Wednesday, September 1, 2010
When Negative is Positive
I had first gotten tested for HIV about fifteen years ago, back in the old days before oral swabs, when it was still necessary to extract blood. I had started being sexually active ten years before that first test, so I was way overdue. It was 1995 - what had taken me so long?
Fear. Denial. False hope. That's what kept me from getting tested, at first. Or are those last two the same thing? Fear that the test results would confirm a positive HIV status, yes, but also fear of needles. I was 29 by the time I first got tested, but I had still been rationalizing that my fear of needles was reason enough to keep putting it off.
And denial/false hope. I felt healthy and I looked alright, so I must be okay, I further rationalized. Still, I might also be a walking time bomb, I thought.
I am lucky because I had supportive friends, friends who had already been tested. Jilly, my dear friend and dance partner, lived in daily fear after a one night stand until she finally got tested and was confirmed HIV negative. After that she kept encouraging me to get tested, too, "Just to put your mind at ease."
"But what if I test positive?" I had asked her. "Knowing that I am HIV positive will not put my mind at ease." So I continued to put it off, for another three years.
Best Bud Bubba left a note under my windshield wiper when we were both visiting our parents for Easter in '89, a note saying, "I have something to tell you."
BBB had tested positive for HIV. He bought a wok. He started eating tofu and fresh vegetables for the first time in his adult life. He encouraged me to take the first step toward a healthier lifestyle by getting tested, too.
BBB and I had both been in the BDB, the Blue Diamond Brigade, our high school marching band, along with BFF Kathy. Kathy is heterosexual. Best Bud Bubba and I are not. After high school, and after college graduation (for her) Kathy had also been tested for HIV, at the local Planned Parenthood. It was free to get tested there, and donations of any amount were welcome. Kathy added her own gentle encouragement, nudging me to get tested for the first time.
I gave a $40.00 donation, more out of guilt than for reasons of being able to afford it. I think I felt guilty for taking advantage of free services. I went alone to Planned Parenthood when I first got tested.
The results were not to be given over the phone or by mail. A second appointment was scheduled for me to learn about the results in person. I am lucky - did I mention that? - because Kathy and Best Bud Bubba went with me when it was time to learn the results.
They sat in the waiting room while I went into the doctor's office, prepared to receive my death sentence "It's not a death sentence! BBB is just fine and has been living a healthy life for several years, now" Kathy had said. I think she was the one who said that. Maybe it wasn't her. Maybe it was one of the voices screaming inside my head.
I had not always been responsible during that first decade of sporadic sexual activity, a decade interspersed with short Christian-inspired bouts of attempted celibacy. Surely being identified as HIV positive was my due and deserved punishment.
"Okay," the young woman in the medical assistant smock started as she opened my thin and unremarkable looking file. She paused briefly. "Your test came back negative."
I looked at her and waited for her to go on. "Do you have any questions?" she asked.
"No," I replied. "I'm kind of surprised by the results, and I had lots of questions for if I had tested positive."
That was it. Short and sweet. I had been pardoned, at least for now, I had thought.
I walked back to the waiting room where Kathy and Best Bud Bubba received me with hugs and open smiles.
What I remember from walking out of Planned Parenthood that day are the smiles from the front desk staff, smiles for the obvious friendship and support I had in these two people walking out of the waiting room with me.
I already mentioned that I am lucky, right? It bears repeating, especially to myself.
Thanks, BFF Kathy and Best Bud Bubba. Blue Diamond Brigade band geeks 4-EVA!