Taking a two-week trip can be quite an adventure for a positoid. Especially if it involves leaving the country. And above all if it pertains to matters of the heart.

So I followed my hemo-bliss to Brazil to be with Mariana, my girlfriend and the best pal I could ever wish for. I arrived in Belo Horizonte, her hometown, in March and met her brother and parents. Her family is very cool: Here was this 21-year-old cyber-positoid stalking their Brazilian-negatoid darling, and they accepted me with open arms.

After a couple of days staring into each other’s eyes, Mariana and I traveled north to São Thomé das Letras, a city made of stone that’s believed by some to be a UFO hot spot possessing mystical energy. We went in hopes of finding a cure for HIV... OK -- that’s a viral load of BS. We were there to see aliens and, more important, to get to know each other, enjoying non-cyber presence for the first time. It was awesome! (Want details? Buy the book.)

The bus ride back to Belo Horizonte is what I want to tell you about. It was bumpy, driving over unpaved roads and broken-down highways -- but the bumps that made the biggest impression were the emotional ones. The six-hour trip was made to seem even longer by a fellow passenger. This guy was a robust antagonist, a kind of Brazilian Pavarotti singing dirty songs, telling rude jokes and singling out young lovers to make fun of -- Mariana and me. His banter didn’t bother me -- he was just a big clown looking for ha-has -- but it was making my true love cry. And I understood why. She didn’t want this bozo ruining our memories of São Thomé. So it was time to do a little talkin’.

I had Mariana’s friend Fernando come with me to the back of the bus. He was to hold the big man’s arms while I proceeded to kick him furiously in the teeth. Or at least to translate my English into Portuguese.

I didn’t know what to say. But my heart spoke, and my mouth tried to keep up: “My girlfriend and I took this trip to have a good time. I know you’re just playing, but it’s upsetting her a lot. And that upsets me.” Then my brain was hijacked by some alien force. “Me and Mariana met five months ago on the computer. I’m here in Brazil for two weeks with her, then I go back to Virginia. I’m HIV positive, and this trip is very important to both of us. I want her to be happy while we’re together, because you never know... how much time you have.”

He just shook my hand and nodded his head. I think half of what I said was never even translated, but the message got through. Here I was, on a bumpy bus, in a beautiful country, having the time of my life with my true love and sharing such personal feelings with the Fourth Tenor, a complete stranger.

Mariana was curious about what I’d said. I just told her that our big friend would now leave us alone -- and then the rest of the story came tumbling out. I admitted I felt bad for telling this guy that I have AIDS. I didn’t intend to lay a guilt trip on him -- my feelings just came spewing out. But I was suddenly dealing with the topic that I had dodged for so long: My mortality.

For me, dying is no big deal. I had thought about it in my lonesome, and I figure the common thread that binds us all is that we are destined to take that dirt nap sooner or later. But I had never before thought about it while sitting beside the person I love most on this planet. She is a beautiful soul and deserves the best. She doesn’t deserve some joker who’s going to breeze into her life one moment and drop dead the next.

I used to think I was indestructible, and that crying or spewing such emotions was a sign of defeat. But now I felt safe. As we held on to each other, with tears rolling down our faces, she said something I’ll never forget: “I don’t care about that. If we have one week together, or 10 years, I just want to be with you.”

Mariana is an angel, sent down from the heavens to help me salvage my thus-far tragic existence. (She’ll laugh out loud when she reads that line, for she understands how important humor is, and even calls me her “hemo-positoid stud.”) We are young, in love, and we have all the time in the world. We focus on quality, not quantity.

Those two weeks in Brazil marked only the beginning of a great love story... our love story, Mariana, and so far it’s been quite a ride! Thanks for making my life glow, honey. *SIGH* What a girl!