You know, for all the weeping and whining, I know that a lot of the lethargy and the mopeyness of the last couple of months is just part of my little natural rhythm. I get depressed by the end of winter. It's been cold and dark for too long, there's still more on its way, and my body and mind react. Whatever. still, I feel like when I wasn't actually travelling in February I gave in too much to all the depression. Now, with a number of circumstances giving me a better excuse to whine, I kind of feel like I wasted all that depression. Of course, I’m a pragmatic bastard by nature, so once things actually go wrong, I’m much more likely to be constructive, even though I may be fighting against a bad attitude and a desire to just curl up on the couch and eat a lot of ice cream. (Mmmmmmm, sweet fatty goodness.)
So I’m being pragmatic now, or at least dealing with a lot of my to-do list so that I’m ready to be pragamatic when the time comes. I’ve been kicking myself in the ass, forcing myself up off the couch (comfy as it is in all its blue-Muppet-fur coziness) and making myself do shit around the house so I don't forget that I’m capable of being active. I thrifted some new furniture and rearranged the Rumpus Room. I’ve been photographing and auctioning off a ton of old clothes, boots, kitschy books, and porn on eBay. I’ve been coding and memo-writing like a mad fiend at work. I’ve been catching up on movies, DVD rentals, and even reading up a storm.
I’ve even been finding time to look after myself and my sick friends (who are doing quite well, by the way, considering). I may not be all sunshine and roses, but I’m damn sick of being a lazy sod about it.
I’ve had it with giving blood samples. I’m squeamish about needles under the best of circumstances, although I smile bravely and don't make a fuss when they're rquired. It's a bit harder now knowing that those samples really mean something. I had more blood drawn today, about two weeks after the last batch, so that my doctor can start to plot curves for my viral load and T-cell counts.
The thought that two weeks may show a change, for better or worse, is chilling. It doesn't help much to think about how much worse I’ve felt lately, just from the constant stress of all this hulaballoo. I’m sure it's not helping me much to be so wound up, so lethargic.
But I smile bravely and don't make a fuss, even though I’d really like to.
My infamous self-control of my temper is serving me well right now, but I’m really giving it a run for its money. I’m so tense, so wound-up, that I feel like I can't get to the big reaction that’s welling up inside of me. It's ridiculous. I sit around wishing that I could just start bawling or bashing the hell out of something, but I can't seem to start. On the plus side, I’m still able to go to work every day and be somewhat productive, I’m able to be calm when talking to people, and I’m able to pretend that nothing is wrong if I need to. My mind is funny: it's metering out just a few implications of all this every day. It won't let me consider too much at once, won't let me process more than I can handle. I get glimpses of the enormity of this, though, and frankly I’m glad that my pea-brain has put itself on lockdown.
I’m fraying at the seams, though. I’m holding back but the reactions keep popping out when I least expect them to, which is why I crave some big cathartic release. The tension in my shoulders and back is becoming painful. I’m getting weepy at sad TV shows. I’m slamming doors when I only mean to close them normally. I feel temper tantrums (tantra?) well up when the heater turns on ad makes the TV screen get all staticy. A friend on whom I have a harmless, long-distance crush tells me about some boy he likes, and I feel sorrow on a Greek-tragedy scale. I find myself staring at the monitor at work sometimes, unable to order my thoughts enough to figure out what task to tackle next.
Which is a small version of one of the big questions stewing around in my brain. I have a lot of pragmatic things to do: lots of research about drugs and treatment options, lots of research about getting in better shape and eating properly, etc. But I still have the big, cliché issue to confront: just in case I have less time in this mortal coil, what do I want to make damn sure I accomplish before it's too late?
Everyone should think that. Everyone should live every day like it's their last. Yeah, we've all heard it: "I could get hit by a truck..." The thing is, when you get some kind of confirmation that your odds of living are different from most people's, it really stops being a cliché and becomes an alarming question to resolve. It's comforting to me to know that HIV isn't necesarily the death sentence it once was, but I already drew the short straw by getting it, and by not knowing how I got it. I can do everything possible to stay healthy, but I might still be caught off-guard again. I wanna know that if my time comes, I didn't squander the last of it.
Vermeer seems to be making the rounds this week, which brought back a kooky memory of the time I had a painting of mine hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (I will forever have stuck in my head the sound of Ann Magnuson cooing that name, as she does in Bongwater's sublime "Obscene and Pornographic Art" — "Ooh, Hef won't like me like this!")
It's true! The summer after I graduated high school I got a job at the Met working in their midtown gift shop. It was a fun gig which set me up with lots free posters and art books, and also qualified me for participation in the annual staff exhibition. Never one to pass up an opportunity to have my art-class projects displayed in a major museum, I submitted a large, impasto reworking of Vermeer's "Geographer" that I had worked on my senior year. Even though the staff show wasn't open to the general public, it was really gratifying to have something of mine hanging in the same spot where a Rembrandt had been the week before.
Don't get the wrong impression: My painting totally sucked. I had never been encouraged to paint much before my senior year, when I threw myself into my school's sole art elective with reckless abandon, knowing that I’d be going to art school the following year and would need to show them something to get in. I loved the Vermeer painting, but my crude reworking of it avoided most of what makes the original so special. Having no ability at the time to really control the materials I was working with, I didn't focus on light or volume or composition of color or any of those other things that would become important to me, and instead worked with the idea that since the orignal was so precise, I would make a big messy version instead (with a little bit of gold leaf thrown in for good measure). I don't know what ever happened to the canvas. If I didn't destroy it myself at some point, then it's probably tucked away at my folks' house in Florida with other old artwork that my mother refused to throw away, despite my begging.
Despite such an early success (ahem), I never grew to love painting. sure, I love paintings, but I just loathe the act of making a painting. This was a constant bee in my bonnet during my first few years of college, when painting was a requirement that I couldn't avoid. I wasn't terrible at it, but I was such a damned Virgo perfectionist about some things — mixing accurate colors, creating illusions of depth — that I never had enough energy left over to concentrate on other aspects of picture-making that I might have enjoyed. A few friends and relatives still have the remains of my brief painting career — some tightly rendered still lives and a half-assed, hastily completed, faux-Impressionist landscape or two — but for the most part, the evidence makes me cringe.
As a craft, painting just didn't give me that same charge that drawing or sculpture or photography or bookmaking (bookbinding? I don't place bets, after all) do. It didn't seem physical enough. Now, I know there are ways to paint that are more physical, more tactile, but they don't produce the kinds of images I was ever interested in making. Painting, for me, required too much effort at the stuff I didn't want to bother with myself, and made it too aggravating to get to a point where I could just play but still be happy with the end result.
End of Week One: Ugh. There's plenty more to say, but it will take time to process it all. To cover the bare details, just so I don't forget:
On Tuesday, March 6, 2001, I went for a perfectly run-of-the-mill physical. Nothing was up except for the standard itchy throat, but it had been about three years since my last and I figured I ought to get my money's worth out of my health insurance. No biggie. I got poked and tapped and looked at and all seemed fine. Went to the lab the following Thursay to give blood and urine.
On Monday, March 12, I got a call asking me to stop by the doctor's office for a follow-up. I figured that I probably had a little strep again and was going to be issued some penicillin, yet again. Nope. As gracefully as he could, Dr. Dillon informed me that my blood work had turned up HIV-positive. That, to put it mildly, was a pretty fucking catastrophic thing to hear. He didn't want to go into to much detail until I had another round of blood work to confirm the diagnosis, and to assess my overall condition. so I left without knowing much about what was up, other than my life was pretty much totally different from that point on. He urged me to call someone immediately and talk about it, but I just wasn't ready to face that yet, so I went home, cried myself into a nap, and spent the rest of the night watching TV in a dumb stupor.
The next day, the stupor continued, since I was only letting myself process small chunks of emotion, only thinking about a few of the implications at a time. The first person I told was Mike, a thoroughly nice guy I’d strolled and eaten with the weekend before, because I had just read on his blog about his own (overblown, unnecesary) HIV panic. I just blurted it out in an e-mail, intently feeling the need to tell someone. I apologized a little while later, once I realized that was a pretty big load to drop on someone I barely knew, but he handled it gracefully and made me feel a lot better about it.
That night at his birthday party, though, I told Mark, who passed the word to Tom, and the whole messy business of disclosure to the people I love began. Mark, thankfully, took it in stride and understood my need to stay calm and good-humored. Tom, still a little thrown by his own recent upsets, was a little more upset: mostly, I think, because we both realized how stupid it's been of us to take one another for granted over the years. But once we all knew, we tried to appreciate the cosmic joke of all three of us getting our asses so completely kicked in one way or another, right around the same time. We laughed about living out our own all-guy version of a cliché Lifetime movie.
I spent the rest of the week throwing myself into work and then going home to sit quietly in that same slack-jawed way, trying not to let too much in until I had a better idea of what was going on. I spent some time with Mark and Alex, and told Simon, who agreed to meet me back at home after I went to the doctor on Friday to go over my test results.
The results weren't as good as I had hoped. As of that Friday, March 16, My viral load was about 282,00 parts per milliliter, on the low end of the middle range. (Less than 50 is considered undetectable. More than 3,000,000 is considered pretty dangerous.) My T-cell (CD4) count was 235 (I’m not sure what the unit of measurement is), or about 16%. (Anything below 250, 18%, is considered a little worrying.) so it looks like I'll have to begin take medication pretty soon, which gives me a lot of research to do, fast. I was hoping I’d have a little more time to get used to the idea before I needed to take any action, but the doctor thinks I may have been infected as long ago as a year or two, so I guess I inadvertently used up my sit-and-ponder time.
I finally told my depression to go fuck itself and went back out into the world this weekend, and what did I find? New friends, friendly old flings, ex-quasi-boyfriends, former Regians turned fellow Brooklyn homos, new pals with blogs, sexy ex-junkies, cheerleaders, punk rock fags, a former classmate who's become a popular drag king, flirtations and brief kisses, flirtations that went nowhere, lots of coffee, bad ideas that are even worse in practice, frigid strolls, and the news that one of my closest friends has cancer, and another is probably going to die from the cancer she's been battling.
No wonder I feel so overwhelmed when late-winter gloom and the mean reds set in, robbing me of all the energy I need to deal with everyday life.