The rest of the morning went on as it always does, I updated my Facebook status, commented here and there, left birthday greetings on certain friend's pages, and played the games I loathe but can't seem to stop, they are more frustrating than fun and never ending, much like life. I made the bed and straightened up a little, there's always something to do and began to think about what to do with myself. I had planned on going to the gym but the day was shaping up to be ever so nice that when a friend of mine reminded me that we had made plans to take a long walk through the city (to satisfy an errand of his) I put my workout plans on hold and began making preparations for our constitutional. I busied myself through his endless delays and finally got the call to come collect him.
As I was leaving, another friend of mine was passing in front of my home and I called out to him and we chatted about our plans to walk and he gamely joined us for our little excursion.
It was a beautiful day, usually here on the island there's always a breeze either coming off the ocean, damp and chilly despite the sunshine, or it's coming from the north and over the bays, and the north winds are always cold. This day was perfect, warm and bright with no breeze at all and we quickly made our way to the boardwalk to take it all in.
I was enjoying being in the company of an old friend and a new one, both dear to me in different ways. We talked and talked, commenting on the people we passed, the overly-huge and garish homes, the memories certain places brought up, the conversation never lagged, the laughs came free and easy.
Eventually the real reason for our little jaunt came out to my other friend and he was game, although I had yet to decide if I wanted to participate.
The boardwalk was busy, the day was spectacular and I was glad I put on my sunblock. I wrapped my hoodie around my waist since the direct sunlight was warming me up and we travelled along, taking our time and enjoying each other's company. But our goal, as it got closer, began to weigh heavier and heavier on my mind.
Before I knew it, we were walking down Tennessee Avenue, that long stretch of street that, although is now almost completely devoid of buildings it always seems to have the ghosts of the past hovering just out of sight as I wander along it. I see the shades of the former buildings, the hotels and bars and rooming houses and people that used to populate this neighbourhood, their apparitions haunting my memories. The ghosts of my past were getting more and more apparent the closer I got to our destination, which was just in the next block. I kept chattering on, keeping it light and trying to stifle the nervousness that wanted to creep into my patter, my voice, as I continually debated in my head what I should do in the next few moments when a decision would have to be made.
To say I was terrified would be an understatement.
Before I knew it, we were here. Before I knew it, we were inside. Before I realized it, I was giving them my name and filling out forms.
Before I knew it, I was taking my very first A.I.D.S. test since becoming sexually active thirty years ago.
I remember every moment of this experience. Vividly. Terror and anticipation have a way of slowing down time and making things hyper-real. The faces of those waiting in the lobby, taking care of their business whatever it may be. I knew what that business was, I had done fundraising for Oasis over the years. I knew what their business was, I had done fundraising for the S.J.A.A. and the outreach programs in the city. And here I am taking advantage of one of the services provided, free of charge, by this worthy organization. Taking advantage of something I should have done a very long time ago. But fear of knowing the truth is a powerful thing. And here I was, the ultimate hypocrite, finally doing the very thing I have militantly counselled countless people over the years to do. I have berated my friends for having unprotected sex, for not knowing their status, for getting tested, and the entire time I had never, ever, done so.
I suddenly found myself climbing the stairway to the first door on the left and entered, the person there was waiting and shut the door behind me as I took a seat at the desk. I knew him. Of course I did. I'm Mortimer, I know nearly everyone on this island in one way or another. He was gracious and offered to find a stranger to administer the test but I felt more comfortable being with him. A friendly face. Someone I knew but didn't know. He explained the procedure, did the legal spiel and the drill, asking me questions about my sexual behaviour and proclivities, which I answered honestly. Far more honestly than I expected to but this whole process was so foreign to me, I had separated from myself. It was as if I was acting out the scene, and watching it at the same time. I think it was my mind preparing myself for the eventuality that may come to pass. And I was terrified. As he talked, he prepared himself, too. Putting on the gloves, getting the apparatus together, opening each item from their little sterile containers and laying them out in front of himself. He asked for my hand and I stretched it across the desk and he pricked my middle finger, wiping the first drop away and then squeezing out a bigger drop of blood, scooping it up and placing it on the small plastic device that will decide the rest of my life. Imagine, my entire future was in that little drop of blood on his desk.
He set the timer for twenty minutes and we waited. The enormity of this situation was staggering. The fact that I'm in this tawdry little office, devoid of any warmth, extraneous decoration, or a bloody window and have this sword of Damocles hanging over my head was getting unbearable! If it wasn't for the forced chit-chat I was making with my caseworker/friend, I don't know how I could have made it through.
The timer was facing him, blessedly, and before I knew it, the twenty little minutes were up. He looked down at the testing device and looked up at me. The results are in, you are...
I thanked him, we exchanged numbers, and I went out the office and down the steps, sending in one of my friends for his turn. After trips to the library, talking to some other friends outside of Oasis that I knew from my lengthy club days, and talking on my mobile, the three of us were done and off we went to find some lunch.
The rest of the day was a blur. No, I know each and every thing that happened from the moment I stepped out of that office but it's still a blur. When you take the fact that I have buried over forty friends who died of A.I.D.S., that I have friends who are living with the virus, that I have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help those with it, that I have had my drunken moments where I was very stupid and regretful, the fact that I now knew my status that had devastated my community overwhelms each and every detail of the rest of the day.
It was truly the first day of the rest of my life.