OK, I GET IT: I AM GOING TO LIVE. YEAH, yeah, that’s great—now who’s going to pay for my fucking Lexus? I had intended on dying before I ever had to make any major payments. I bought it as a going-away present to myself and financed the whole thing, even the taxes. Now, with new meds, I see a future, a future that is heavily mortgaged.

For the past 16 years, I have planned to die within the next year. It is how I have lived my life. Buy a half-million dollar home? That’s the least I deserve for having survived so long. Get married? Absolutely—a husband can be a hot impulse acquisition too. And while we’re at it, how about an 1,800-square-foot barn and tractor? Sure, honey, whatever you want. I look at my life—now that I know I will have one—and cannot believe the hole I have dug for myself: a $6,000-a-month hole, and that doesn’t include food, tax and tip.

Is it a midlife crisis or a sudden recovering of my senses that I’m now obsessed with money matters? All I know is if you buy a new $35,000 Lexus SUV, in Batmobile black, and finance the whole thing, it’s hard to sell without still making payments for a luxury that’s no longer sitting in the driveway. Let alone unloading everything else I’ve piled up.

Like my husband, whom I married when he was fresh out of the Marines and a hunky 25. He is now 32 and, last time I checked, 30 pounds heavier. I love him but sometimes wonder if I would have married him if I thought that “till death do us part” meant more than a yearlong commitment. I honestly don’t know. I do know that I enjoyed shopping for the dress, and that the wedding was a kick-ass party, but now I spend one too many evenings stuffing china into a (brand-new top-of-the-line Stepford Wives) dishwasher that he doesn’t even know exists (’cause Lord knows he never uses it).
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During this epic buying spree, I also took huge creative risks because I thought I wouldn’t be around to suffer the reviews. I staged my own one-woman show about living with HIV and ended up hemorrhaging $57,000 of my own savings into the production. Sure, it ended up getting great notices, but the visionary producer/director insisted that it needed a $3,000 gown, a grand staircase, a fog machine, a disco ball and a hot gay man (they’re expensive) break-dancing behind me while I rapped.

Would I have risked that humiliation—and spent that much—if I thought I might have 40 more years to cringe about it afterward? Um, that’s a no. But the investment did manage to cough up some creative dividends: I have since performed my show everywhere from New York to LA to rural Iowa; appeared on CNN, Good Morning America and Montel; written reasonably priced, tell-all books about my life with the virus; and given safe-sex lectures to the American Dental Association, the International Waterkeepers and, yes, the Internal Revenue Service, teaching them how to correctly use a vibrator.

Looking at my $60,000 credit card bills, which also seem to vibrate across my desk (why does Visa keep sending me offers, and why do I keep opening accounts? 47 to be exact), I want to pack a bag (Prada, please) and skulk away. The Himalayas, even the caves of Afghanistan, sound pretty good right about now. But if my new rental agreement on life has taught me anything, it is to take responsibility. Since I quit drinking, I have spent 21 years sitting in 12-step rooms, where they really push the taking-responsibility shtick. So one step at a time, I will dig myself out of debt, put the tractor up for sale, drive to counseling with my now aging, no-longer-so-hot honey and then rev that Lexus straight to Shoppers’ Anonymous.

Click here to read more by River Huston.