The morning of D-day seemed to fly by I tried to cherish every moment and everything that I did that morning. At that moment I did not have AIDS, and I wanted to remember the feeling of being AIDS free for the last time. I felt like an inmate, who was facing his day of execution. I just felt in my heart that the test was going to come up positive. The appointment was at 3pm and it was quickly approaching. I decided to get dressed in my summer best that would be topped off with a very un-summer like sweater to cover up my arms. I shaved my legs and underarms and exfoliated my face. I even put on a full face of makeup. I am not sure why I decided to go all out with makeup, but I did a smoky gray and pink eye that complimented my outfit. I was acting like I was going out for a date not to go get an AIDS test, but I knew it was just that I wanted to remember what these tasks felt like when I wasn’t positive. I decided after I got my test results that I would not tell anyone, live a modest life of volunteering and I would die quietly in my room, or I would go buck wild crazy and party harder than I ever had before until I died loudly on the streets. I hadn’t made up my mind, but I would see how I felt and which situation worked out better for me.
Houda called me first to tell me that she was running late, but that she would be there. My stomach sank, I knew that I would literally need someone to walk me into the clinic, and I knew that Nelia was late everywhere she went. I wanted to call and push back my appointment to accommodate Houda’s arrival time, but for some reason I ignored that inclination and continued to get overdressed for my appointment. I practiced my reactions once more in the mirror, there were two of them; one was a stoic reaction of acceptance and pain that was accompanied by a lot of head nodding, and the other was a one of relief, surprise, and elation all in one accompanied with my hands over my open mouth. I wasn’t sure why I had spent all of that time practicing my reaction, but I guess I was trying to avoid uncontrollable snot-filled sobbing or passing out when I finally got my results. I left my house at 2:15pm, the clinic was only about a 25-minute subway ride away from my apartment, but I wanted to walk really slowly and window browse before I got there. I did a lot of people watching on the Subway, at that moment I wanted to trade lives with anyone else- I was really starting to feel nauseous. When I got off of the train I could barely focus on window browsing, and I just decided to go and get it over with. Both of my friends were running late and I knew that I would really have to end up doing this on my own. Nelia texted me to tell me that she was on her way. I told her that I was almost already there, she texted back that she would be there in 20 minutes and would not let me go through this alone, “too late”, I thought.
I walked into the building and asked where the AIDS clinic was, the doorman looked at me like I was a statistic and told me that it was next door that I wanted to go. He added, “You sure do look pretty today.” I smiled and walked out the door- I didn’t have time for compliments- I knew that they would end soon. I found the correct building and had to sign in with the doorman before I went upstairs. I decided to use an alias so that other people who signed in would not know that I had been to the clinic, as if they actually knew me. I went upstairs with no Houda or Nelia and signed in. They asked me to fill out a short form and said that someone would be with me shortly. I looked around the office at all of the signs and posters of what to do when you are living with AIDS, and getting tested, and how it affects the Latino community. Oh, did I forget to mention that this was a clinic specifically geared towards testing the Spanish-speaking community and the occasional non-Spanish speaking, crazed, black woman?
A young, openly gay and good-looking Latino man came out from the back and told me that he was ready for me. I gave him a faint smile, and followed him into his office. I wanted to get this over with; I started to look around his office for the test packet or anything that looked like it. He asked me to have a seat and asked me what brought me here. I gave him a blank stare that basically said, “What do you think, I am here to chat with you about the weather?” I think he realized how I took his question and re-phrased it to, “why do you think you need to get tested today?” I shrugged my shoulders mumbled something about knowing is half the battle, and asked him when we could start. He nodded and proceeded to explain to me how the test worked- as he explained to me I wondered if he was HIV positive, or how many people had sat here before me and learned that they had tested positive. He explained that the test was a cotton swab of the inside of my mouth that would let them know if I negative or positive. He had mentioned something about false positives that had to be re-tested with a blood test but at that point I was so nervous and anxious I just nodded my head, what felt like uncontrollably, followed by a lot of “uh-huhs” to hurry him up. “Ok, well let’s get to it, I can see that you are ready,” he said. I said a quick prayer for God to give me strength and opened my mouth for him to swab. He told me that I had to swab myself, and to make sure that I got a good amount of saliva on the it. My hands shook like crazy as I swabbed the inside of my mouth, I couldn’t believe I was doing this. He said that we had to wait for 20 minutes, and that while we waited he wanted to ask me some questions.
He asked me why I was there. I started to explain to him that I had engaged in a relationship with man who was previously imprisoned and that population seemed to have a high occurrence of AIDS and again I said something about knowing being half the battle. Z and I hadn’t engaged in any unsafe activity, but I never thought condoms could be fully trusted. He proceeded to ask me a list of questions that went something like this:
Him: “Have you had unprotected sex of any kind with one or multiple partners in the past 6 months?”
Him: “Have you ever engaged in IV drug use?”
Him: “Have you ever had sex with someone who is now HIV positive?”
Him: ”Have you had a blood transfusion of any kind”
Him: “When was the last time you got tested for HIV?”
Me: “About 2 years ago… it was negative”
Him: “Do you engage in any kind of sexual behavior that would put you at risk, orgy parties, prostitution etc?”
After asking me a few other very graphic questions that all resulted in a “No” from me he looked at me with confusion. “Well it doesn’t sound like you engage in any at risk behavior, so why are you here?” I took off my sweater and showed him my rashes. I explained to him how sick I had been feeling- with the fevers, severe pain, and fatigue- and what the dermatologist told me while I was on the bus that had brought me to this conclusion, and of course what I found on the Internet. His face softened, and he nodded his head, “well I can see why you would think the worse as to what is wrong with you”, he replied. “Well you are doing a very brave thing by being here”, he continued, “Do you have anyone here for you?” I explained that two of my friends were now waiting for me outside in the waiting room and that hopefully my family would be understanding and supportive. We talked about what other possibilities there were and I asked him a barrage of questions related to cases that he had seen and what life would be like with AIDS. Before I knew it 20 minutes had passed and it was time for the results.
He asked me if I was ready, and I gave a weak nod of my head. I took a deep breath and just asked God to be with me. He looked at the swab and smiled at me, “It’s negative!” he said. I let out loud and audible sigh cry, “are you sure?” I asked. ”YES!” he responded. I apologized for driving him crazy and asked if I could give him a hug. We embraced as I shouted praises to Jesus. I felt like such a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I was so elated, this was not one of my practiced reactions it was better because it was genuine and I DIDN’T HAVE AIDS. He told me that it was good that I had been tested and that he wanted it to stay that way so he gave me a huge box of every kind of condom and other things ever made for sexual encounters and told me to be safe. I looked at 5×10 box and just nodded. “Daaaaang”, I thought, “I could sell this.” I didn’t give it another thought and I thanked him and ran out to the waiting room to meet with my friends who were both waiting for me. “It’s negative!” I shouted. “Alhamdulillah!” Houda shouted. “I was out here praying to Allah for you, I don’t know what I would have done if it was positive”, she said as she hugged me. “Yeah, I was sending out good energy to Universe and praying for you.” Nelia added. “Well between Jesus, Allah, and the Universe I had all of my bases covered I guess.” I responded. I just needed to celebrate with my friends we all hugged again and they asked me what I wanted to do. I hadn’t really eaten anything in 3 days and there was one thing that I was always willing to eat. So went to a new Mexican restaurant in Midtown and celebrated my negative status while I showed them my parting gift from the clinic. Despite the celebration I couldn’t help but wonder in the back of my head, “what is wrong with me then?” At that moment I didn’t worry about it, I just wanted to enjoy the rest of my day and eat a lot of Mexican food.