taking the pills that... you know... I was good and so was anyone I was hooking up with," he rambled. My blood began to boil.
"Man, may God have mercy on your soul. I wish you the best," I whispered.
I took a deep breath. I was nervous and gagging at the thought of dialing my mom's work number to tell her that her second son was now infected. This disease had not only taken residence in our bodies, but it also lay dormant in my sister's finances causing her bankruptcy as a result of caring for our brother, and costing my mom a previous job after 15 years of service. She picked up.
"Momma, what you doin?" I asked.
"What's wrong Corbin? I know something's not right!" she interjected.
"Mom, are you sitting down?" I mumbled.
"No, and I'm not gonna sit down. What is it?" she prodded.
"Mom sit down please," I begged.
"I'm not sitting down. I'm at work. Now tell me what's wrong," she barked.
"Momma I got HIV," I blurted.
There was a long silence.
"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Come on Jesus. Come on Jesus," she whispered.
She cleared her throat. My cell phone dripped perspiration from the sweat that gathered between my palm and the phone.
"Corbin, I have one question to ask you and then I have to let you go," she said.
I felt a mixture of shock, relief and anger that she didn't say she was leaving work to console me.
"What is it ma?" I asked.
"Corbin, I need you to answer this question honestly ok?"
"Are you gonna live or are you gonna die? Because if you're gonna die I'm gonna hang up, go to HR and increase your life insurance policy to a million dollars, but if you're going to live I will be your biggest supporter and support system," she promised.
I remained quiet. I thought of my mother's fortitude. Strength and resilience are indigenous to Black women, and my mom is not an exception. Nevertheless, my heart broke for the countless young men, past, present and future who will be faced with the daunting task of breaking his mother's heart in this way. I would understand later that my mom was only trying to prevent me from giving up on myself as a result of my new reality.
"Mama, I wanna live," I said softly fighting back tears.
"Ok then baby. Then so shall it be added unto you. Now, I gotta go and finish this work. I'll talk to you soon," she said before disconnecting.
I walked directly into the jewel by my house to buy a bottle of Maker's Mark. I called my dealer to order an 8 ball of cocaine and two 8ths of weed. I waited for him in a local bar and gulped down five double Maker's Marks & ginger ale. On the way out, I lit a cigarette. I felt liberated for a quick moment as I inhaled, but the instant I exhaled the sobering reality hit me, you still have HIV!
My high was gone, so I hurried home to meet my dealer. We did some lines of cocaine and smoked some weed. Once he left, I knew it was time to end this story. I took another hit of coke before walking onto my balcony.
My eleventh story apartment overlooked Chicago's Michigan Avenue. As I climbed onto a barstool I kept on my balcony, I delighted in knowing that I'd be remembered for something. I'd be the first black man, ever, to jump to his death on this street. I placed my right foot on my patio table. I prepared to bring my left foot onto the table, but wind from the lake shoved me backwards. I fell back into my apartment. I hit my head on the balcony doorway. I passed out for more than 14 hours.
Six years later, I'm still speaking across the country to young men and women about HIV/AIDS with hopes of saving a life...
This is a true story written by Craig Stewart. Mr. Stewart is an author, playwright and songwriter. Purchase his memoir Words Never Spoken, A Memoir by Craig Stewart on Amazon or download on any eReader