My best friend Micah has accompanied me to every HIV test I've had in the past decade. Carrie and Miranda had the Magnolia Bakery; we have the Gay Men's Health Crisis on West 29th Street. You're supposed to go every three months, and I'm there about every four and a half, sometimes five.
I've learned to not listen to Aimee Mann on the subway ride. If you want my advice, just put Dolly Parton's "Travelin' Thru" on loop. Invariably I'm late, so Micah will wait for me in the Pret a Manger on the corner, as it's either piercingly cold or summer stormy--you know, weather in which to get potentially life-changing news. We hug, say something bitchy, and walk into the clinic. I've always found negative energy to be an underrated quality of close friendship.
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The receptionist hands me a clipboard with forms to fill out. Micah used to get tested as well, but now he just sits with me, since he's years into a monogamous relationship and, to really make a point of it, engaged. In my sole act of yenta-hood I introduced him to his partner, and they in turn have asked me to officiate their wedding's "non-sacred portions," which I presume means telling everyone to sit down and announcing the hashtag.
We sit in the sad, tiny waiting room, which, when full of people, looks like a bland, tangled mass, like an undercooked pound of cross-legged spaghetti. It's quiet; I'm usually the only one who has brought his best friend. Young men of all stripes sit hunched over their clipboards. I follow suit. The "Single/Never Married" box and I reunite, both agreeing it's been far too long since the last form. What was it? My passport renewal?
I get to the page where you're prompted to check off any and all sexual tableaux in which you've participated: without a condom, while intoxicated, with multiple partners, for money, with someone of unknown HIV status. That last one always rattles me, because, well, I blow strangers, and before I do so I ask them their status, but I'm taking their word for it. I check the box and turn in my clipboard.
Rodrigo, a Peruvian vision, calls me back for my test. We sit at his desk, on which condoms and lube samples are displayed in a basket like fresh-baked cookies. He tells me that HIV infection is at an all-time high and that it's still possible to become infected via an unprotected blow job. I don't swallow, I tell him; when guys are gearing up to come, I pull off, leave the room, and drive to Connecticut until they've gotten it all out for sure. Rodrigo is not charmed. He asks what my risk-reduction plan is. "Well," I stammer, "to continue not to swallow," and he cuts in, advising me to use condoms whenever possible and, if not, to at least avoid brushing my teeth right before oral sex, as it just tears everything up in there. I shudder, recalling that I once blew a guy who lived on Riverside Drive on my way home from the dentist.
"Same goes for crusty bread," Micah says in the waiting room. "Don't eat a baguette first--it'll cut you up." I've returned from the testing room, where Rodrigo pricked my finger and had to pump it for blood. I'm very upset by this, and nervous. The test takes 15 minutes. In hushed tones, Micah tells me two horrible stories about friends of friends, younger than us, who died suddenly, out of nowhere. He's a minister, so these stories make their way to him with some frequency. "Why are you telling me this right now?" I snap-whisper. He talks about his mother, some French movie with full-frontal, his wonky toe. Like a construction crew pouring cement, he tilts the spout of the topic truck and fills each minute.
"Now, should you test positive," Rodrigo had asked earlier, "do you have someone, a friend or a family member, who you can turn to for support?"
"I do," I replied. "He's right out there." I say this every time, because every time he's right out there.
Micah stops chattering, clocking Rodrigo's reappearance in the waiting-room doorway. Back in I go.
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