Welcome to my world. For the first time in a long time, I’m going to open up and talk about who I am, where I came from, and what changed me so much.
I guess the best place to start is at the beginning – not the very beginning, just where I remember it all starting, where it all changed.
Usually there would be a date here.
I don’t have a date, I don’t really remember the time but I do know what day it was, Friday, the day it all changed. At the time I was working as an assistant manager for a large city centre late night bar. Fridays were always the shifts that I dreaded the most. Offices surrounded the bar, so a Friday night was always the busiest shift, everyone had finished work for the week and the place would be packed from the moment I walked in ‘til the moment I finished. Staff would usually call in sick, stock would run out and more than often the glass-wash would break down. This however will turn out to be the least of my problems this particular Friday.
A few weeks before ‘that’ Friday, I had been unwell. I spent nearly a week off work just resting. After a few days with no improvement, I decided to go to the doctors just to get checked over. Dr Bell, that’s my doctor. I like Dr Bell – she looks a little like a aunt of mine, and I live away from my family so any sort of familiar face is always nice to see, even a doctor’s. Dr Bell had told me I had glandular fever and was given a course of pills. I would name them but I can never remember the names of drugs, they contain too many Zs and Ys if you ask me – I’m sure they do it just to confuse people. I always remember them by the colour, that’s what works for me anyway. They were little white ones, and within a few days I was already feeling a lot better, the all night fever and constant sweating had settled down. I was even managing to hold some food down.
I live with a good friend, Nick. He works long shifts, mostly nights. Although it was late afternoon he was still asleep when I left the apartment that day: I had had an early night the night before so I didn’t even hear what time he got in from work. It was a nice day outside, the sun was out, and there was a slight breeze, which felt refreshing after sitting in all morning just watching TV. I walked fast, I wasn’t late but I always liked to be early (I don’t like people who are late, guess that’s one of my pet hates in life). Plus I had work later, the dreaded Friday shift … and I always liked to leave a little chill-out time before I had to go.
The doctor’s surgery is just up the road from my apartment so I was there with plenty of time to spare. It’s an open surgery so it’s usually busy at most times – although this time it was fairly quiet. There were a few people waiting, some old, and some young. I always look around at people when I’m in a waiting room, wondering why they are there, who they are seeing, everyone always looks normal to me, I guess you can never really tell.
MR BLAKE TO ROOM 5, MR BLAKE TO ROOM 5 PLEASE came across the tannoy system. I always found it weird to hear my name out loud. I would often listen to see what other people waiting were called – sometimes I would try to guess their names just to pass the waiting time. I often wondered if people did the same thing, like how people tend not to talk in lifts, as if it’s a golden rule. I didn’t realise then as I entered room 5 that I would leave feeling like a totally different Mr Blake.
“Come in and take a seat, how are you doing?” I gave a little smile, and told her I was feeling better. Although I was unsure why I was back, the pills had kicked in nicely, my fever had gone and I was confident that I was nearly back to my old self. “You know you had glandular fever.” I just nodded, I wasn’t sure where this was going, surely I was just here for a quick all clear but something was telling me I wasn’t going to like what was coming next.
“Well, we did those other tests last time you were here, just to be on the safe side.” I had forgotten all about the tests – they were a while back and because I had been feeling better I guess I just forgot about them. But at that moment in time I knew they were more than just a ‘little’ test. My throat had started to dry a little. Dr Bell seemed a little different, and I had noticed it as soon as I walked in but it didn’t register at that point. “Well, we have had some results back.” There was only a moment’s pause but it seemed like longer. “I’m sorry but you tested positive for HIV.”
That was it. That was the day it all changed, that was the moment it all changed.
I sat for a while just looking at her, my head empty and my heart pounding so hard I thought it was going to jump right out of my chest. I guess I was waiting for her to say she was joking, or they could check again, or maybe there was a mistake. But she didn’t, she couldn’t, it was right there in front of her in black and white.
I didn’t know what to say: was I supposed to ask something, was she supposed to ask me something? After what seemed like a lifetime of silence I lowered my head to my hands and started to cry, not tears of sadness though, not even tears of anger but tears of disappointment. Not in me but for feeling I had disappointed the most important person to me and all the words I could say were, ‘What about my mum?’
The walk home seemed to be much longer than the one there. The day was exactly the same – same weather, same people, same traffic. It was me that seemed different. I could hear people talking, children laughing, even birds singing, but they sounded distant, like a fading echo. It felt like I was the only one walking the road back.
Nick was still asleep when I got back to the apartment – I had only been gone a short time but it felt al ot longer, or was it just because so much had happened in such a short space of time. I sat myself on the sofa, head low just staring at the floor. An hour passed yet I don’t remember thinking about anything apart from the fact that just a short while ago I was sat in the very same place watching morning TV with my only worry being having to face my dreaded Friday night shift. I hadn’t even taken my jacket or shoes off, I remember thinking I had only cleaned the apartment a few hours earlier and here I was with my shoes on. I don’t like wearing my shoes inside I’m a clean person and like to keep my home tidy as much as possible.
Nick’s a light sleeper, he probably heard me come in the front door. He heard me enter his room, I sat on the edge of the bed. He knows when something is wrong and it’s best to let me talk first, when I’m ready. But was I ready for this? I don’t even remember thinking of telling him, but there I was sat on his bed, eyes glazed over and still shaking from the doctor’s surgery, I must have walked like that down the road but I don’t remember. He lay there just looking at me – I went to say something a few times but my brain just wouldn’t say anything.
Finally I said the words, those words, the words that I never imagined every say, the words that I never knew would be so hard to say: ‘I’m HIV positive’. If he wasn’t such a man I’m sure he would have cried, but he didn’t, I did. He asked many questions, I don’t even remember what now or even if I answered them all. My head was so full although I couldn’t think of anything, apart from I was running late for work, it was all I could think about. At that moment in time my dreaded Friday night shift seemed like a blessing in disguise, the chance to focus on something to try and stop my head spinning, a chance to do what I was doing just the day before, to do something normal.
The walk to work was long. I used to take the same route every day but that day it seemed like it was taking a lot longer than usual. People passing me in the street, where were they going? Where have they been? Have they come from the doctor’s just like me? Can people tell I have just come from the doctor’s? Oh god can people tell I have HIV? At this time I was referring to it as me having HIV rather than being HIV positive. The walk was just like the one back from the doctor’s surgery: although I was walking among people I felt like I was walking alone.
I could always rely on work bringing me back down to the ground with a thump: no matter what day I was having, good or bad, work would always be the same and I had to just get on with it. As usual we were down on staff, stock was already low and the place was full, although the glass-wash machine was still running. From the moment I walked in, determined to just get on with the day, all I could think about was my visit to the doctor’s. How this would always be the Friday I remembered the most, and not just because of a busy night at work.
So that’s when it happened, that’s the day my life changed … But not the day I changed.