Standing in two giggling lines, boys facing girls, we waited. It was phys ed, and we were going to square dance while the rest of the world was doing the hustle. Bemoaning the perils of fifth grade, I missed the call to choose a partner. To my horror, I was left facing Janet Stockmore, the girl rumored to smell like pee. I held my breath and grabbed her hand.
My view of the world has become more complex than anything I could have imagined at 11, though the world itself has remained as unforgiving and treacherous as it was in fifth grade. Today, I dance with a virus and its alien rhythm. But you gotta dance. It’s required, just like it was in phys ed (no one wants to fail the fifth grade).
Life is not an easy dance. All of us are born into this fact, and if you don’t know it already, HIV will spin you around until you do. Aside from despair, our only choice is grace. But to choose grace we must let go of our preconceived fears and breathe; after all, it’s just a virus. Dancing with Janet, my lungs ached. I couldn’t hold my breath for one more do-si-do. So I exhaled, then inhaled the feared miasma. She didn’t smell.
There is no reason not to dance—and dance beautifully—to the strange but imperative music that HIV forces upon us. We must claim grace, as I did when taking Janet’s hand for that Virginia reel. And when we are done, we must bow, as I did that day to Janet.