Chapter 34: i cant stand the rain
a difficult questionwould i date a man with HIV? the answer comes with a shocking swiftnessshocking in its immediacy, shocking in its urgency.
i would not now knowingly date a man with HIV, not because a man with HIV is unlovable, or that i dont believe that any moment of love is preferred to one without, but because I have had my sunshine, and i cant stand the rain.
that is davids legacy.
sunshine on my shoulder
i met david almost 17 years ago. it was love at first sight. he was a flamboyant hairdresser wearing tight jeans and muscle shirts. i was a fledgling lawyer wearing blue suits and spectator pumps. locks of golden curls hung adroitly from his head, and drew your attention to his beautifully sculpted shoulders and ever-present tan. i teased him unmercifully about his vanity, as well as his black mans bootie, which he kept in marvelous shape through routine workouts.
he called me his cool little lawyer. while i handled his legal matters he handled my hairboth matters of prime and equal import in our minds. he professed to understand the nuances of my self-coined trailer park gheri curl-esque hair by claiming that we had the same rootsliterally!
david was funny, femme, and fantastic; and our friendship was rooted in mutual adoration and trust. we were like mutt and jeff: a caucasian gay man and african-american female lawyer as buddies, both out of place in our environments, yet completely at home with each other.
makes me happysunshine almost always makes me cry
funny how david and i seemed to live parallel lives; we even started losing weight around the same time. as i denied the artist in me freedom of expression, i also denied myself the freedom to be happy with my success. my body followed suit. i didnt eat or sleep because i was unhappy. i denied the fact that i wanted to do something creative with life instead of sitting on a bench judging people. so i didnt consider myself a grand success because i wasnt following my passion. my outward appearance became a reflection of my inner starvation. it is amazing how denying yourself one good thing can lead to a progressive denial of all good things. all joy becomes at-risk.
davids weight loss resulted from something that couldnt be cured by freeing oneself and following ones passion. instead, his uninhibited freedom of self-expression, and the passionate pursuit of it, led to a diagnosis that doesnt have a cure, and all of his joy would become at-risk.
as the arc of his private life paralleled my professional one, our paths diverged when it came to our reputations in these regards. where I was reserved, careful, and selective, david was a serial lover and proud of it; wild in his ways and wanton with his liaisons. he was the best of boysand girlshe was Sunshine to everyone.
he loved well and he loved hard; he also lived well and he lived hard. and i lived vicariously through him. i was fortunate to know him, to be loved by him, and to love him in return.
then, there were the signs. he was losing weight rapidly and could no longer claim that he was trying to diet. his perpetual tan could not be revived. it was that beautiful skin of his that offered one of the most telling betrayals. so, i was not surprised when he told me that he was hiv-positive. i was glad that he trusted me because there was so much stigma attached to the disease at that time. he knew that i was involved with a minority-affiliated aids organization, and that fact that i was well-informed probably eased any shame he may have had in disclosing this health crisis to me.
despite the depth of our friendship, i dont know that he would have confided in me had he not been compelled to do so. he wanted someone to make decisions for him when the time camelife or death decisions. i agreed to help him without hesitation, unaware that one yes would lead to another. in the end, that the final yes would tilt my world and taint my ability to fully and freely love for a very long time. davids life was soon overflowing with secrets. not an indicator of the man he was, but of the disease he hid.
i was surprised to discover that davids last and most ardent lover veiled himself as heterosexual. he was a musician in a band that had some success in the industry. while david wore his sexuality like a badge of courage, his lover refused to introduce david to his bandmates and friends. it hurt me to watch david get hurt by such calculated rejection, and from someone whom he loved without measure.
he was dying. and to my shock and dismay, david did not tell this lover about his status. i struggled with the deception, but tried to reconcile my concern with the thought that each deception begot the other.
he loved the man he was deceiving, as much as he loved his work. hair was his passion. so, it should not have surprised me then, when he also refused to tell his clients. we had difficult discussions over the right to know versus his right to earn a living. david was certain that he would be ostracized. he needed to work, to pay for his medications, in order to live. he assured me that he was careful. that he was being safe.
sunshine almost always makes me cry
eventually, davids body deceived him. his former scrupulously sculpted frame became an emaciated silhouette. his beautiful skin marred by lesions. his spirit was broken by his image in the mirror.
the road was long, but the end was near. and when the end came, it came quicklyall in a series of ones.
one ominous call
one frantic trip
one whispered question
one screaming family member
one painful yes
one hand held
one last breath
one love lost
one life remembered
would i date a man with hiv? right now, today? i would love a man with hiv; i would love him desperately and fiercely, and with all my heart. but, knowing that he had hiv, i couldnt fall for him. i couldnt/wouldnt want to watch him/help him/let him go. in order for me to love fully and freely, i need options, like the option to give him my entire heart, to live and love forever, and to grow old together.
hiv itself does not limit options for me today. nor am i limited by true intimacy across the board (with all men). i am not talking about sexual intimacy. i would limit myself with a man with hiv in that i would always be waiting for the first symptom, and the next, and the next. i would live in fear. who can love fully when afraid?
i dont have hiv, but neither do i want to specifically join the other non-hiv-positive people or characterize myself as such. i dont want to wear my non status like a badge of honor. it could happen to any of us.
i dont believe that every day beside a loved one with hiv brings heartbreak. i do believe that my experience with david would be a constant reminder of that singular heartbreak and i would always (in any subsequent scenario) be expecting that familiar heartache.
however, in sharing my thoughts, i dont want to limit the hopes of anyone loving someone with hiv or living with hiv. i want to be responsible about this and not perpetuate any of the prejudice that uninformed people fall back on due to fear. i just want to say that the shadow cast on my life by watching my beautiful friend die loomed long after he was gone.
aint no sunshine when hes gone
i will love and do love men with HIV, but i know i will catch myself before i fall in love, and i will catch myself every time.
i cant stand the rain.
ivory t. brown is a lawyer turned literary and a blonde turned serial shades of metallic. depending on the day you will find the metal matches her mood and mettle.