Saturday, May 27, 2017

HIV--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, January 11

     I went to the health department and got an anonymous blood test to screen for HIV. My doctor had advised me to do it in six months, but I’d researched it and the health department said accurate results could be obtained now. I needed to find out. Get rid of the gnawing worry or plan for the worst.
     The waiting room was harshly-lit and crowded. I felt weightless, like a ghost. But I was intensely alert. I sat in a plastic chair looking at everyone in the ghoulish room. I felt sad for all of us.
     My number was called. I shakily walked into a counselor’s office and sat at her desk. She appeared to be about my age.
     “What brings you here?” Lourdes asked. “Why do you want to get tested?”
     I told Lourdes. She sat back in her chair.
     “My first husband cheated on me,” she said. “That’s why I divorced him. I’m married for the second time and, between you and me, I test myself for STDs once a year. I don’t know what my husband is doing. No one really knows what their spouse is doing. I don’t want to live like a suspicious spy so I get tested.”
     “You never truly know another person, do you?” I said. “The prospect of getting involved with another man freaks me out. I don’t want to realize one day that I’m with another stranger. I don’t want to look across the dinner table and think, ‘What have I done?’ ever again. I don’t want to continually worry I’m being contaminated with STDs. The guy I’m divorcing gave me HPV.”
     “It will probably go away, but you could get it from future partners because HPV is rampant in our age group,” Lourdes said. “There are over one hundred strains. It can be passed orally and cause throat and mouth cancer, too. That’s why it’s important for boys to be immunized as well as girls.”
     I walked down the florescent-lit hall for my blood test. I felt like I was getting smaller and smaller, like I could disappear. The phlebotomist stuck a needle in my arm and drew blood into a syringe.
     Back at home, I set out kitchenware for JB. I put his mother’s artwork on the front porch along with other bagged items. At three o’clock, JB showed up. He handed me documents waiving his right to an attorney. He started loading up his car. Blake began filling his Toyota with his father’s stuff and I sat in the living room trying to read “Time,” but my brain was numb. JB walked through the living room on his way to the kitchen.
     “I went to the health department and got tested for HIV today,” I said. “Have you been tested?”
     “No,” he said sharply and disappeared into the kitchen.
     Tom arrived home from school. He began helping his father. They packed as much as they could into Blake’s SUV and JB’s car and the three of them left.
     I drove to Angie’s. She and I hopped into the backseat of her friend’s car and the four of us drove to the city for Shabbat dinner at the Kabbalah Center. On our way back, Angie said, “There must have been a reason the universe had to hit you over the head with a two-by-four, you know?”
     Her comment stung. I thought about it. 
     “I had believed it was my job to elevate JB and our relationship. I guess the universe had to knock that out of me. It’s a relief to be off the hook.”
     Angie nodded slowly.

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