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....
(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.)