November 15, 2010
For our World AIDS Day 2010 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- mostly those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.
As I anxiously waited for the results of my test, I tried to think of times within the past year that I hadn't been so careful. Though I couldn't remember any sexualepisode in great detail, I knew that I wasn't always 100 percent safe - maybe more like 85. Right at that moment, what mattered and terrified me was that left over fifteen percent, when I didn't use my best judgment.
Instead of the waiting room of a health clinic, this time I sat at my cubicle desk concerned about the results of my rapid HIV test. Back then, I was an intern at a HIV/AIDS awareness magazine and an editor, who was certified to perform the test, offered to administer it to anyone in the office who wanted to know their status.
Without hesitation, I was the first in line. I thought that learning my status in an environment that rejected the stigmas associated with the virus would make the experience less intimidating. But I was wrong. I still had the same worries from all the other times I was tested.
What if I'm positive? How will my loved ones react? How will my life change?
As several questions flooded my mind, I also began to feel a sense of guilt. Here I was working among and interviewing people living with the virus, and I couldn't stop thinking about how much I didn't want to be them. Regardless of how many articles I wrote that encouraged HIV-positive people to take control of their health, I still knew that AIDS is a common killer, second only to heart disease and cancer among women.
After twenty minutes, my editor called me into his office. In his hands were two test results - one was his own and the other was mine. My test was negative.
Back at my desk, I was overcome with a deep sense of relief. I felt fortunate to not be a part of the estimated 42,000 people who are diagnosed with HIV every year, but I realized that by continuing my occasional carelessness that could change. Wanting my status to remain negative, I knew I needed to be more vigilant about protecting myself and my partner.
My partner and I now have an agreement to use a condom every single time we have sex, no exceptions. We also promised that in moments when one of us initiates loving and there aren't any condoms nearby, the other will put a pause on the action and go find or buy some. And if it's 3AM on a winter night and everything in the neighborhood is closed, then we just cuddle extra, extra tight until the corner store is open again for business.
For two years, I have kept that negative HIV test as a reminder of the choices I have.
Kat Noel is a Brooklyn-based writer.