Back when I discovered I was positive, in 1990, I wanted to beam myself into some future society, one with a cure for HIV. Last time I checked, we still hadn’t found one, but I have found meds that work for me. Thanks to their handiwork, I feel there’s a 20-year-old inside this 46-year-old body. And now I want to go back in time, to reclaim all the years after my diagnosis that I spent lying in bed with Ben and Jerry and eating my weight in doughnuts to smother my AIDS terror. Look out, ’90s, here I come!
Wait, what the hell did the ’90s contribute to world culture? Ross Perot? The Backstreet Boys? Scary. Maybe I should give the ’80s a try. Now, that was a decade. True, I did spend most of it in a drug- and alcohol-induced blackout. I never had the chance to fully appreciate Madonna when she was chunky.
If I could get a second crack at the ’80s, I’d bring my meds with me, stash them next to my leg warmers and share them with the folks who were the first to get sick and never got a chance to get well. I’d pass out pills while driving with the top down on my Sebring convertible, blasting Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” my big hair streaked with highlights, my Jennifer Beals sweatshirt sagging strategically off my left shoulder. What a feeling.
Because I have HIV, I often feel out of synch, disconnected. It’s like I’m trapped in the waiting room of life—waiting to get sick, waiting for meds to kick in, waiting for a new outlook or philosophy to get me through the day. I’ve never really been able to be “in the moment,” despite the many spiritual programs I attend to help me confront the here and now. Lately, in my Buddhist HIV support group, I’ve been a lying bitch, thinking not about yin and yang but about sipping a vintage 1985 Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler while on a date with Mr. T.
The business of living with HIV is tough. The grief of the loss I have experienced for more than 16 years has numbed me. Stepping into the moment and connecting to the living seems mundane. Maybe it’s burnout from running on fumes for so long.
For most of my days since my diagnosis, I have wanted to be anywhere except within my disease-infested body. Even before I developed my first symptoms, I’d obsess over potential med side effects and planning my funeral. It’s really hard to enjoy being in the present when your future seems so dire, but lately, I have the energy to truly live like any other person. Recently, I looked in the mirror. Squinting at this 46-year-old woman, as if for the first time, was a crushing reality check. Who am I if I am not actively dying? Will I just work, plan for retirement, get old and then die (albeit from natural causes) like everyone else? Is this what I was afraid I would miss when I lamented how HIV would take me away?
It’s hard to listen to myself whine about my privileged existence. I realize how many millions never got to this point and how many more never will. Don’t misunderstand: I want to live. I have to live. And I will. I can’t get to the future, and I can’t reclaim my past. But I can embrace this new millennium, even if I am six years late. How to start? Hmm—maybe I’ll stock up on some current artifacts. I’ll get the past seasons of Fear Factor and Survivor. And what the heck, maybe some Botox too. As they say in the 21st century, let’s get this party started.