"I don’t think I’ve ever seen Johnny (not his real name) completely sober. He is either high on drugs or alcohol. Sometimes it’s hard to be around him, particularly if he is shifting moods. Sometimes the swing from accepting to angry occurs in the blink of an eye.
On one visit to a school he went off on a high school kid who asked him how he became infected. As his rant was beginning to climb towards the stratosphere one of the other guests interrupted telling the kids he would be happy to share his story. John sat staring at the floor for the rest of our visit. As we were wrapping up he muttered an apology to the class.
I haven’t risked inviting him to speak since, though I do see him occasionally as part of a care team that he requested as support to his battle with HIV. He is mostly maintaining with NA and AA meetings though I don’t have a lot of confidence that he can continue much longer unless he kicks his care up a notch. We all know only he can do that…
I started to feel lousy after a day of skiing in the rain. I wrote it off as a cold and tried to ride it out at home for a couple of days. Jamey didn’t feel well either. She managed to go to work telling me to rest and get better. I got worse. When the coughing hurt so much I had to bend over to manage the pain I went to the doctor. I got a pretty thorough inspection with blood and urine taken. I was given some little sticks and a mailer so I could gather up some feces for analysis.
After waiting forever in a little waiting room I was told by the nurse that I had the flu with a touch of bronchial infection. I was given a couple of prescriptions and sent home with orders to stay in bed. The pills seemed to help. In two days I was moving around pretty well with only the occasional coughing spell.
I don’t remember if it was Thursday or Friday morning when the nurse called me. It was a Thursday. I remember I called work the day after seeing the doc. The nurse told me I needed to give some more blood as they wanted to run a couple of more tests. I went in after lunch.
I was taken into a waiting room where I sat for about a half an hour. Finally, in came a doc I hadn’t seen before trailed by a nurse and some guy who was introduced as a social worker. I didn’t get it right away. The doc had to tell me a couple of times that I had tested positive for HIV.
The nurse and social worker tried to explain to me some options but I bolted out heading to the nearest bar. I remember sitting there tossing down whiskey after whiskey wondering if I had it right or had they said something completely different. Did I have AIDS? Fuck, this couldn’t be…
I kept drinking but the booze didn’t do its usual magic. Nothing happened-I was as sober as when I walked in the joint. I thought about going back to the clinic but decided to head home instead and tell Jamey.
This all occurred about seven years ago.
When I got home Jamey was laying on the couch reading a magazine. I sat down on the end and blurted out what the doctor had told me. She sat up pulling in her legs as if to get as far away as possible from me. At first she didn’t say anything. Then she screamed at me wanting to know how it was possible that I was infected. We had been tested when we first got together, as the virus was sweeping through our community and neither of us had arrived without previous experiences. We didn’t go too deeply into them at the time as neither of us wanted to hang all our laundry out anymore than was comfortable. We tested negative promising never to risk the other no matter how our relationship developed. She had been cheated on before and was adamant she would never put up with it again. I promised I would never treat her like others had no matter what.
I thought about lying but I knew I couldn’t pull it off with her. I told her about the two times I had sex with other women since we’d been together. She didn’t say a word. After a few minutes she got up, went into the bedroom for a bit and then returned wearing her coat. All she said was that she may or may not be back. I cried, pleaded and begged but I could see she had flicked the master switch closing me off, possibly forever.
She didn’t return for six days. I didn’t see her. I only saw the note she left telling me she got tested and that she was negative. She told me that there are false positives and that I should be tested again. I went to the public health clinic and had them test me. In three days I was told I was negative. I went back to the first doc and demanded some explanation. What I heard was a lot of BS on how I would need to wait and get retested in six months as I had risky behavior too close to the test to ensure it was 100% accurate. They told me to be careful and not to do anything risky until I was tested yet again.
In the meantime I had called Jamey’s friends and all our mutual friends leaving messages with all of them asking her to call. More than a week went by before I heard from her. She wanted to meet at a restaurant up the block from our place. I was planning on begging for forgiveness if she would give me the opening to do so.
She was there before me waiting at a table facing the door. As soon as I saw the look in her eyes I knew we were finished. I no sooner sat down then she told me that she loved me but would not ever again be in a situation where she had to trust someone who had been unfaithful to her. She waved away the waitress angrily, telling me she was moving her stuff out on Saturday and would be grateful if I was not there. I couldn’t help myself and began to cry begging her forgiveness. She told me she forgave me and that I would have to find a way to forgive myself. She got up saying she was sorry about the whole thing. That was the last time I saw her in person.
For the next four years Johnny unraveled in a death spiral of drugs and alcohol. He told me he started shooting smack, meth and drinking non-stop. He ran with a biker crowd that offered him all the escape he could muster as long as he helped contribute to bringing in more drugs to consume and distribute. He took part time jobs, robbed and burgled homes to feed his growing habit. He did a ninety-day stint in the county jail for possession and public intoxication. The second time he was arrested and given six months they did an HIV screening. He came up positive. This time for real!
When he got out he was offered a months free rent from one of his friends who still had some faith in him. He learned Jamey had married and was expecting her first child. He got drunk. In his drunken state he jumped off his friends lanai in a wish to end it. He hit the little green strip running along the street side of the sidewalk breaking his back and his right leg.
When he got out of hospital he realized he couldn’t face the future by himself. During his ‘reckless’ years he alienated everybody in his family, as they were the first victims of his need to have money for drugs. He either borrowed or robbed their homes for whatever he could turn into drugs.
When he was diagnosed he had already burned every bridge with his family. Some even said they were “happy he was sick, as he was nothing but blight in their lives.” Other than a couple of ‘care teams’ and his buddies at NA and AA he is mostly alone. One counselor is trying to get him involved in coaching swimming at the YMCA. Hopefully he’ll find something to focus on other than his daily situation."
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