Thursday, December 8, 2011
When I was 26 years old, I had a brief, intense romance with a young man who was incredibly romantic and kind for a few weeks, and then, less kind. He soon moved to the other side of the country to attend graduate school. Instead of remembering the less kind incidents, I held on to the first few incredibly romantic weeks, and I was determined to win him back. I wrote him letter after letter, so he had a big pile of them on the corner of his desk. I also compiled a book of poetry which I dedicated to him, had bound, and sent to him as a gift. It worked. I won him back--in a way. He was determined not to be involved with someone who lived on the other side of the country, and even when I came to visit him, was not where he told me he'd be when I showed up in the rental car I'd driven from the airport. We did manage a few days of romance on Ocracoke Island, NC, but over shrimp when he told me he loved me, he followed it with, "Don't get too excited, I just thought I should tell you that as you are always signing your letters, 'All love.'" I was head over heels for him; he was determined after I left that he'd meet someone who lived near him. It was me who found someone first, someone he used to share a house with back on the West coast. He and I didn't talk for years. When he later heard I had come down with HIV, he wrote me a letter, and we had several meetings over the years, and during the first of these meetings, he made formal amends to me for how he'd treated me, though I tried to discount his actions. He's now happily married; I was invited to the wedding and chose not to go, though I'm happy for him and his wife. They seem well-matched and supportive of each other.
It's 18 years since I wrote that book of poetry I sent to him, which was called Trumpet Lessons because he was learning the trumpet when we were dating.
About a month ago, I furiously started assembling a book of poems, something I used to do regularly, but haven't done since 2006. My impetus: as a birthday gift for X-man, who had his birthday yesterday. I ended up compiling a 67-page manuscript, using selections of poetry I'd written between April and October of this year, which generally encompassed the romance and the aftermath with X-man. The poems also cover spiritual and creative investigations--struggles and joys--as well as being rooted in a wonderment of the natural world. I sent the book out to some first book contests. Though I've written several books of poetry, my attempts to publish have been haphazard, so I don't have a book out yet.
With the help of some friends who probably value me more than I value myself, I didn't bring the book or a cake or any other gift to X-man's office yesterday. I did pass him as I was driving to the parking lot on campus. He walked by and waved; I clumsily rolled down my window and yelled happy birthday, but he didn't stop to chat. I keep in mind, when I try to romanticize what happened between he and I that he didn't stop and chat yesterday. That's about all the information I should need, I think. My mind wants to twist the event, say, he was late for a meeting, etc. However, if a person really cares about another person, they stop to chat, if even for 30 seconds. They say, I can't chat because I'm late for a meeting but hello, good to see you, etc. This seems obvious to most people who've followed my romance with X-man, but to me (perpetual believer in those first few romantic weeks) what I realized yesterday not only helped me hit another layer of reality. Another layer of grief was let loose. I can admit that the grief was not over anything that I tangibly had, but for the hope I had from the joyful start of my romance with X-man.
I'd made a pact with a friend to text her instead of X-man on his birthday. I sent her a message, "Happy birthday!" And then a follow up message, "I owe you a cake. What kind do you prefer?"
She wrote me back, "Thank you for wishing me a happy birthday! That is so thoughtful and kind of you and I am so happy you are in my life. I value you as a person who cares about me because I also care about you. Thank you for thinking of me enough to offer making me a cake! You are so sweet!"
I'm just about 100 percent sure if I go back over the 1200 text messages between X-man and me, there's nothing that sincerely loving and purely sweet as the message from my friend. Thank you, friend! Reality is not easy, but eventually, my eyes will adjust to the light and it will be more beautiful than the shadowy fantasies I've been living within.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
One thing I know about my life is that I should be dead. I wouldn't take the HIV medications for a really long time because I'd read such scary things about the side effects. Plus, I was just plain stubborn and thought I could beat it myself--with yoga and healthy eating. Now, I do yoga and eat pretty healthily--but I also take the medications. I let my immune system completely collapse--I had an AIDS diagnosis based on my t-cell count in 2002 and then my t-cell count continued to drop as I went on and off the meds over the next years, so that by August of 2006, I had a t-cell count of 6. (Normal range for t-cells is 450-1200; an AIDS diagnosis is anything under 200). Not only did I not die, I was never hospitalized, even though my t-cell count was at the same point my ex's was when he was hospitalized with what turned out to be the AIDS-defining pneumonia, PCP.
I'm alive, despite my best efforts at killing myself, despite my best efforts to let myself die. I helped this along with a lot of unhealthy habits, many of which I now abstain from.
But lately, I feel like I've lost my life's purpose--like I don't know what it is any more. I know that I have a strong faith in God and that my crosses to bear are my crosses and God's handed me what I can handle and He's handed me this thorn in my side in part so I can be useful to others, and in part so I can remember God. I can't help reflect on my AIDS diagnosis without thinking about the II Corinthian's passage: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
So here I am boasting of my weakness because it is all the more evidence that I'm meant to live.