.

 

Valuable Information

Advice for young fellows who play with fire.

“The right thing to do is get one. Should I go to a center?”

“Just go to your doctor and ask for a blood test for STDs. Insurance covers it.”

“Yeah, I have Aetna. I should.”

“Unless you think you could have HIV. Then you should always go to a public clinic.”

“No, I'm worried about - I'm not worried about anything. Why would I go to a clinic instead of a doctor?”

“Because they can't report you at the clinic, and you can go out and buy lots of life insurance if you get diagnosed, before going to the doctors for an official test. Definitely, if you think you have HIV, you'd want to do that.”

At that moment, between the clinic's diagnosis and going for the official report, my bloodlife - a secret narrative, a layer over the past - would be in limbo. What would I do? Would I tell, or keep it secret? When would I call people to tell them? Who could I trust, buying life insurance policies, worrying about being caught, sure that every warm feeling on my brow was the fever?

“No, I'll just go to the doctor on Court St. I just want to have taken care of it.”

I like getting the tests back, a little absolution delivered over the phone, a chance to start over. Out goes that old year, with a half-cup of iron-rich Ford B-positive. Last time, the man who took my blood, a neighborhood guy, and I talked about cars. He had a Malibu with a V8 and, over 20 years, ran it into the ground then sold it for $200 to someone who ran it for 5 more years. I really liked him, and didn't feel the needle at all.

Intimacy is dangerous, tiring. Is the source of such feelings Christian angst? Shame? Preparing for rejection? Sex-ed-class videos of nice young men and women who just weren't careful? Nothing as simple as those, certainly. I'm missing something in the equation; I'm incomplete in this spot of my life, and must go slow, watching what happens, accept the fury of 20somethings feeding their fevers around me and know that some things are not mine, that in one place I am slow to catch on. It is better to be alone for a while, until I can live up to my own promises.

In memory and fantasy I see the gloved finger tapping my inner elbow, pat-pat-pat, the needle going in smooth, and the charge of blood into the phial, red essence decanted. The tubes are switched, then switched again; a form is checked, age, disease, “do you play any sports?,” and a small part of my body travels to a machine-filled room, filled with fans and centrifuges, lights blinking, results which could turn a life printing out with a clack, click, beep. Done yearly or every two years, at the beginnings or ends of things, getting my blood tested is the one ritual my unsophisticated love life affords me.

.  .  .  .  .  

These stories end as they start.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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