Well, Thoughtful Reader, last month I said that I was taking a temporary break from my attempts at profound humor to write my one and only rant. However... I think this month my topic is important enough to take back what I said. Oh, rest assured -- this isn't a rant. It's just something that I feel I must release to the masses -- if not for their education, then for my sanity (please, refrain from commenting on that).
On January 6, 1998, I did something that I NEVER EVER want to do again. I got a blood test.
Damn, I can almost feel the recoils of horror from that statement. Would this writer be so incredibly irresponsible and selfish not to know that he has a communicable disease so that he could warn future sex partners? Is this writer really such an asshole? Is the world coming to an end?
No, darlings. I said I don't want to get another blood test. Not that I will not ever get another blood test. My God, everyone talks about teaching safe sex and abstinence and handing out condoms and dental dams, but really, all you need to expose children to is the soul-chilling fear of having contracted THE sexually transmitted disease of the 1990s. Yes, kids, I'm talking about HIV.
Now I can hear you wondering what I did. Sit back, friends, and let me spin you a tale of low self-esteem and bad judgment resulting in the emotional scarring of one man who should have known better. (By the way, going totally off the subject, I just referred to myself as a man, which I guess I am because I am eighteen, almost nineteen - but to everyone who is in the same situation, isn't it weird? Am I really a man? Please! Email me!) And back to the story.
A year and a half ago (I'm not even going to bother to calculate the date, since it has absolutely no effect on the outcome of this story) I was happily chatting away on America Online, as people usually do. This was on the cusp of the "How big is your dick?" phenomenon online (see Aztec Yhessin's January article for more details) so my online chatter was innocent as I was learning the wonders of gaydom from those who I met in online chat rooms (surreptitiously turning off the monitor whenever a family member came downstairs). I had many friends among these saints who I had actually talked to on the phone (collect, they pay), and they were pretty neat. A few of them I had gone so far to give my phone number and address, in case they wanted to talk or send me something... I mean, I send Tori Amos tapes to people in an attempt to spread the magic, they sent me things -- no, not sex toys. Just things.
Anyway, one of these friends I will call Jim (because that's his name). He was sweet and funny, a somewhat worldly 19 to my just-came-out 17 years. We talked back and forth and more or less had a lot of fun, with the notion of romance just a flicker on the horizon.
So one Friday night in late October, I came home at 2 in the morning, and, as is usual to most AOL addicts, checked my email instead of going to sleep. In my mailbox was a message: Urgent! Call me!
I called Jim, to get his answering machine. I left a message that consisted of: I'm tired, I'll wait around online for a few minutes, but after that I'm going to bed. He didn't show up online, so I went to bed.
The next morning, alone in the house, I was sitting on the couch, watching TV, when the phone rang. It was Jim. This is the following conversation (not verbatim, but close enough).
"What was so important last night?"
"Just a sec. How are you?"
"What are you doing today?"
"Jim, where are you?"
Turns out he was less than a mile from my house, but had no idea where he was. He told me that he had felt like going on a road trip the night before, and he needed a destination. He chose me. I told him to find a hotel and call me back.
I called my friends, saying "What should I do? What should I do???" They advised me not to meet him, to find someone else to go with me when I met him, or to just go meet him. I ended up waiting three hours for him to call back -- he had gotten lost, but found a hotel. I asked where he wanted to meet, and he told me that he was really tired of getting lost, could I pick him up?
I said sure.
I picked him up from the hotel and spent the day with him. He was charming, funny, and pretty nice-looking --- no Paul Rudd (I don't care if no one knows who Paul Rudd is, I still love him) but definitely passable. He got tired of walking around, and so we went back to his hotel room since he hadn't slept in 36 hours.
Now, I admit that when we went there sleeping wasn't the only thing going through my mind. Obviously it wasn't going through his mind either. I'll let your mind supply the details. Actually, no -- all we ever did was have ME go down on him. I didn't come the entire weekend. What a waste.
We woke up to go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show with friends, and looking back, I can honestly say it was one of the best nights of my life. I was feeling in love, it was being returned -- it was great. I went back and spent the night with him at his hotel. (Interesting postscript on that subject -- one of my slutty girl friends was so amazed by me, since while she slept around, she had NEVER stayed the night.)
The next morning we woke, showered (not together) and he took me home. I gave him a tour of the house (since no one else was home), we kissed, and he left.
I talked to him a few times online, and a few on the phone, but after that he wouldn't return my calls and his screen name disappeared from AOL.
So began my mental hell. Because we didn't use any protection, I convinced myself that I he gave me some disease, and I had no idea what to do. I sure as hell wasn't going to tell my parents, since they had no idea he was even here -- and I didn't have enough money to pay for my doctor to give me a blood test without insurance, and then they'd know. I was in a bind.
The hysteria and sleeplessness passed over a few months, but I've known that I had to get a blood test. I just didn't know how.
Last month I told my uncle (who is also gay, but my mom didn't want me telling him -- God, I never listen to her) that I was gay. On January 5. I told him that I needed a blood test. He arranged it and I got it done January 6.
To those of you who never have gotten it done, this is what it's like. I got free anonymous testing from the county health department, so I got to pick a code name. Dork that I am, I couldn't think of one so I said my name was David. I made an appointment for 4:30 p.m. I showed up, gave my name, and waited as I watched two rather attractive (and probably totally straight) guys go ahead of me. When it was my turn, I went into a little room with a woman who asked why I thought I needed to be tested, if I knew the proper safe sex procedures, and, cringes of cringes, would I be able to confide in anyone and get emotional support if I did, in fact, have the HIV virus? She was very professional -- I mean, the woman didn't even flinch when I talked about performing oral sex on "him." So she explained the testing procedure and scheduled a follow-up appointment for January 20th. I wrote my bar code number on a form in lieu of signature (this is anonymous testing, folks) and was released to the lab people.
Have you ever had blood taken? The nurse has to tie a rubber cord around your arm and start tapping and rubbing to find a vein to tap. The problem is that my veins wouldn't pop to the surface. She started on my right inside elbow, thought she found one, then poked. Didn't hurt much, but did she find a vein? Nope. She checked my left arm, and didn't find one. It was suggested that she try the back of my hands. She poked both of the backs, but found no fount of blood just waiting to pass into the little vial. Let me tell you something, folks. The insides of elbows, when pierced with a needle, don't particularly hurt much. It's like a mosquito. However, the back of your hands hurt REALLY bad. So after putting me through pain I really didn't expect of such a little needle, combined with the worry of this test actually telling me I was going to die, I was pretty much freaking out -- but only inside, because I didn't want to interfere with the woman trying to tap me for blood.
Finally she poked my inside left elbow and found a vein --- and you must know, the poking doesn't hurt, but as the blood is being extracted, there is this dull, steady, constant pain. It seemed like forever she was tapping me -- while it must have been twenty, twenty-five seconds. I would not move my arm, because I wanted it to be over. I just kicked my legs and breathed through gritted teeth.
When it was over, I was freaked enough to be slightly unsteady on my feet -- but my Uncle had been with me the entire time, drove me home, and it was all over.
Today, as I write this, it is January 8. For two days I've not really slept nor ate, so worried am I about this whole situation. In 12 days I will either be given an eventual death sentence or be told that fifteen months of worrying will have been for naught. It isn't fun. I wish that a year ago I had the presence of mind to request a condom. But I didn't. So, when this is over, I am NEVER going to have unsafe sex again. I don't want the worry, I don't want the hell, I don't want to have to go through this again.
I've learned something from this little experience. All I hope is that you can learn from it too rather than experience it for yourself - because while there's a good chance my outcome will be all happy and joyful, you should never take chances with stuff like this. Believe me.