Friday, May 06, 2005

Chances, Part 3

Chances - Part 1, Part 2

Phil looked at the floor and waited.

"It's negative. You're OK."

Phil lifted his head and exhaled, only then realizing he'd been holding his breath.

"I am? You're sure?"

The nurse offerered him the lab result. "Yes, it's negative. Of course, this result has a reverse window of about 3 months, so if you've done something unsafe very recently, there's still a chance you could have a problem, but usually it does show up in just a couple of weeks."

Phil had been steeling himself for the bad news. In the preceeding few seconds he'd imagined himself as positive, as saying it to people, to friends, to his family. Now....he just felt confused. How should he feel? He was safe, he was OK.....but Donald wasn't. There was definitely no sense of relief about himself, oddly enough.

And what about Donald? Had he been infected since before they met? Or did this happen when Donald had cheated?

That night he and Donald held each other and cried. Donald swore he hadn't cheated, this must have happened before they'd met, after his last HIV test. He'd had safe sex with the guy he'd cheated with. And Phil decided to believe him. There was no consideration about leaving Donald, not over this. Phil had a couple of friends who were HIV positive, he could handle this. This sucked, this turned their world upside down, but he could handle this. What was important was being there for Donald.

A week later, Phil accompanied Donald to his doctor's office. He wanted to be fully informed, he wanted to show Donald how he was going to be there for him, how they were going to fight this together. The doctor invited them into his personal office and they sat across from his desk. Phil thought how it felt like they were applying for a mortgage.

The doctor pulled a file out of a stack on his desk and looked over his glasses at Donald and Phil.

"Well, your liver enzymes look good. You're not anemic, your pancreatic functions are within acceptable ranges," he said.

Donald shot Phil a hopeful look.

"But your viral load and your CD4 counts aren't great."

Donald shot Phil a sinking look.

"How bad is it?" Phil asked, putting his hand on Donald's knee.

"Well, judging from the history I've gotten from Donald, and considering that his converstion illness happened about 5 months ago, the viral load is higher than I'd like it to be."

"Conversion illness?" Phil asked.

"Yes, that 'bad flu' that Donald experienced back in November was very likely when he was infected. Most people do see a huge viral load immediately after they are infected, but usually it drops down pretty quickly afterwards and they feel better in a few days. But as you know, Donald hasn't felt well for months. "

The doctor went on to explain that for most people with HIV, aside from their initial conversion sickness, seem to have no ill effects for years and years after their infection. Many don't have to begin treatment with medication for ten years or longer. But in a few cases, treatment is called for right away. Donald's viral load was over 250,000 more than five months after infection . That, coupled with his clearly dwindling CD4 count (his t-cells), called for a decision. Did they dare wait and hope that he rebounded, albeit later than most people do? Or did they want to go ahead and begin treatment, with all the side effects, and costs, and psychological baggage that came with it?

The doctor looked at Phil and Donald expectantly, waiting for them to confer.

Phil took his hand off Donald's leg and stared at him. "So you were infected in November?"

Donald looked away, "I guess. Maybe."

The doctor continued for a few minutes, talking about various medications, dosing regimens, and potential outcomes. Phil hardly heard a word.

In the parking lot, it started.

"You fucking liar!"

"Honey, I- " Donald started.

"You fucking whore! How could you do this to me? You fucking piece of shit!"

In the car, Donald confessed everything. He'd been cheating on Phil all the time. He'd met guys online and he'd had anonymous sex in the park. He apologized, he begged forgiveness, he said he had "poor impulse control". Phil just sat there, feeling used, feeling like an idiot, feeling like a played chump for never noticing. How could he be so stupid?

And now what? Did he leave Donald when Donald needed him the most? Or did he stick around and continue to be a fucking idiot? Was this still the guy he wanted to spend his life with? Was it ever?

The next day, Phil started telling his friends. Everything. Including how stupid he felt. His friends were universally sympathetic and supportive, but their opinions varied about what to do next. The emails poured in.

Friend 1: "God Phil, what an asshole he was to you. Begin detatching now."

Friend 2: "You have every right to be angry and furious, but at the same time, he is the one who is sick, so it is hard to come down on him. I think Donald still and always has loved you, and doesn't take you for a fool at all. He probably feels guilty about his own appetite for sex. You're a wonderful man, don't blame yourself for anything."

Friend 3: "You're gonna break up with him, right? I mean, not that it's any of my business, but you gotta break up with him. Like, yesterday."

Friend 4: "You shouldn't have to feel any guilt if you break up with him. He brought this on himself and abandoned the relationship first. "

Friend 5: "You should be able to "divorce" Donald, but not totally cut off your (mental) support to him, as a former boyfriend who is sick. Going postal OR being completely loving and forgiving, aren't the only answers. "

Friend 6: "You're not a fool for trusting him, and the chaos you're feeling is completely natural. And while I'll be totally supportive if you decide to try and work it out with him, but if you decide to go in another direction, I'm there for you also."

Friend 7: "Saying he's sorry is kind of inadequate under the circumstances. It's too bad there's no word that means 'I'm extra specially sorry, like I've never before been sorry in all my life, I've ruined my own life and risked yours, and now I'm terrified that I've lost you'."

After a week of anguish, a week of making decisions, then un-making them, Phil decided to break up with Donald. The betrayal trumped everything.

He also made another appointment for an HIV test, in 3 months.

Because, there was still that chance....

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(Gentle readers: Some of you have asked whether this is a true story. It is. Some have asked if it's happening right now. It is. For the last few days, "Phil" has collaborated with me on this story, providing dialogue and events, but allowing me to fictionalize he and "Donald's" story just enough to protect their privacy. He hopes that somebody out there will read his story and benefit from its lessons.)


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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Chances, Part 2

Chances, Part 1

Things were quite tense over the next couple of months. Phil found himself suspicious of everything Donald did or said. He called Donald all the time, always in a chipper tone of voice, but always with the aim of finding out where he was. And Donald certainly knew what Phil was doing, but dared not complain.

Slowly, and painlessly really, things returned to normal. They had their little tiffs now and then, just like any couple does. It drove Donald crazy that Phil liked to fall asleep with the television on, just as it drove Phil crazy that Donald would only use a towel once, then would leave it on the bathroom floor. Strangely, Phil almost enjoyed these arguments, because when they were fighting about such things, he felt more coupled with Donald than ever.

They continued to maintain their separate apartments. Sure, they were coming up on their fifth anniversary now, and sure, that looked weird to their friends, maybe even to their families. But Phil and Donald had begun to understand that the necessary apartness created by their respective heavy workloads, and the distance between their jobs and their homes had, overall, been healthy for their relationship. Too much time together and they became sullen and snippy, like old married couples tend to do. But weekends and the odd weekday evening together were a treat, something to look forward to. It worked.

Two weeks ago, Phil began working on the final details of his 5th anniversary gift to Donald. The idea had come to him while lying in bed on Sunday night and he nearly leapt to his feet when it occured to him. Getting read for work in the morning, he had to suppress a sly smile every time he looked at Donald.

On the way to work, Phil worried about Donald's doctor appointment that day. A few months earlier, Donald had suffered through a long flu. Ever since then he'd continued to be fatigued and got persistent severe headaches. The doctor had voiced concerns about blood pressure, kidney disorders, other things. Even the "C" word, as Donald called it, had been brought up. Early in the afternoon, Donald called from the doctor's office.

"Hey, I'm still here. More tests." A pause. "Oh, and they're also going to give me an HIV test. Shouldn't be much longer-"

Phil interupted, "HIV test? Why? Have you cheated on me AGAIN?!"

"God DAMN it, you know I haven't! Jesus Christ, as worried as I am about things, I don't need you bringing that old shit up again!" Donald said, as loudly as he dared, sitting in his doctor's waiting room.

"Alright, alright...I'm sorry. Sweetie, I didn't mean to upset you. I know how worried you are already. I'm not trying to make things worse. I just..." Phil stopped there.

After Donald hung up, Phil sat back in his chair. Why would they give Donald an HIV test? Just as routine because he's a gay man? Just as routine to rule it out? Because they really didn't know what was wrong with him? Or maybe, because they thought they really did?

Phil got online and found a nearby clinic that offered HIV testing. He wrote the number down and put it in his drawer. For the rest of the day he thought about calling for an appointment.

Calling meant he didn't trust Donald.

Calling meant he was being realistic.

Calling meant he didn't think Donald really loved him.

Calling meant he wasn't stupid.

Calling meant...he was.

Because over the last year he and Donald had begun to slip up again. Sometimes it was just too much work to go out in the snow to get condoms. Sometimes the heat of the moment really did overtake them, like those times in the shower.

They'd taken chances. Again.

He called.

The clinic gave him an appointment time on Friday afternoon. All week long he tried not to think about it. Maybe he wouldn't go after all. Maybe he was just being silly. Maybe he should learn to trust Donald.

Friday afternoon, Phil was on the phone with an important client when Donald called his cell. Putting the client on hold, Phil snapped his cell open.

"Hey babe, can't talk right-"

"I'm positive. The test is back. I'm HIV positive. Oh my god, what-" Donald's words began to buzz into white noise in Phil's ear.

"I can't talk right now, I'm on the other line with a client," Phil said, shutting his phone.

Phil finished his call with the client, somehow. He pulled the clinic address out of his drawer, left the office, and was sitting in their office just a few minutes later. On the form, he opted for the 20-minute rapid test.

The nurse called him into an examing room, asking "So, what's the big rush on your results?"

"I've been with someone who just found out. That he's positive, I mean," Phil replied, thinking how fucking weird it was to say that out loud.

"Did you practice safer sex with this person?"

Phil shook his head. "Not, um, all the time."

The nurse pursed her lips and said "That doesn't sound very encouraging," then took Phil's sample and disappeared down the hall.

Phil sat there in that cold, metallic room and felt strangely calm. Why was it that he felt more anxiety watching the results on American Idol? Or Trading Spaces? Surely this was more important than any "reveal" on some make-over show?

The nurse walked in, her face unreadable. She pulled a small piece of paper out of her pocket and sat on the desk facing Phil.



Continue To Conclusion....

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Chances

Five years ago, at the age of 26, Phil decided to take a chance.

Bored with the bars, tired of one night stands, uninterested in the easy carnality of urban gay life, he sat down and wrote a simple, yet heartfelt description of himself and posted it in the gay section of Yahoo Personals.

Almost immediately, he got a response from a man named Donald.

Donald was just a year younger, lived nearby and miracle of miracles, was cute, smart, funny and employed. He and Phil exchanged a series of sweetly escalating emails, then agreed to meet for coffee. At the coffeeshop, Phil and Donald chatted easily, comfortably, with a decided lack of tension. The next night, after a lovely dinner, they slept together.

The sex was as natural as their first conversation had been. It flowly easily, wordlessly, without negotiation. There was none of the "I am this, so you must be that" sort of dynamic that gay men so often endure. In the morning, before Phil rushed home to prepare for work, they had sex again, and it was even better.

At the office, Phil was especially buoyant, which did not escape his coworkers' attention. He thought about calling Donald several times during the day, but resisted. Finally, before he left for the day, he sent Donald this one word email: "More?". When he got home, the reply waiting for him was: "Yes!".

And so they began dating. There were movies at first, followed by parties, followed by short trips. Then, they met each other's families. Phil's family was cool at first to Donald, gradually loosening up over subsequent visits. Donald's family was initially friendly, but wary. Donald's mother had lost her brother to AIDS in the mid-80s, and now her own son had brought home the physical proof that he too was having gay sex. Phil and Donald assured her that they had both tested negative for HIV before they began dating, and were only having safe sex with each other.

That's when Phil realized they were boyfriends. Even saying the word felt a bit middle-school to him, but oh, how it felt good to say things like "OK, great, see you there, I'll bring my boyfriend."

Maintaining their separate apartments, the relationship continued, deepened, flourished. Friends presumed to assume that non-cohabitation meant non-monagamy, but Phil set them straight. "He's my man. I'm his. And that's ALL there is."

The only real sticking point between them was Donald's persistent feeling that he "wasn't good enough" for Phil. Phil was an Ivy League educated professional in a high-profile job. Donald had graduated from a small local college and was toiling away unnoticed in a sprawling corporate environment. Phil did what he could to assuage Donald's feelings of social inadequacy, but occasionally it rose to the surface.

About three years ago, Phil caught Donald in a lie. A little lie, it seemed, at first anyway. On a whim, Phil had gone by Donald's house late at night expecting him to be home, where he'd said he'd be, only to find the apartment dark and cold. He called Donald's cell, concerned, but got his voice mail. A few minutes later, Donald rushed in.

"You said you'd be home tonight," Phil said flatly.

"I know, I was just...," Donald said.

"Are you seeing someone else?" Phil cut right to it.

"No! Of course not! How can you say that?" Donald said unconvincingly.

Phil went home. The next morning Donald called him at his office and asked to meet him after work at their favorite restaurant. They'd hardly glanced at their menus when Donald started speaking, not meeting Phil's eyes.

"Hey listen. About last night."

"What about it?"

"I haven't been seeing anybody, I just want you to know that," Donald said.

"But...." Phil waited.

"But, I did have sex with someone. It's the only time I've done it and I'm so sorry, I don't know why I did it and I swear I won't do it again and ...," Donald's apology continued to spill out.

Phil threw his menu down and walked outside. His heart pounded, he wanted to cry and he wanted to put his fist through a wall. A dozen scenarios raced through his mind but his mind kept drifting back to one thing. Feeling safe in his "monogamous" relationship, he and Donald had begun to slip up every now and then when it came to using condoms. Mostly, yeah...they were safe with other. But sometimes, they had taken chances, done things they'd never have done with a new person. Stupid things, yeah...but they were monogamous boyfriends, you see, so it was OK.

At home that night, Donald begged forgiveness and once Phil was convinced that the incident had only been a mindless fuck, a simple hook-up, with no emotional entanglements, he decided to let it go. Other than this admittedly major trangression, the relationship had been rock solid, Donald was the best thing that ever happened to Phil, and they decided to "work around it."

Donald promised Phil he'd never cheat again, and Phil believed him. But to himself, Phil resolved one thing. There'd be no more slip-ups, no more taking chances.



Continue to Part 2......

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Fisting Watch

"Maybe you should take your watch off before you start."

That was my sage advice, delivered from the other side of the sling, as I watched the slender handsome man lube up his hand.

He barely looked up at me, "Thanks, but it's OK."

The guy in the sling looked at me, then said, "Um...yeah, he's right, you should take off the watch."

Watch Guy stopped for a moment and looked around, "Well, it's not like I have a pocket I can put it in."

He was right, of course. We looked around the room for a moment, sizing up a good place to put his watch. The sex party was in full swing, a couple of dozen men moving around the dimly lit room. Our clothes were all downstairs, neatly stored by the front door in clear plastic bags, with our names Sharpie'd across the side.

"Here, give it to me, I'll wear it for you," I offered.

Watch Guy sized me up, trying to determine if this shadowy stranger was a trustworthy watch holder. After a moment, he nodded, then made a clumsy move with his other hand, stopping before touching the watchband.

"Can you take it off for me? I've got lube on both hands."

"Sure." I came around to his end of the sling and bent over, squinting to see the clasp. I pulled it off his wrist and put it on my own right wrist, thinking that the odd sensation of a watch on my right arm would remind me that it wasn't my own, and not to leave the party without returning it.

I moved back to my original position at the head of the sling, and they began. Now, as I've said before, fisting isn't my favorite thing in the world. After a few minutes of observing these guys, as hot as they both were, I became bored. Fisting is a two-player sport, max.

I walked back around to the now-watchless Watch Guy and leaned over to whisper in his ear, "Listen, I'm gonna go have some fun. Don't worry about your watch, I won't leave until you get it back."

Watch Guy nodded and I patted him on the shoulder. I nodded at Sling Guy, but since his eyes were rolled back in his head, he didn't respond, and I walked away. About an hour later I was having a break in the kitchen when Watch Guy walked in.

"Hey there, can you grab me a beer?" he asked. I noticed his deep, velvety voice for the first time.

"Sure," I smiled. "But have you washed your hands, young man?"

He laughed, with a low, restrained voice. Well seasoned in sex parties, this one, to realize that laughter from nearby rooms can sometimes erode a sexy vibe. I handed him the beer and we moved downstairs to not-for-playing area to have a chat. Sitting naked on a cool leather sofa, watching men dress and undress, we got to know each other.

He mentioned being a musician and that set us off on a long conversation about pop music, which segued into pop culture, which segued into Culture Club, which segued into club music, which....well, you get the picture. We Hit.It.Off.

I was just getting around to making some sort of obscene suggestion about us moving back upstairs when he noticed that it was getting light outside, thanks to the downstairs area not being as completely light-blocked as the play area was.

"Hey, Joe. Listen, I've got to go. I have to work."

"Stop that lying, you lying liar! It's Sunday morning," I said.

"Yes."

"And you have to go to work now. At 6am?"

"Yes."

I wasn't buying it. "Right. Where do you work? CHURCH?"

He gazed at me for a long instant. Then, "Yes."

"Fuck. You're not a priest, are you?"

He laughed, "No, but I've known a few...."

(So have I.)

"Oh, wait. You said you were a musician before. Do you have to sing in the choir somewhere?"

"No, but I do have to perform. I play the organ."

About a dozen jokes, all ending with a rimshot, ran through my mind.

"The organ, where?" I ran a mental checklist of all the major churches in San Francisco.

Watch Guy then named a very prominent and large church.

"Jesus Christ!"

Watch Guy laughed, "Yeah, I call him my hood ornament."

I was impressed, "So, you're gonna leave this sex party, at the crack of dawn on the Lord's day, after having your hand up some guy's ass, and go play Jesus' organ for all the good Christians?"

"Yup, wanna come?"

And man, OH man, did I want to go. Just to sit there and hear this guy play the entrance processional. Knowing where those doubly-talented hands had just been.

"So what you open with? Do you have a set list? Do you take requests?"

Watch Guy laughed as he reached for his bag of clothes, "I usually open with "Holy, Holy, Holy", but that depends on what the Bishop or Cardinal has chosen. So, you coming? We can get breakfast after mass."

"I'll come, but on one condition."

"What?"

"I want to you to play Funkytown."

"Funkytown?"

"Not the whole thing, that would be asking too much. Just enough to recognize the melody. Two bars maybe," I said.

"Two bars? That would be 'buh-bum, buh-bum bum, buh-bum-bum, buh-bum'."

"Right!"

"That's too much, people would recognize it."

"Then forget it, that's the whole point. I want "Funkytown", or I'm not coming."

The guy getting dressed next to Watch Guy overheard that, and raised his eyebrows, "You guys are some kinky fuckers!"

I slipped Watch Guy my card and he promised to call or email me later. He gave me a hug and disappeared up the stairs into the cold morning fog.

He never did contact me, of course.

And I still have his watch, of course.

And if by chance you read this, Watch Guy, and you want your watch back, email me at the address on that old card.

In the subject line, put "Funkytown."


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GB:NYC2

What's gayer than a roomful of gay bloggers?

How about a roomful of gay bloggers in an off-Broadway bar?

Like a swarm of digital locusts, gay bloggers from around the country, far too many to list or link here, are descending on Manhattan this weekend.

With Blackberrys, cell phones and iBooks in hand, the weekend kicks off Friday night at Barrage, the Hell's Kitchen saloon a couple of blocks from Times Square.

Organized by Dallas blogger Mark, of Zeitzeuge, this weekend cavalcade of photoblogging, vlogging, moblogging, and ho-blogging even enjoys a commemorative t-shirt, available here.

If you want to meet, greet or beat some of your most favorite or most hated bloggers, show up at Barrage around 8pm. I'll be cowering in the corner, with a diet beer.

Monday, May 02, 2005

From The Mouths

My niece, almost 4, about whom I've spoken before, had this conversation with my sister last weekend.

Alicia: When Uncle Joe comes, is he bringing his girlfriend?

Mama: No honey, remember I told you Uncle Joe is gay? He likes boys.

Alicia (brightly): Oh! Is he bringing his boyfriend then?

Mama: No sweetie. Uncle Joe doesn't have a boyfriend.

Alicia: Why not?

Mama: I don't know honey. You'll have to ask Uncle Joe.

Alicia (sadly): Is it...is it because he's fat?



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