March 20, 2014
This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.
As I strolled down Chicago's Magnificent Mile, I was feeling too good and looking too cute to do anything other than take full advantage of the great weather. Chicago's premiere shopping area was bustling with shoppers and sightseers, and I was one of them. Looking like a diva, from head to toe in my black and white pinstripe St. John's pantsuit.
My black Chanel pumps and matching Chanel shoulder bag set my ensemble off just right. My jewelry was perfect. The sun's reflection beamed out from the Pave diamonds in my ears. My three-carat diamond cross necklace, which was a gift from my sorority sister and friend, Allison Payne, draped perfectly around my neck. Catching a glimpse of myself in a store window, I was one poised woman. I felt alive. I felt totally in control. I was a power shopper in my element, and having a ball.
After hours of shopping, I glanced at my watch. It was really close to dinner time and skipping meals was a luxury I could not afford. I tore myself away and continued on to Houston's, my favorite restaurant. On the inside, Houston's was dark and cool, compared to the bright and sunny outdoors. The Maitre-d showed me to a booth, and as I sank down into its security, I gave God a silent "thank you" for the beautiful day. I thanked Him for the wonderful respite from this monstrous disease called AIDS, which was occupying my body. I hated all the ways AIDS tried to control and destroy me like an abusive lover, whose grasp I was not able to escape.
The steak was tender and juicy, cooked just right and the loaded potato was scrumptious. Somewhere between a forkful of steak and a bite of bread, I began to feel a somewhat familiar sensation. Something warm and liquid seemed to be easing its way out of my body. My first reaction was, "Oh no, this cannot be happening! Not here! Not now!" But as reality set in I realized that yes, it could be happening and probably was.
Still determined not to let anything ruin this day, I tried to gain control by flexing my anal muscles. I was bent on stopping it, but it was just as bent on continuing its course, right into my LaPerla panties. Slowly and cautiously, I stood up. It was then that I began to feel it drip down the leg of my St. John pants. That was the ultimate insult!
I started to the bathroom, determined not to panic. Diva Rule kicked in: "Beautiful people in beautiful clothes do not poop on themselves in public, and if they do, they remain in complete control of the situation."
As I pulled down my panties and sat on the toilet, I kept telling myself, "It's not as bad as you think it is." Even in my distress, I reminded myself that the diarrhea was tapering off as of a couple of weeks ago, so how terrible could it be now? I got the answer to that question when I finished using the toilet.
Sitting there, I proceeded to take my pants off. In no way was I prepared for what I saw. My pretty lace panties were completely saturated in shit that covered the entire center of my butt. My left leg was covered with it, from the top of my thigh right down into my beautiful black Chanel shoe. Needless to say, it had painted the entire inside of my St. John pants leg.
At that moment it became abundantly clear to me that AIDS does not care about designer clothes or respect the solitude found in a favorite eatery. Neither St. John nor Chanel could do a damn thing to protect me. Not even my diamond cross was able to ward off that sudden onslaught of diarrhea. The ugly truth was that AIDS had a complete and utter disregard for everyone, everything and every body. Finding myself unprotected once again, I sat there, and faced up to the fact that there was no protection in clothes, no matter how big the designer names, no matter how huge the price tags.
AIDS had ambushed me, literally from behind, my behind, and all I had to fight it with was a roll of toilet paper. I pulled some off and began to wipe myself. I wiped and I wiped, and the more I wiped, the more I spread the poop around without actually cleaning it off.
I realized that nothing less than water was going to get rid of this mess and that posed a real dilemma. This was a public bathroom with multiple stalls, and the only privacy I had was in a tiny stall with a toilet. The sink was on the other side of the room. I knew I couldn't walk out of that stall, leg covered in shit, wearing neither pants nor panties. And what was clearest of all was that this was one huge mess!
I sat for a moment trying to regain myself. I had to think this thing through. Looking to heaven, I whispered, "God, I know you're up there." And really, I did know He was up there, looking down on me. But just for a brief moment, maybe a split second, I felt abandoned. I felt unprotected.
I was almost ready to engage in a total pity party, but when I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes started to water, I put my foot down. I refused to let that tear emerge from my eye. Crying was not an option. This was my day. Maybe AIDS had ambushed me and tried to ruin my clothes, but I refused to let it ruin my day or my disposition. "Sorry, AIDS," I thought, "this is one battle you're not going to win."
It was the only solution possible under the circumstances, a toilet bath? Never heard of it? Neither had I.
To Be Continued Tomorrow...
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Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.
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