Salient Ramblings: Reflections on Living With HIV for 19 Years

"Born to be alive"

-- Patrick Hernandez

Sal Iacopelli

As a recovering alcoholic, I feel as if I am in a frantic race to make up for time lost during my liquor-sodden days of the '70s and '80s. Testing HIV-positive and facing the possibility of a shortened life span has intensified this drive.

Can I ever do enough? Be enough?

7/2/1993, 6:30 a.m.: Awoke to the aroma of brewing coffee. Smoked, drank coffee. Obsessed worriedly about the pending results of my HIV test.

9/12/2012, 6:30 a.m.: Awoke to the aroma of brewing coffee. Smoked, drank coffee, and chanted my morning mantras: "I am open to the infinite realm of possibilities in the universe" and "I trust and have faith in the magic of my life."

7/3/1993, 8:00 a.m.: Swallowed breakfast.

9/12/2012, 8:00 a.m.: Swallowed a handful of vitamins, antioxidants, and HIV medications with breakfast.

7/5/1993, noon: Received the results of my HIV test and joined the growing ranks of the doomed. I thought of my fellow HIV-positive actors in the show Party, Robb and Ted. I am the third to test positive. Almost half the cast.

9/12/2012, noon: Thought about Robb and Ted who died over a decade ago from AIDS. Struggled with sadness and survivor guilt, yet had gratitude that I'm fortunate enough to still draw breath.

8/9/94, 12:30 p.m.: Had my typical lunch consisting of a greasy cheeseburger, fries, and a diet Coke.

9/12/12, 12:30 p.m.: Had my typical lunch consisting of a homemade grilled chicken breast and vegetable pasta salad in balsamic and Dijon vinaigrette.

2/16/95, 1:00 p.m.: Frustrated with sloppy Chicago winters and facing the fact I may not have much time left on this planet, I decided to move to San Francisco to live out my days in the debauchery of that gilded city.

9/12/12, 1:00 p.m.: Fantasized about finally moving to Phoenix to escape the brutal Chicago winters. Visualized myself celebrating my 66th birthday, at a poolside party in my backyard.

10/29/1995, 1:30 p.m.: Left the gym I'd just joined, frustrated with my declining health and increasing fatigue, unable to keep up with step class.

9/12/2012, 1:30 p.m.: Hopped on my retro '50s bike for a 14-mile ride along the lake, listening to '80s dance music, dressed like a '90s lesbian. Had an identity crisis -- saw my old high school buddy, John, now a homeless person who shuffles dreamily through each day. Stopped and gave him $20, then rode on madly.

11/1/1995, 2:00 p.m.: Recouped in the hospital with my first AIDS-defining illness and started an HIV medication regimen. Thankfully, protease inhibitors hit the scene with a life-prolonging splash.

9/12/2012, 2:00 p.m.: Wondered how long I will be chained to this cloying HIV medication regimen. Whatever. "Better living through pharmaceuticals," I always say. Truthfully, I simply adore taking pills.

3/15/1996, 4:30 p.m.: Acted the fool with my beloved but maddening partner (daddy/master) and fought over the phone about the insane intricacies of our dysfunctional S&M relationship.

9/12/2012, 4:30 p.m.: Acted the fool in my backyard with my beloved Sofi (see picture).

5/5/1997, 4:40 p.m.: Thought about the hot, older, leather daddy who nailed me at Blow Buddies sex club the night before, hoping he calls.

9/12/2012, 4:40 p.m.: Thought of the hot, older guy I nailed at the bear naked party I attended yesterday. Afterward, he shared that he is married (to a woman) and lives in the western suburbs. Christ. I dunno -- not sure if I want to get involved with someone who lives in the goddamned suburbs.

8/2/1997, 8:00 p.m.: Babysat my friend Sher's 2-year-old, Max. After I read her a bedtime story, I kissed her forehead, looked into her amazing, sparkling blue eyes, told her she is an angel and is capable of doing and being anything she wants to be. I basked in the newness of her life.

9/12/2012, 8:00 p.m.: Had an emotional phone conversation with Sher about the fact that Max is submitting college applications and targeting Yale, her alma mater.

Living with HIV has been a constant in my life for 19 years, but how I live my days is markedly different from 19 years ago. However, I have lived them. Someone once told me he knows it's going to be a good day if he wakes up, stretches his arms out, and doesn't feel the constraints of a coffin.

Have a good day.

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