It’s 2 a.m. on the eve of my first wedding anniversary. I know my betrothed will forget it—I don’t expect anything from him—but I also know that before the day is over, he’ll do something that makes all the inconveniences and compromises worthwhile. Maybe he’ll make that funny indignant snort he’s recently acquired—when I say, for the millionth time, “Honey, have you prepared yourself for the reality that we won’t be having children?” And he replies, “Well, yeah, especially since you hate them.”
I guess he really does listen when I talk.
Call me an isolationist or just plain weird, but relationships and marriage were never high on my wants list. So when I found out I was HIV positive, in 1990, I figured whatever small desire I had to be involved with another person was gone. Once over the shock of my diagnosis, I stocked up on stuff to keep my pussy happy: dildos, vibrators, a Water Pic.
Little did I know that HIV is not a deterrent to relationships: The usual losers pursued me.
HIV had sunk my self-esteem, and the fact that anyone wanted my diseased body made me feel desirable. I settled. I dated Tom the Unabomber for four years. He never touched me without latex gloves. Then, I almost married my stalker (at least I wouldn’t die alone, I thought). Eventually, I realized I deserved a six-course meal, not the crumbs.
Once my self-worth bubbled above sea level, I first developed a relationship with me. When the man who would become my husband delivered 13,472 pounds of my remaindered book, A Positive Life: Portraits of Women Living With HIV, to my cottage (the perfect prop for disclosing to my new sero-negative friend), I thought, He’s cute, but not much beyond that. But when we met again at a theater on Christmas Eve and ended up making out, all resistance became futile.
I suddenly acquire a Teflon mind, deflecting all previous rationality, when a guy who’s 14 years younger than I and looks like he’s walked out of a Calvin Klein underwear ad declares his desire. I forget I don’t like sleepovers and have no desire to cook, clean or do laundry. I need to tattoo this on my forehead: I am 44 and like to masturbate.
When he pointed out the box wrapped in a bow on his tractor seat and proceeded to get on his knees and propose, I fell into that HIV trap—or at least the way I’d looked at life since I was diagnosed. My fatalistic thinking goes, Oh, what the hell. I’m going to die soon anyway, and if it makes you happy, sure, honey, let’s get married. Who needs regular hot sex, and what could be more fun than couples therapy? Four years into any relationship, HIV or not, nine out of 10 other halves can be heard muttering similar questions.
I still love him and would marry him all over again. Yeah, I build up resentments all day about his devout belief that his dirty underwear, charming as it is, really does look better on the floor and his babbling on about acquiring more farm equipment till my ears bleed. But whenever he walks in the door, my heart melts. He is kind, loyal, talented, funny and cares deeply about me—even if he has recently gotten in touch with his inner dickhead.
Like this morning: It’s now six, and there is no card, flower or present. Before the coffee kicks in, we’ve resorted to nonverbal communication. As I serve a culinary delight, he does the Snort and says it’s not what he requested. I suppress my inner serial killer and revert to my morning bitch. With my usual loud sigh and an expulsion of spittle, I ask whether he’s considered a job in a warmer clime—say, Iraq? Now, this is love.