In the seven years since my HIV diagnosis, I had never told a femalefriend—not because I thought it would be difficult, but because myworry over burdening them outweighed my need for their support.
Recently, though, I realized it was something I did need. The thought of telling a girlfriend gave me no agita. What could be so hard about it? Her irises wouldn't flash with panic as her mind did a Matrix-worthyscan of every second of physical contact between us, worrying that shewas now host to my virulent little friend. She wouldn't begrudge alifetime of latex-laden sex, wouldn't be dismayed that we'd never havechildren—or that if we did, the baby might be positive, or that I'd dieearly, leaving her to care for the baby solo. Since she was less vestedin my life than, say, a lover or family member, her reaction was sureto be less dramatic. Right?
Right. That turned out to be the problem.
It took me a long time to decide who to confide in. Everyone I telltells at least one other person even though they swear they won't. Itused to upset me, but now I understand that talking with someone elsehelps them come to terms with my HIV faster. So I tell people that it'sOK to spread the word as long as they tell someone who can keep asecret, then tell me whom they've told.
Rolling through my Rolodex of possible confidants, I thought about howgossip is a cherished currency among chicks. Who could resist wieldingthe gold bullion of the news that I have HIV? I identified threefriends who I thought could (basically) keep my secret. They didn'tknow one another. Two were married—they were likely to tell theirhusbands, who were both very tight-lipped—and one was single, butincredibly discreet. I broke the tie by thinking about how they mightreact.
Susan would likely be devastated. There would be crying and sadness andfear and a lasting melancholy. She would write poems about it. Bethwould be brusque and focused on the direct role she would have in mysurvival. She would chide me for not telling her at the time of mydiagnosis. Lori who had been a professional cheerleader, would showjust the right mix of compassion and strength. She would not cry nor beangry. She would treat me just the same as she always had.
Which is exactly what she did. I told her over a salad at our localpizza hangout, using the usual spiel: "I have something to tell youthat may be difficult to hear. I have HIV." She barely paused herchewing. In fact, she nodded while continuing to chew, to recognizeshe'd heard me. I couldn't believe it. Had the tables been reversed,I'd be spitting my mesclun out onto the table in shock. This is big news!, I wanted to yell. You know—AIDS!? The global plague!?I consoled my disappointment in her nonchalance by viewing it as afront for her internally exploding self. Yet, as she askedquestions—"Jeez, how'd you get it?" (heterosexual sex); "Does yourfamily know?" (yes); "Can you still have sex, a baby?" (yes, whoknows); and "What are you doing about it?" (I gave her HIV-care 101and showed her my arsenal of pills)—her incredible calm made mestrangely angry.
What was wrong with me? Wasn't this what I'd dreamed of? Being able totell someone that I had HIV without producing horror and shock?
In theory, yes. Though I'd gotten pretty thick-skinned about people'sreactions, I had desperately wished for a day when I didn't have tobrace myself for the telling. Perhaps in some twisted way I feltdeprived of my chance to display my hard-earned strength and dignity inthe face of a dramatic response. It gave me a weird high; I feltinvincible when I stayed strong in the face of others' crumbling.
I thought Lori might get back to me with a delayed reaction that wouldallow me my moment of glory—but in the week that followed mydisclosure, I saw her several times at the stables where we ridetogether, and she never referenced the giant bomb I'd dropped on her.There were no proverbial char marks, no missing limbs. When I could nolonger stand it, I said, "Hey Lori, thanks for being so cool about,well, you know..." She touched my arm gently and said, "Hey, it meant alot that you trusted me."
The following weekend, I chopped my long blond hair to the bottom of mychin and dyed it lacquer black. When people asked me why I'd done it, Isaid I was just ready for a change. On reflection, though, I think ithad to do with the rush of producing a dramatic response. Lori, by theway, did react to my new hair. With due horror.
Shock and Blah
Anonymous discloses to a devastated response—her own