Friday, June 29, 2012

Negative: No Positive Spin Needed

I hate that HIV testing is part of my life. I can't lie about that. It sucks that HIV/AIDS exists in our world and that we have to put ourselves through the nightmare of fear and wondering as we wait for the results.
Every time I have sex with a stranger, a friend, a friend of a friend, I post coitally go into anxiety mode. As soon as the pleasure fades I begin to wonder Was I protected enough? Was I careful enough? You can use the seatbelt and the mirrors all you want, but sometimes you can't prevent the accident waiting just around the curve.
Is the desire to be with another person worth the fear of infection? The answer to that question is: No. Yet I can't get past the notion of putting my life at risk every time I choose to find gratification with another person instead of just my hand. As a single, gay man living in a large metropolitan city, with a large gay community, I am not alone in my anxiety. I may be alone in the way I agonize over it, but that's my own hang up. Trust issues!
I understand how HIV is spread, and I do my best in the way of preventive measures to stay healthy. That doesn't change how I torment myself. I'm my own worst enemy. The "What ifs..." play racquet ball inside my brain.
I chose to have my testing done at GMHC: Gay Men's Health Crisis. It's free of charge and there is no judgement. My counselor, Harold, took me to his office and asked me personal questions that I answered as honestly as I could. There should be no embarrassment. Sometimes I forget that. Information is necessary. Information is valuable. He wasn’t probing me for information to run on Page Six of The Post. He was asking me about my life to better access my situation. There's no shame in being sexually active.  
Thankfully, advances in HIV testing have made the nerve racking, gnawing-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach wait time less wait time than it used to be. My first HIV test was in the form of a DIY box kit that I bought at Duane Reade. I took it home, pricked my finger, put a drop of blood on each of the 3 circles, attached the coded number sticker that kept me anonymous, sealed it inside the envelope and put it in the mail. Then I waited - 2 to 3 weeks I waited. It was excruciating. I tried to not think about it. Difficult when you have a huge - possibly life changing - result hanging in the balance between knowing and not. I had never felt more light and alive than when the day came that I could call the 800 number and punch in my code to get those results. Well, to be honest, the knot in my stomach was like a fist twisting my intestines as I called the 800 number and punched in my code. Then came the light and lively feeling. I was negative. That was the first time "negative" meant so much to me. I remember calling my dear friend, Suzie and telling her my good news. We had wine that night; merlot if I'm not mistaken.
Since then I have had my testing done through my doctor's office. The wait time shrank to a week at the most. Still tough, but easier to handle.
Today, I experienced my first test with results in 10 minutes. I didn't have too much time to allow the nerves of worry to affect me. I didn't have any time to allow myself to forget the results were processing. I barely had time to finish the review of the film Magic Mike I was reading in Entertainment Weekly before Harold was calling my name. The results were in. Ten minutes of uninformed bliss. Ten minutes of rose-colored glasses. Ten minutes of all's right with the world. There was no going back. Even feeling in my heart the answer would be "negative" there was no putting the blood back in my finger. If for some reason the outcome was not the one I wanted to hear, my 10 minutes were up. If you've never experienced a moment like that then you have no idea how that "What if..." feels.
When Harold told me I was negative the sense of relief was still as affecting as the first time. Knowledge truly is power. The clinch released. The wondering "What if..." got its answer. It was over - at least for another few months. I was thankful and realized how blessed I am. I called no one. I walked in the heat of New York City appreciating yet another moment when "negative" was the most positive word in the world.