By Joe Malanaphy
“You're HIV positive."--Perhaps the most horrifying words anyone could ever hear. In one sentence, delivered in no more than a single breath, your entire life begins to flash before your eyes--All of the wonderful things you have to live for, like family, friends, girlfriends/boyfriends, nieces and nephews all come rushing through your mind like a massive tidal wave, and just as that wave begins to recede and roll back out, there is yet another wave on the horizon. It's rolling in faster than the last one, but double the size, and it's carrying with it every bad decision you have ever made.
Looking back on your teen years, there was maybe a few sexual experiences, most of which were innocent, and with partners that you knew very well. Maybe they were a high school crush, your first relationship, or just someone you met at a party with mutual aquaintances. Whatever the case may be, none of these instances seemed to raise any red flags, as most others at the time had about as much or less experience under their belt as you did.
Now fast forward some years. You've crossed the age barrier for legal drinking and have maybe spent time in some less than reputable places. Late nights at bars, which led to even later nights and after-parties at strange houses and establishments, those of which you can only recall by what they looked like in the morning when your crusted eyes were forced open by the vicious sunrise that was seering through a set of strange dusty blinds.
As you look around, everything is unfamiliar here, including the bed you are lying in and the naked person snoring next to you. "Who is this?" "What have I done?" Your thoughts race frantically through your mind as you search for some type of evidence that would suggest you at least tried to use a method of protection before this apparent sexual encounter, only there is none in sight.
As time goes by, you are seemingly healthy and have all but buried those little sexual mishaps in the basement of your memory, praying they won't ever come back to haunt you.
Then one day , you see an ad for free HIV screening. At first glance, you don't think much of it, but then there's something in the back of your subconscious that is curious, and you say to yourself, "Why not?"
As you walk through the door where the free screenings are being offered, it was how you'd always imagined it would be like if you walked through the gates of Hell. You are certain that there is nothing to worry about, however, just being here and actually doing this has elevated your tensions to a mountainous level. The woman at the front desk is speaking to you. However, everything in room sounds muffled to your ears, almost as if in slow motion, but you manage to make out what she's saying…"Go to the first room on the right."
Navigating through this small stuffy office should have been a piece of cake. However, on this day, all bets are off. You walk right passed the first door, before hearing a woman's voice say…"Excuse me, in here." Indeed, first room on the right. Subconsciously, your feet knew that, but decided to take your body elsewhere.
The woman, oddly upbeat and joyful in demeanor, like Julie Hagerty in the movie "Airplane,” begins to ask some simple questions; name, age, when you became sexually active, the date of your last unprotected sexual encounter…pretty routine stuff. Then she takes out something that resembles what diabetics use for drawing blood, asks you to hold out your hand and pricks your fingertip. She then transfers a drop of blood onto what looks much like a home-pregnancy test.
As she is explaining to you how the test works, all you can manage to comprehend is that one line means good, two lines is bad; very bad, or to quote Colonel Trautman from the movie “Rambo”; "It's over Johnny." Now the sound begins to disappear in the room again, your mind is flooded with memories, most of which you thought no longer existed, like birthday parties when you were a child, or your first Christmas. Then finally, you can no longer keep it together. "How long does the test take?" you say, staring directly at the woman. She responds with "Oh, it's done. Now, let's take a look. As you see, only one line, which means...." That was all you needed to hear, and anything else she had to say from this point forward becomes irrelevant.
The last 15 minutes of your life had unexpectedly opened up every memory and emotion that had ever existed in your mind, and despite the fact that you want to run out of the office holding your test results over your head, the rational part of your brain reminds you that this reaction might be viewed as slightly inappropriate, so instead, you quietly fold the paper and put it in your back pocket, thank the woman for her time even though you only heard about three words she said, and exit the office.
It is always better to be safe than sorry, especially in the world we live in today where so many unknown dangers are just lurking in the shadows. You cannot protect yourself from that which you are unaware, but in the year 2012, we as a society, are more than well aware of the dangers posed by unprotected sex, drug use, alcohol abuse, etc., as well as the resources available to counteract and avoid the threats posed by them. Therefore, be safe, use your head, and remember that life is about LIVING.