Friday, July 3, 2009

Courage Kid

There is a window that opens into grief.

Some nights I don't know how this is the version of myself I have chosen.

Some nights there is a text message from an old boyfriend that is moonlit and maddening.

How is it all your decisions can be wrong.

Tears. One hangs himself between what he's done and what he could've done.

A memory of a white-haired professor: Virgil: "Courage is to move forward always."

What is it a kiss meant? Risk and Movement. No one is safe from the Immanent.

Two years now, two years. I wonder if my white-haired Classics professor is still alive.

Being positive is like knowing the poor body just can't be here forever.

"Starved for war, Aeneas had cased his calves in gold,
left and right, and spurning delay, he shakes his glinting spear.

Once he has fitted shield to hip and harness to his back,

he clasps Ascanius fast in an iron-clad embrace
and kissing him lightly through his visor, says:

'Learn courage from me, my son, true hardship too.'" 12.508-13

Monday, June 29, 2009

Science for a Rebel Heart

Two seasons have passed since I've come here. It feels like I had to hibernate my heart for awhile, so that I can bear it. So that I can understand better, what being h.i.v. positive actually means in this time.

Finding out was not the worst thing. Somehow, it didn't change anything for me. I didn't cry. The world stayed the same. But my place in it changed. How I would be viewed was changed.

I've been grateful. It's not 1983. I won't die from this. My family has been very supportive, generous, understanding and accepting. I am cared for, in shameless ways.

Winter, and then Spring. A time of great silence broken by a splash. I adorn myself.

After reading an article from a medical journal that studied longevity in HIV positive men with t-cell counts between 350-500, and after reading that the sooner these men started their meds, the longer they ended up living, I called up my doctor and insisted on starting, even though my t-cell count was 422, a moderately good level.

Do you know how these trees matter? White t-cells, those little white knights of the body. And the demons of virus. My health now is a ratio between them.

A normal count for t-cells is between 800-1200. If this number drops below 250, you officially have AIDS, because your body can't fight off any number of afflictions that are present for most of us anyway.

The flesh is weak.

The hungry demons can be counted among the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, while your white knights slip below 300. Each virus is like a drill that digs itself into a blood cell, and then uses the cell to replicate itself inside. Destroying the blood cell, exploding it from the inside, while out fly the demonic hungry saucers.

When I decided to go on meds in January, my t-cell count was 422 and my viral load was at 16000. Over the first year that count was moderate, but fluctuated between 44,000 and at my lowest count, 8,000. These are lucky numbers. I know people in the hundred thousand count, and around 300 tcells. . . Everyone is different.

Medications are different and have changed dramatically. My doctor says that in the early years the practice was to demand early treatments, and the side effects were intense and very damaging. Frightening times. Then in the 90's they gave cocktails and had some restraint. Patients would try to wait as long as possible to go on the meds because the side-effects were so awful, and because once you start them, you cannot stop for the rest of your life. Some patients would wait until their t-cell count was as low as they could bear, as close to 200 as they could go. My doctor says there's a threshold. At some point the body cannot recover a normal t-cell count.

The medications are fascinating. They do three things. Prevent the virus from being able to enter blood cells. Prevent the virus from being able to use the cell to make virus parts. Prevent the virus from being able to replicate itself inside the cell. Hense, a cocktail of drugs to do all these things. Once this is done, the body can recover its t-cell count.

I started ATRIPLA, a three in one pill. I take this one pill every night now. My pink pill, 1-2-3. I chose it because the side-effects are nervous system related and not gastrointestinal. Which means night tremors and not diarrhea. Though I wonder how my liver will fair in the long haul. . .

I spent a month being sick. Flulike. No night tremors. But a dizziness that lasted into the late afternoon. It's died off and now I only have it at night. At ten days I had a rash begin to cover my whole body, neck to wrists, neck to ankles. So I took Claritin for a month or so to keep it at bay.

Spring is one gross extravagance after another. I'll tell you what.

And all of this matters how? I'm not sure. It's not like being sick, really. It's like being in a kind of purgatory between shame and shamelessness. I don't have guilt, I have a sense of my body's vulnerability. Each of us will come to this somehow. This is the first way I will come barefoot to my mortality. The pink moons hiss. I don't care. My viral load is undetectable, Zero, which means if I get tested I test negative for the virus.

The stigma is something else entirely. How to own it. And not just in public, but in the naked mirror. I have lit degrees, and teach lit. studies, and have read enough Dickinson and Larkin and Whitman and Hardy and oh, Henry Miller and Dostoevsky to have brooded over love and death and misunderstanding and the tragic failure of human longing, the transcendent chants of rebellious hearts against the fates of bodies in the earth's light.

Silence is the enemy of the rebel. The point of the rebel is to speak out against the injustices of the human body, which are many and everywhere.

Maybe that's why I told my family, against the advice of my X and close friends and even my doctors. Maybe that's why I've started this blog, despite the mask. I can't stand the culture of silence and anonymity that's so ingrained in the gay community now surrounding this disease, which in America, in California, at least, does not have to be very different than having something like diabetes.

So tonight I'm clinging to Audre Lorde, black american Lesbian poet, who when she discovered her breast cancer in 1977, presented it in a panel discussion on Lesbians and Literature at the MLA conference, asking them, "What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrranies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?" And who recounted her daughter's advice to her beforehand:

"Tell them about how you're never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there's always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don't speak it out one day it will just up and punch your mouth from the inside."

I'll take my pills. I'll open my mouth. But don't expect anything less than a curse from me. I love my flesh more than I love anything.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Love in the Time of Promiscuity

Gay men don't have relationships like straight couples. There are no expectations, no wedding bells in our ears, no age at which we become old maids or wasted bachelors. We don't think in terms of forever. Maybe when we were young, before we knew how to live and navigate the gay currents where the light is brief, promiscuous and secret.

These days it's a new time, thinking about gay marriage, and maybe boys coming up now have a different idea about what a relationship is supposed to be, an idea closer to the marriage of straights. But even 10 years ago, there wasn't this idea in our culture. If gay people stayed together for years, it was without the ceremonial and especially the social constraints. 

Cheating is different for gay men. It's like we've had to deal with our sexual selves more realistically. Because for so long we were not allowed to have relationships openly. We had to face the realism of a human sexuality that simply isn't biologically geared to monogamy. We had to have had promiscuous, profane and illegal sex lives. What is cheating, when the only way you meet other gay men is secretly? Well, it's not that way anymore, but the point is we've had to face the idea that we could never be together openly and if we met in secret it could only last for so long. Hence, the sorrows of Brokeback Mountain

When I was younger, say in college, the whole dilemma was how would I ever meet someone? I didn't even really know I was gay. My parents never had gay friends, no one in my family was gay. I didn't feel terribly different from my peers, and when I did I just thought I was nerdy. "Gay" was just something funny that adults laughed at. Then in college I just didn't know where or how to meet anyone. The only gay guy I knew about was this big flouncy queen, and at the time it just seemed too foreign to me. Too scary. I mean, was I going to be a lispy, bouncy thing? I was still a virgin, though I messed around with a few girls, so it was difficult to navigate. 

Once I answered a newspaper add in the back of the school paper looking for "gay athletes" for a party. I ended up in this older fat guy's living room where he blew me. I was grossed out afterward. It was traumatizing. I never knew his name. He didn't ask for mine. I did not look into his eyes or close my eyes in his arms. He put in some porn and got on his knees and an hour later I was walking home choking down tears. I was lost and really alone. I had girlfriends, but never felt anything romantically. I always felt like I was looking for some answer to my loneliness. My first experience was all sex and no eros. 

I thought meeting someone else who liked me, meeting a . . .  I didn't even have language for it, not gay--gay was a feeling about bouncy girlish strange boys, a feeling I was scared other people would have about me--and not man, I don't know why. I wanted to meet someone who I could be close to in the dark, and who would be close to me.

I really believed this was the whole dilemma.

15 years later, I know that the struggle is much more complicated. Much less romantic. Gay men are insecure and terrified. We are bullies, we are co-dependent. We are terrified of commitment. We are desperate for commitment. We want so much to be in love, and we don't believe in it. 

When I finally fell in love I really only wanted that forever. He was a swimmer and a painter. He rode his bicycle and had a dog. We met on the racetrack outside the gym. 

We still talk everyday. We live in different states, across the country now. 

The truth is that I cheated on him and he cheated on me and it wasn't until years later, years of heartache and ruin and getting to know him more fully, years of becoming family, all the while dating and sleeping with strangers, years making ourselves necessary to each other while making a distance too big to cross, becoming lifers and something more intimate than lovers, but not lovers any longer. It's not until these years of distance and longing that I understand his place in my life and my place in his. I am married to him more and more, but we won't ever be married. We may never sleep together again. But it's there. That love. That meaning.

He is not the man I was dating when I found out I was H.I.V. positive.

This closeness, this trust. 

And this promiscuous reality. 

I came of age between them. 

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Enchanted Potion

I found out I was H.I.V. positive May 15th, 2007, a year and 5 months next week. Tonight was the first time I really wept for it, for myself, for whatever has gone wrong. I want to be better, and cried to myself, please.  I don't know why I didn't try to journal here before, but tonight it makes sense to begin.

Today at random I pulled a book from the shelves, The Miracle of the Rose, by Jean Genet:

"I think it is the rigours of prison that drive us toward each other in bursts of love without which we could not live; unhappiness is the enchanted poison."

Tonight I am crying angry.

I know this is beautiful, for not being easy.

X, where I got it from.

I'm craving safety, arms, breath. I want to sleep inside the shadow of your care. If darkness is an intimacy.

I had a good cry to myself.  Now I'm going to tell you this story.