by: Max Alborn
Note: This is an experience told to and interpreted by the author. The names have been changed to protect privacy.
It’s the warmest winter Chicago has seen in decades. Could’ve fooled me.
I’m sitting in my doctor’s office, waiting. I can’t say how long. I’m not sure. I just know that I’m waiting for news that isn’t likely going to be good. He walks in: gaunt and serious. He never really smiles and is the only man I’ve met who seems to speak in “black and white” tones. We exchange our greetings but like always, he cuts right to the chase.
“So we’ve gotten back the labs and it looks like it is HSV-2,” he says. “Genital herpes.”
I’d been playing that tape in my head for the past two weeks while I waited for the results: thinking of the guys I’d dated, drunken one-night stands, a rendezvous with a past (promiscuous) ex and what I’d tell the current guy I was seeing. All I wanted to do was shut down but I had to go to work. I found out my next steps, quietly thanked the doctor for his time and went on my way. I told myself to find another doctor for future appointments. Someone warmer.
I arrived late to the party when it came to sex. Unlike most of my friends, who had been partying and sleeping together since their teen years, I hadn’t really gotten started until I was 20. When I did, it wasn’t anything crazy. I dated a couple of guys (not at the same time) and had my share of drunken encounters. I wasn’t living the high life but for the first time I loved being in my 20s.
Walking away from that appointment made me feel much older. Beforehand, I was carrying on, enjoying the company of others and felt attractive for once in my life. I made a habit of actually talking to guys before sleeping with them, never barebacked, wasn’t sleeping with half of Chicago and got tested for STIs on a regular basis. How did this happen? Why did this happen? I knew I wasn’t going to die from this but it felt like something had died: my love life, in its infancy and just starting to take off, seemed to curl up, die and turned to lead in my chest.
I flipped out my phone and texted the guy (we’ll call him Allen) I’d been seeing. Prior to my doctor’s appointment and around the time Allen and I started sleeping together, I noticed a small, red bump. Thinking it was an ingrown hair, I initially brushed it off as nothing but as I was going in for my routine STI testing, I asked my doctor. I often ask too many questions and my timing is always bad.
He said he’d have to run a test but that it was likely herpes. It was then I learned that testing for HSV is not part of a standard STI panel—you can’t really test for it until you have it. I silently curse our society’s lack of medical prowess/education under my breath. I immediately blame myself.
As soon as I processed this, I called Allen. We spent the next few weeks talking about what would happen if I came out the other end of this with a positive result. In that time, I learned everything I could on the damned thing. I learned how between 60-85% of the U.S. population is likely to have HSV type-1 (AKA, cold sores) by the time they hit age 60. I learned that type-2 is the same virus for the lower body and that it affects 1 in 6 Americans. I learned that you can still have safer sex and catch it; all it takes is skin-to-skin contact. I learned that many cases go undiagnosed as many people (notably men) show no symptoms for many years, but still pass it on to their sex partners unknowingly. And, of course, I read what I already knew over and over again:
“There is no cure.”
Of course not. There never is.
Two days before getting my results, Allen lies in bed with me watching Game of Thrones, and tells me that regardless of my results, we can work something out. I feel a little lighter. I’ve already talked with him on prevention, treatment, etc. His words make me feel like my love life hasn’t died just yet.
Two days later…
“Hey, wanted to let you know it is type 2. I’ll be looking after it but I wanted to let you know.”
I jump on the train and head to work, silently kicking myself for not actually calling him. Who sends a text for something like this? Then again, I’m new to this. The Talk. I’d been reading and talking about it for a few weeks but now, what was once abstract is now a reality. I turn up my headphones to the happiest song I can find. It doesn’t help that much. The lack of response from Allen helps even less.
I take a couple of breaths and walk into my job, surrounded by my coworkers who have grown to be like the crazy extended family I never had. We laugh, mock and work while being grossly underpaid. And for a few hours, I feel like things don’t have to change wildly. That I can still live a normal life and one day leave my job for something better. I could fall in love (which I’ve never done). I could build a home with that man. We’d get some dogs and cats; animals must always be a part of my home. When the time comes, we’d talk about kids—though the idea scares the hell out of me and he knows that.
I daydream a lot.
My text tone going off snaps me back into reality. It’s from Allen.
“Can we talk when you get off work?”
Max Alborn is an Oregon-raised graduate of DePaul University, specializing in Media and Cinema Communications studies. He began writing about the entertainment industry during his Junior year and has done so for the DePaulia, HEAVEmedia and Player Affinity since then. Often on the outskirts of the Chicago LGBT community, Max has slowly been integrated through LGBT-focused volunteer work–with an interest in LGBT seniors/youth outreach. He spends his off hours writing, threatening his roommate and spinning as fast as he can in swivel chairs. He was also an RA for two years and was run over by a horse at the age of 5.