I wanted to help others living with HIV by writing this column. But really, I needed this column to help myself.
We’re all in this together. We need each other. It’s so easy to be blinded by the pride of that shiny merit badge we give ourselves for isolating our survival to our own devices, believing that we can surmount our problems on our own. Throw that damn badge to the ground and remember the last time someone was kind to you.
Living with HIV doesn’t have to be so hard, though it can be on your own. No measure of confidence and no trial of suffering will ever make that lump in your stomach go away. It’s like a stone you ferment over time that produces the same distilled despondence you felt the first time you disclosed your status. Only two things can mitigate the weight of that stone: time and believing that you’ve done well for others.
So many mistakes. So many opportunities for disaster. “But life’s a narrative,” a friend recently admonished me: We’re capable of creating sprawling, dark fictions in our heads about ostensibly imminent misery and, too, of worlds bathed in celestial light goodness all around. Essentially, our proverbial pen can scrawl whatever narrative we want; though that idea on its own won’t help you sleep at night.
Some days you feel like you have 25 bricks in your backpack. Other days, you laugh at how easily you trample your self worth. Regrets elide with ecstasy; memories settle and simplify with age; walls rise and fall between you and your friends; and even at 80 years old, you’ll still cry over decisions you have to make.
So if not the pain of living with HIV, what other pain would take its place? Have you thought of that? Obviously, it’s not as though having HIV diminishes your empathy for other ills; on the contrary, it enhances it. Yet it can also isolate us, even in the middle of warm gatherings with friends and family: Like skipping though a sunlit meadow and suddenly falling off a cliff. What happened there? What changed? Did that cliff suddenly appear under us or did we feel we should jump just because it was there, as if there was no way to go but down?
Eventually, after so many falls, you’re going to start feeling shitty about feeling shitty. And that, folks, is when the real healing begins.
Suddenly, you’re not dispirited over elements you can’t control; instead, you’re upset with the choices you’ve made that kept you dispirited. You see the stone in your stomach, and your footprints pacing around it. You see the maelstrom of your worries, dark fictions and regrets as the winds howl with your voice.
It’s a bittersweet epiphany realizing that you’re often the perpetrator to your own emotions. But with time, you can tip the scales so that the sweet outweighs the bitter. Remember that time, well, takes time. Rushing growth will only make you feel inferior. Be at peace with yourself. As the Buddhist proverb goes, “Comparisons are odious.”
This column has been a soapbox, flagellator, poz anthem and “Sex Talk with Sue” session rolled into one. I’ve cried (a lot), received letters of reproach and praise, used the word “bareback” more in 750-word articles than any other writer in human history and, for the first time in my life, I feel good saying that I have nothing else to say (for now, at least. I’ll always be that gabby grandma who doesn’t wear bras or undies at family functions).
I used to stay up until five in the morning to draft heartfelt goodbyes. Not this time, folks. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of you and everything but I can’t be pullin’ these all-night binges like I used to. New foes have entered the ring and I’ve got to outsmart them. Gonna need my eight hours of sleep every night, plenty of sunlight, kale, sex and singing Japanese pop songs to myself as I walk through the city in drag.
You never have to worry about being all right in the end. It never ends. It never ends.
We’re all in this together, folks. Now go out there and talk about it.
This final column is devoted to Sarah Blazucki. Had it not been for her encouragement, I would’ve written this column anonymously. Sarah gave me the courage to write this column with my byline, publicly poz. I owe my contentment with HIV to her. [Editor’s note: Not so fast, Aaron. Readers, Aaron and I will be working on a new evolution of this column. Even though Aaron has accepted that he’s poz, this is still an important conversation to have — both for poz and non-poz people. Hopefully, he’ll be back next month.]