Running from the Red Ribbon
The summer I was 19. It was fall, 1989. Life was simple living in a small rural community in the eastern United States. I got into a routine. I slept during the day, worked at night. I was looking for a way out of my biological mother’s house because we did not get along.
For some unknown reason she demanded I go get tested for HIV. I thought it was ridiculous. I wasn’t sick, I wasn’t a junkie, nor was I a prostitute…all things in my mind were the only ways to get AIDS. I went for the test in late August and at that time it was a minimum of two weeks to be processed.
Come September I was very anxious to get my results so I could just move on with my life and prove to my mother that I was fine. The day for my test results finally arrived. I went to the visiting nurse association to get my results.
I remember feeling like I wanted to be invisible walking in this clinic. I didn’t want anyone to know why I was going in there, what I was doing there or anything that had to do with this test because to me it was like a dirty secret.
I remember impatiently sitting in the waiting area hoping I wouldn’t see anyone I knew. I felt like it was taking them forever to come and get me to read me the stupid results and send me on my way. The receptionist kept looking out. I may have been holding my breath and when the nurse came to get me, she didn’t look very happy.
My test was linked to an anonymous number so they didn’t know my name. She took me to a fairly large room with a long table and several of those ancient cold metal chairs for boring conferences. I sat down, the nurse sat down and I remember thinking to myself why doesn’t she just tell me it’s negative so I can get out of here. I have stuff to do.
I was very mortified when the nurse looked at me and told me that my results were positive. Time seemed to stand still, the oxygen left the room. My ability to speak and form words was gone. At some point I questioned the results. She told me what type of test it was and that it was done twice.
At that point shock and disbelief consumed me, my tears started to fall involuntarily and I felt waves of grief. Part of me wanted to hold on to the belief this couldn’t be true, this couldn’t be happening. I was only 19. I had so much to do. My life had been one big messy struggle and I didn’t deserve this.
The nurse looked as though she had become a few shades paler. She told me I was the youngest person she had ever had to notify of having a positive HIV status. She did tell me she was sorry and she asked me all her routine questions – whatever the government needed to know like, where have you been, do you use IV drugs?
The air in the room was thick, I felt trapped, consumed by panic and fear. My instinct to run had always been strong, it was screaming at me now. Why me, why now? What did I do to deserve this? Denial came to my rescue, this can’t be right. The test is wrong. I’m not in their “risky behavior” category.
When I left the building, the air hit my face and I felt like I could breathe better, but everything seemed muted. My mind was so loud with questions and arguments, denial and shame. I was in a narrow tunnel, completely on automatic. I felt like I had a neon sign over my head, as if everyone would know I had this walking dirty plague. I left the parking lot, waiting for the light to turn green and I saw this very large tree straight ahead and the thought of smashing my car into that tree flittered through my mind. Something made me turn, drive past that big tree and keep going.
That something is still with me. Keeping me upright, steering my path along a long, lonely road with very few signposts, but I’m still moving.