It had been years since I had tested. Years ago it seemed to be the topic on everyone's mind. Questions like, "Are you safe?" and "When was the last time you tested?" and "Did you know so and so died?" replaced cruising and boozing talk that used to get boys in the mood as they eyed each others blue-jeaned crotches. Suddenly there was only "safe sex," condom stores with flavors and colors and no more poppers. Men actually dated and became monogamous. I had stepped into my first gay bar at the age of 16, the last year before the first case was reported. I always felt cheated out of the stories of promiscuity and San Francisco bathhouses.
Then science caught up with the epidemic, and could not promise a cure, but could slow down the rate that the disease could kill you. That's about the time I stopped testing. By then I'd had a decade of safe sex, had become an expert at the art of bringing a partner to orgasm without touching their possibly deadly penis and felt I'd earned the right "not to know." I'd had a few slip-ups along the way. Every man, gay or straight, has had a few of those. Caught in a place in time where nothing else mattered -- high, and horny, and happy. The thought of unwrapping a condom or voicing an objection do not exist. The cloud of good judgment floats far above the sweaty movements and the fantasy pleasures. Usually booze, crystal and music were involved in no decipherable order. It didn't happen very often, but it happened.
Still waiting in the painfully sterile room with a wall full of windows that I can see out of, but no one can seem to see in, my mind continues to wander. I smile as I see a woman outside struggling with her old lady panties as she reaches through her dress to unbind them from her womanhood. A nurse interrupts my spying with the usual "the doctor will be right with you" speech that she repeats every day.
I use the smile still on my face from the panty lady to thank her for making me wait longer. More slow minutes as my mind creeps to the area I've been avoiding constantly for the last week with extra hours at work and exhausting workouts at the gym. What if it is bad news? What will I do? Who would I tell? Do I keep working or become "disabled" to spend even more time with my sick, rotting self? Do you write a will, pen memoirs, or paint a masterpiece?
Does sex come to an end so no one is in danger of your now killer penis? Or do you merely go on as you did before, but medicated and very careful, hiding the fact so no one will feel sorry for you or reject you because they are afraid? I come out of myself; worried I've been posing these questions out loud. The nurse catches my eye and tells me I can go back now. I give her a smile as I pass by her, letting her know I understand. We all have bad days.
I sit on the papered, elevated examination table and eye all that is in the room. I see the scale in the corner and wonder if I have lost any more weight. The steady loss of weight is what first brought me here for a checkup. I never realized the extent of the weight loss until the nurse directed me to the scale during my last week and she failed to move the weights to the right where I knew they used to be. Up until that moment I was just happy to not have to fight the battle of the bulge anymore, appearing much younger in my new slim body, and was dating accordingly.
Finally, the doctor slips past the door and immediately sits at a desk where my file awaits him. I begin to tremble. I know what he's about to say. Those are the first eyes I see that know my fate. I do not like what I see. I think I see pity, but I am not familiar with that expression in the eyes of others. I've had little need for pity. I want to leap off the table and leave before any words can escape his mouth, which I now choose to stare at instead of his eyes. Those thin horizontal strips of flesh comfortable under a neat mustache tell me less of what I do not want to hear than his eyes. I'm glad I'm not him. What would I say to somebody? There must be classes in medical school just for these moments; no wonder it takes so long and they get paid so much. I wish I could pay him to just keep his mouth shut, leaving his thoughts stuck in his head like a champagne cork before the party begins.
I don't want him to tell me I have to hurry through my life. I don't want a scolding for not taking care of myself. I don't want to start thinking of the "I should have's" and the "why didn't I's." He opens his mouth to speak, but I cut him off.
"I know what you are going to say, doctor. I need some time to think about this whole nightmare. Can we talk about this next week?"
"Did you have any idea, that the results..." I cut him off again, with a vengeance.
"Hell no, I didn't think... I mean, maybe, but I don't feel sick. I don't know. I have to leave, right now. I can't think."
"You won't be coming back here. We have a clinic that specializes. I can't treat you here." I begin to feel the rejection I will start to feel from now on. I will always be different. I am not treatable here.
"Fine, just leave a voice mail on my pager. Don't call any of my other numbers."
I leap off the exam table, the protective paper sticking to my legs, sweaty and nervous as the rest of me. I pull it off and ball it up, sticking it in my pocket without realizing what I am doing. The doctor is busy making notes so he misses my frantic actions. I reach for the door and mumble thank you to the doctor out of habit.
I see the nurse, almost cheerful now. She starts to ask me a question, but I silence her by placing an index finger vertically in front of my lips and make a "be quiet" sound. She seems to understand. I continue on to the front door. I fling it open, stand and squint because the wet in my eyes is mixing with the sun and making painful prisms out of everything. I reach for my sunglasses in my jacket pocket, but realize I have left them inside and will never go back inside to claim them. I bring my shaking fingers to my forehead to help protect me from the prisms.
I manage to make my car out a few yards away, near the bus stop where I see the panty lady is waiting. I'm almost to my car when I see the panty lady is looking at me, concerned, and speaks to me in Spanish, but my mind is too busy finding the keys and unlocking the door to understand. With the door finally open, I look up at the lady so she will know I was not being rude, that I just cannot speak or understand anything right now. She looks in my eyes and makes the sign of the cross in front of herself. I try to tell her "gracias" but only my lips move; no voice reveals my bad Spanish accent. She boards the bus and waves at me through the window, all the way to her seat. I sit in the car and cry, not caring that they can see me through the waiting room glass window because I wouldn't be coming back.
The faces of those who I will have to tell float in the tears as I grasp for the words to tell them what I don't want to face myself. The faces of those I will refuse to tell, for my safety and for my sanity, leave my life as if they have boarded the bus with the panty lady.