Headline news by the overly dramatic
At 1:40 pm Friday two weeks ago, I was at the Red Door Clinic in Minneapolis waiting for the results to my HIV test. Surprisingly I was not scared. I had thought I would be in the middle of some terrific breakdown, clinging onto the shirt of the forty-something man with male pattern baldness reading back issues of Field and Stream, crying about how I gave away my birth right for something or rather someone whom I barely remember. How I'd pissed on that sacred thing that is my heartbeat and consciousness, etc. etc. Instead I was fairly calm. Actually I was a tad bored. Part of this was that this was my third test in the last six months. I knew the routine. I'd tell if I was infected when I see the doctor's face. It was all old hat. The other reason was that, for whatever reason, I could not wrap my mind around the possibility anymore. Instead, I was treating this like any other test, something that could be made up through hard work and perseverance. I had the same tight-gut exhilaration that I associate with waiting to get back an Anthropology midterm. In ten minutes I'd know if I passed.
The previous Saturday, I was sitting in an apartment over H&R Block at a Carl party. For those of you who missed the Carl's articles on that event, let me fill you in. Essentially, someone got hold of a cookbook dedicated to aphrodisiac dishes. The book suggests that almost everything is natural Viagra. Pine nuts, raspberries in cream, artichokes, oysters, all are just the stroke on the pants this campus needs. Then that someone got the idea of feeding a bunch of students a smorgasbord of these libido-enhancing foods and seeing what happened. Nothing did, I am sad to report. Mostly people sat about, chatted and asked each other if he/she felt anything.
That Friday after I left the clinic I met a friend who is currently withdrawn from Carleton and living in the cities. She had no idea what I was doing there besides visiting her. Having tested negative, I filled her in. A good friend to the core, she became concerned, then relieved, then her face turned into a silly grin. "Don't think I'm perverted or anything," she asked, "but what happened?" I told her all the details, delighting in the chance to be graphic about something that had, until an hour ago, been a terrible burden. (For those readers who also want to know, well, I'm not telling. Suffice to say that I slept with someone I wasn't supposed to.)
It's been said that American sexuality is both puritanically moral and pervertedly obsessed with youthful fornication. Basically, we all want to be Catholic school children. We look down on those who have too much sex and simultaneously want that person to be us. We respect morality but we love youth.
Or maybe it's just me. What scared me most was not my potential demise but the wait I'd have to go through. I saw myself alone in a small apartment in a small town with friends dropping off Hallmark cards and macaroni in cheap Tupperware. Sitting in the Carl party, I picked at my aphrodisiacs in pathetic self-pity over a squandered youth.
However, despite my predilection for melodrama, I noticed something else dwelling in my thoughts: up until a week after I got my results back, I believed that if I was HIV positive I deserved it. I am not a Christian and I don't necessarily believe in sin, yet I couldn't help but believe that I had lost my way, had given up my membership as one of the chosen who will bring a new world down onto this one. To put it simply, along with loss of youth and innocence, HIV infection would have also cost me any chance of contribution or participation in this world. And that pissed me off. Smoking cigarettes by the window at the Carl party, I couldn't help but feel a bit angry, thinking that something as silly and innocent as feeding a bunch of willing participants bullshit aphrodisiacs was in some way reflective of the same sexual ignorance that had gotten me into this mess in the first place.
Now it's a Thursday night, I'm twenty-one today, and I should have finished this fucking article about two hours ago. Chuk, the co-editor, is telling me it's 'heavy.' I can't disagree, it is about HIV, but that's not the note I want to end on. An event like this leaves one asking the 'big' questions: the meaning of life, the meaning of death, and where the two seem to, if not intersect, at least get close enough to meet and shake hands. But that's all it is. It's a meeting, a brush with death or a brush with life depending on which you think about more, and I'm left staring out my window at a loss for words. What makes this time exciting? Not the sex or drugs or orgasms or stories we accumulate. It's not the gaining of anything but the tempting of fate to take away that with which we are born. Having now lived for three years in this academic, Carleton bubble, I know I have treated my innocence as if I was hanging off the side of a building and wondering what would happen if I let go. Six months ago I stumbled, recovered and wondered if I learned something. Instead, I'm just damn happy that I get to do it again.