One month after moving from my small hometown to the big city of Detroit, I had an unprotected sexual encounter with a friend. A week later, he tested positive for HIV. I spent the next six months preparing to test positive. The initial test after the experience was still within the window period for a non-reactive result. I waited another five months to test again because I did not feel ready to know. I waited until exams were over, and I went in for the test.
I was at a multi-purpose county health clinic because I was too afraid to go to an agency that did just HIV testing. Mothers with crying, snotty babies surrounded me as I waited to be called. I was not new to testing, and I knew the routine well. She would ask what brought me in, and I would tell her about my risky encounter(s). She would poke my finger, drip a drop of blood onto a tray and counsel me based on the risk questionnaire I'd filled out in the waiting room. She would ask why I only used condoms "sometimes." She would ask whether I felt my use of alcohol and marijuana contributed to my frequently engaging in risky behaviors. The counseling would peter out until we had exhausted the twenty minutes. She'd give me some fliers and I'd go to school or work.
This time, however, the twenty minutes were different, and I knew why. Partway through, the counselor asked me whether I knew what the lines meant. I told her that I had learned at one point but could not recall. She commented on how calm I seemed. I asked her whether I should be more nervous. She asked how I would feel if the test came back positive. I reiterated that I knew I had been exposed when my friend and I had unprotected sex. I told her how I had spent the last six months giving myself one hell of a pep talk. I said I did not think it would be the biggest deal if I were positive.
She told me the test was reactive -- that I had tested positive for HIV. My calmness transitioned to numbness. I was no longer controlling my composure; it was rigid and holding itself up. I said, "Well, that sucks," and chuckled. The counselor looked astonished, then worried. I told her I was just relieved to finally know.
I was moved to another area because they needed the room in which I was sitting. The new area was an alcove with a curtain. I was directed to sit in a phlebotomy chair. It was unlike others I've sat in since it was taller so the person doing the blood draw could stand. But I felt as if I were in a children's high chair. I swung my legs as if I were waiting for an airplane-shaped spoon to deliver applesauce to my lips. My legs fell asleep from waiting as the numbness wore off my emotions. I relaxed a little but wondered what was taking so long for someone to attend to me.
Thirty minutes later, after shifting in the chair many times, someone in scrubs walked by and said, "Why are you still here?" I told her I was waiting for a confirmatory test. She expressed displeasure and said she would have someone there soon. Finally, someone came and drew my blood. She said I would have the results in a week. She asked whether I should call anyone before I left. I said I was fine.
I drove home, then texted my best friend to find out what she was doing. It was mid-afternoon, and she replied that she was in the middle of her last day of finals. I asked her to text me when she was done. A few hours later, she texted, and it took me a minute to send the text with words I had not said before. I finally sent: "I've tested positive for HIV." She was aware that I had been exposed several months before.
She said she was sorry, and that she would be there for me. I told her I didn't need anything, that I was drunk, and in bed, and just dealing. I told about having journaled for a bit. We agreed that was good. A few hours later, she called me. I looked at my phone and wondered why she was calling, and then it hit me: Oh duh. You have HIV now, and she's worried. I did not answer the call because I could not deal with looking another human being in the eye -- not even my best friend. I felt as if I were red and pocked all over. As if, in the last several hours while lying in bed, I had mutated into a creature from comic book -- not evil, but not well.
I ignored her subsequent calls and passed out. I woke up sometime around midnight, which seemed like weeks after my reactive result ten hours before. I viewed my text messages and saw my friend had come to my apartment. She said she left something hanging on my door. I moseyed down there. Hanging on my door handle was a plastic grocery bag with a 20-ounce bottle of my favorite pop, peanut butter cups and a card. I sat on my steps and wept for a good half hour while trying to eat the candy without it running down my face. It was the stream of snot, tears and chocolate that made me laugh hysterically. I laughed longer than I had cried. I went back to bed.
My alarm went off in the morning. I got up, got dressed and went to work.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.