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Nightlight: On My HIV Diagnosis and Crystal Meth

Part of the Series Day One With HIV

March 17, 2014

R. Craig Stringer

R. Craig Stringer

David was at Kroger's, the one down off Chapman Highway.

I was outside working in the garden off the front porch. It was a nice size one, with large wide seat railings, banisters really, that stretched the entire exterior of the front half of the house. It was hot in Knoxville, as it always was in August, but you get used to it. Born in Midland, Texas, raised in Arizona for a while, and having spent the last half decade in western and now eastern Tennessee, I definitely was used to hot, but not necessarily happy about it. Sweating, digging or cutting, or maybe weeding (I hate weeding), and probably drinking a bottle of cheap beer, I got up to go inside and answer the phone.

At that first moment, when you know, it's like a little light get's turned on. Not a flame, or a spark, but a little light. One that doesn't ever get turned off. It's always there, like a nightlight, an old one, with a clear incandescent bulb the size of my thumb. The moment was the split second the voice on the now defunct princess phone beside the bed said, "Hello, can I speak to Randall Stringer?"

Two things immediately turned on that light that still glows in my mind. One, the word "hello," because it was a bit formal for the South, no matter who was calling, and as long as they had that slow Southeastern drawl, casual and lazy, "hello" was a formal call. Second, they used my first name, which only teachers, police and -- in this case -- strangers would use.


I was on the side of the bed, facing the living room, and for the moments that passed right then, while they were saying their assorted "we'd like to speak to Randall ... should come in and see us ... here in the office, etc.," I sat there and said to myself, "I wish they had called while David was here ... why couldn't they call when I wasn't alone?"

I told them I didn't need to come in to the "office." I knew that if the news were different, I would have been told on the phone something like, "Good news!" Or, "Hi, can I please speak to Randall?" (Note the word "Hi.")

I sat on the side of the bed, hung up the receiver and started crying. Slow, alone tears, the kind that you don't have any drama with. Why drama with no one to see? Minutes passed, David came home and I cried for a long time. Decades.

In 1984, testing positive was a death sentence. When I finally did make it into the office, someone, some counselor or caseworker provided my prognosis. "Let's see, you're 21, so that means, approximately eight years. So you could live to see 30!"

Thirty came and went, and so did 40 and now 50. So everyone was wrong, including myself. I have lived to die for over 30 years, and now face the battle for my soul.

Meth addiction has the same strange and debilitating prognosis as HIV, in a way. Only, you see yourself taking your life like you are the virus, slowly, deliberately removing your ability to fend off the world, through the removal of all material things (jobs, friends, homes, fortunes, futures), but you continue to live the life anyway. With a strong, proud, misplaced bravado, you scream, "So what, I'll prove them all wrong."

The addiction also has the same tilted, prolonged and deadly public stigma that HIV did in the '80s (and still today to be honest). A public stoning of looks, smirks, shunning and dismissing and, finally, just ignoring. There are an estimated 40,000 teens with meth addiction in N.Y., and because of this stigma, most of them face a huge probability of HIV diagnosis, illness and probably death. They refuse to go to get tested and treated because of public health employees treating them as if they were walking scabs, not to be touched, recognized as human or treated with compassion.

And so for those of us suffering from the gay virus of the 2010s, the same cyclical process of vortex to vertex swirl begins and ends. I hope the prognosis this time is as wrong as that day that summer of 1984. I fear the combined viral impact may be the last battle my body and mind could take on.

I hope though, that unlike the boy who sat on the front porch that summer thinking life was over, I can make this man today stand up and say that life has only just begun.

Want to share your own "Day One With HIV" story of finding out your diagnosis? Write out your story (1,000 words or fewer, please!), or film a YouTube video, and email it to In the coming months, we'll be posting readers' "Day One" stories here in our HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed. Read other stories in this series.

Related Stories

Day One With HIV: Finding Out Your Status, in Your Own Words's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed
More "Just Diagnosed" Stories

This article was provided by TheBody.

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Paul (Brighton England ) Sat., Nov. 12, 2016 at 12:36 am UTC
Althoughs not unexpected with the recent encounters over the last month all unprotected. I don't know the names or backgrounds of these stranger.s All that was going through my head was my next fix and which sexual scenario was going to be more exciting than the last one.
Day 1. Leave the clinic as soon as I could,' the health advisors room was suffocating.
At home I punch the bathroom door in anger and scream as load as I can. Angry, furious , my life was now at the mercy of this organism that's
Replicating itself and using my body as it's catalyst and silently kill me cell by cell. I no longer have the wheel in my life. fate is in the hands of this new guest.
. Althogh well informed, information i searched and searched was ambiguous and broad as each individual experiences hiv differently: it was like the film Alien. I must cut open my own stomach and kill this alien or it will kill me. This was how it felt (feels) for if it was that easy I would.
False hope, further social alienation noweven to some other gay men. Pulling me from an already existing angry; empty and sceptical outlook on life.
I was arogant to think I would ever catch the virus and thinking that it would not effect me should I get it. It does, my life will never be the same. 'I am not the same, hiv is intergrated and now part of my DNA. Dubious with Attempting to kill the virus as this is also killing me as it does. Although viral load is down I am also down I see it in the mirror.'I am slowly fading physically. Mentally I no longer fear the unknown but embrace it. I will not leave quietly though I will fight until the bitter end. You are coming down with me
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Comment by: Daniel Kline (Tulsa, Ok) Thu., May. 15, 2014 at 6:23 pm UTC
I too once thought that my diagnosis back in 1985 was a death sentence. Three decades have come and gone.I have had to finally realize that HIV would probably not kill me but something related to growing older.At 52 more than half my life has been devoted to HIV care.I am and always will be a survivor.
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Comment by: Randall stringer (austin) Thu., Apr. 24, 2014 at 5:19 pm UTC
It seems a couple of people have issues with the facts and I don't take issue with that. I'm not a professional.writer and I. Writing my story confused the years for sake of my own desire to set thoughts to word. That's an unfortunate side affect of chemo brain both HIV meds and method addiction there I admitted it as if it was needed. Actuals: age 24 and year 1987, again no impact to the story as I can tell. Beyond that I think your comments show the other readers the exact punitive stance that I speak of and I need clarify that point no further. I appreciate the one rebuttal and the authors use of the word compassion, the only response I wished to elicit. By the reader submitting such a needed perspective here, I can resign myself to a successful series contribution.
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Comment by: trevor (Los Angeles) Fri., May. 2, 2014 at 2:16 am UTC

Thank you for sharing your story, that was brave of you. I am also glad that you are still alive and fighting this horrible disease.

Comment by: Devin (Columbus) Thu., Apr. 10, 2014 at 4:21 pm UTC
I really don't understand where this story is going. The HIV diagnosis as others have pointed out, has to be factually inaccurate given the dates, and the meth addiction is only very lightly touched on and is made to sound equivocal to an HIV diagnoses.
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Comment by: Greg (RI) Wed., Apr. 2, 2014 at 12:28 am UTC
@lostinamerica: Please notice that the author is being less than candid. In an extremely roundabout (Southern?) way, he implies (?) that he became a meth addict himself late in life, apparently in his 50s. But he can't bring himself to flat-out admit this. Instead, out of the blue, he brings up the homeless teenagers in New York, commingles his plight (?) with theirs, unilaterally declares the whole thing a "gay" problem, and pleads for "compassion."

Well that's all pretty disturbing but anyway - since he's the one who brought up the subject - is he or isn't he a former meth addict himself? If he was, what did he do about it? How did he deal with it? If he was an addict (or even if he wasn't and is simply concerned about the subject), what does he think is the proper treatment for meth addiction?

Can you explain how it helps the meth addicts if we sit around feeling compassionate about them? I'm not the one claiming to be superior, but it looks like you might sprain your shoulder patting yourself on the back!
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Comment by: Greg (RI) Sat., Mar. 29, 2014 at 9:45 am UTC
Aside from the HIV history error here, there's the borderline self-hating homophobic notion that crystal meth is now such a classic "gay" thing that "we" must all be "compassionate" about it. Yuck. Good luck with that one!

But specifically, he's upset with the less-than-compassionate public health workers who after all are PAID (albeit not much) to deal with meth addicts. So why lecture the entire gay community in general? Complain to the professionals, and leave the rest of us out of it. I'm not employed as a health worker, so anytime I encounter meth addicts in my personal life, I'm going to avoid them. ("Compassionately" avoid them, of course!) Otherwise they'll steal something from me and I'll need to "compassionately" report them to the cops, who I suppose will "compassionately" throw them in a "compassionate" jail. Sorry!

Also - no one ever gets a phone call to the effect of "Hello, your test results came back and you're a meth addict." The addicts already know that (I hope?), so what's the analogy with HIV? ... Anyway I LOVE weeding, it's the most satisfying thing you can do in the garden! And I hate hot weather. So maybe we're just too different to understand each other. :)
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Comment by: lostinamerica (San Francisco, CA) Tue., Apr. 1, 2014 at 7:12 am UTC
why on earth do you need to write a comment like this on what was a well-written, well-reasoned, and heartfelt story?

do you really need to show the world just how much better you are than those dirty, thieving meth addicts? because that's the message that you've shared - you're insecure, and you have some driving need to put down those who are already down.

Comment by: Greg (RI) Fri., Mar. 28, 2014 at 8:48 am UTC
He seems to be recalling the times incorrectly - 1984? Can't be. The HIV test didn't even exist until 1987, right? The earliest I've ever heard of anyone getting tested was 1989, because the test took awhile to become common.
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Comment by: trevor (los angeles) Fri., May. 2, 2014 at 2:08 am UTC
I was diagnosed in 1988 and my best friend was in 1986. The test existed here in Los Angeles. Another friend of mine was also diagnosed in Berlin in 1987. Both of those friends are gone now.

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