Monday, October 31, 2011
This excerpt is from Rick R Reed’s latest work, the AIDS-era love story, CAREGIVER. The story is autobiographical in many ways (drawn from his own experiences in 1991 as an AIDS buddy in Tampa, FL). In this scene, the main character, Dan, goes into a public health clinic to get the results of his own HIV test.
It’s 1991, and Dan Calzolaio has just moved to Florida with his lover, Mark, having fled Chicago and Mark’s addictions to begin a new life on the Gulf Coast. Volunteering for the Tampa AIDS Alliance is just one part of that new beginning, and that’s how Dan meets his new buddy, Adam.
Adam Schmidt is not at all what Dan expected. The guy is an original—witty, wry, and sarcastic with a fondness for a smart black dress, Barbra Streisand, and a good mai tai. Adam doesn’t let his imminent death get him down, even through a downward spiral that sees him thrown in jail.
Each step of Adam’s journey teaches Dan new lessons about strength and resilience, but it’s Adam’s lover, Sullivan, to whom Dan feels an almost irresistible pull. Dan knows the attraction isn’t right, even after he dumps his cheating, drug-abusing boyfriend. But then Adam passes away, and it leaves Sullivan and Dan both alone to see if they can turn their love for Adam into something whole and real for each other.
Dreamspinner Press (October 24, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61372-208-4 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61372-209-1 (ebook)
A guy about Dan’s own age in T-shirt and jeans came out from behind a door and looked around the waiting room. He spotted Dan and came over to him. Dan recalled the dark-haired man had checked him in when he arrived at the clinic. Dan thought he said his name was Carlos. Carlos leaned down close to Dan and said softly, “The counselor will see you now.”
Dan stood on unsteady legs, wondering why Carlos had bothered to make the trip into the waiting room just to tell him it was his turn to be seen. Calm down. They probably just do that to respect your privacy. It doesn’t mean he was softening the blow of what’s to come.
Dan followed the man back to a warren of small exam rooms and offices. Carlos gestured to one of them. “You can go in and have a seat. Becky will be in to see you in just a minute.”
Dan nodded, his stomach churning and a splash of acid rising to the back of his throat. This was the big moment. It could be life defining. Or death defining, depending on how the results went.
Dan sat after Carlos closed the door, glad there were no mirrors in the room because he was certain the glass would have thrown back the reflection of a man with a pasty white complexion, slick with sweat.
Dan feared he would throw up.
Becky came into the room. She reminded him of his mother, slightly overweight, with permed dark brown hair, and oversized glasses. She looked about fifty and there was a kind aspect to her demeanor that made Dan paradoxically at ease and on guard.
She looked down at his file and then up at him, smiling.
What would she say? How would she put it?
Dan felt himself grow faint.
“Dan. I’m sorry, but your test came back positive for HIV antibodies.”
Dan felt as though he would drop to the floor. He had expected this, knew it was coming, yet it was no easier to bear. His life was over. When would he start getting sick? When would the first ailment make its deadly appearance? Which infection would it be? How long would it take before AIDS extinguished his light?
He searched for words to put in his mouth, but it seemed as though the connection between his brain and his mouth had been severed. He could only stare, slack-jawed, at the motherly woman.
“I’m sorry, honey. But this doesn’t have to be bad news. They are coming up with new treatments all the time! No worries! Before you even get sick, I’m sure they’ll have something for you.” Becky laughed. “You’ll die of old age before that old AIDS monster gets you!” she laughed again.
“Are you sure?” Dan sputtered.
“Sure I’m sure! You’re gonna be just fine! You’ll see.”
“No. I mean, are you sure about the results?”
“Oh yeah, honey. The test doesn’t lie. You’re gay, right?”
Dan nodded, numb.
“And you know what gay stands for, doncha?”
Dan put a hand to his mouth to stifle the wave of hysterical laughter threatening to burst from his lips. He knew what she was going to say.
“Got AIDS yet?” Becky slapped the desk, laughing and Dan joined her, laughing until his sides ached, until tears poured from his eyes. The pair paused in the hilarity for a moment, looked at one another, and started laughing all over again.
“Mr. Calzolaio? Mr. Calzolaio, are you all right?” Becky leaned over him, concern radiating from her warm brown eyes.
Dan shook his head and the room came back into focus. He realized he had slipped away for a moment, maybe even fainted.
“Yes, yes. I think so. I’ve just been so nervous about this.” He looked up into Becky’s face.
“Let me get you some water.”
He grabbed her arm before she left the office. “No. I don’t need water. I need to know. Did you just tell me I was infected?”
Becky looked at him, cocking her head in confusion. “No, honey, that’s not what I said at all.” She hurried back around to the other side of the desk and sat. “I said just the opposite. You’re negative, sweetheart. But your ELISA test did come back positive the first time.”
Dan felt like the floor was coming out from under him once again.
“And when we ran the test a second time, it came back positive again, so we sent it for the Western Blot and that came back negative. That happens sometimes…but you’re okay.” She opened a drawer and handed him a pamphlet. “That explains how the testing works. But if the Western Blot is negative, you’re not infected.”
Becky nodded. “You were worried about this, huh?”
Dan wanted to laugh again. “Yeah, a little bit.”
“Have you been exposed?” Becky peered at him from over the top of her glasses.
“No.” He paused, thinking. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Well, I need to tell you—there is what they call a window period, when you could be infected, but the tests don’t yet pick up on the antibodies.” She made sure Dan met her gaze and continued. “That’s why you need to make sure you play very safe.” She reached in the same drawer from which she had taken the pamphlet and pulled out a handful of condoms, setting them down in front of Dan. The bright metallic wrappers made him think she was offering him candy. “Don’t take any risks and make sure you come back in six months and get tested again, just to be certain. Okay?”
Dan thought he would abstain from any sex for the next six months—maybe forever. He stuffed the rubbers into his pocket anyway and stood.
“You gonna be all right?”
“Yeah. I’ll be fine. Thank you.” Dan left the office, feeling curiously numb and relieved all at once. A part of his heart ached because he knew this scene had played out so differently for Adam.
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