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11-year-old me would be pretty damn excited to learn that one day he would live downtown, in a condo with two cats and someone who loves him. But he’d actually be the most excited that said condo has a swimming pool. 11-year-old me, although a boy from unquestionably landlocked Colorado, was actually a mermaid. This was confirmed when he saw Splash with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. Hannah’s character Madison, a once cool for mermaids only name that has been appropriated by suburban moms (When will the horror of mermaid appropriation end, honestly?), was immediately identifiable. For those who don’t remember, Madison comes ashore to New York City and is forced to acclimate fast to a weird, harsh world that she didn’t belong in. I mean as a gay child that was literally my experience everywhere I went–from baseball games to camping trips and beyond. The one place this mermaid child felt at home was in water. Pool, beach, river didn’t matter. I came alive when I could just bounce in the water. My favorite was swimming underwater. It was quiet and I could hold my breath for a long time so it was just me and water and not the other things in daily life that seemed hard and alien.  Like Madison, I didn’t stay underwater and I  always returned to an awkward life landlocked.

Some 34 years later, this mermaid-merman has learned how to live among non-merfolk. Sort of. I mean I don’t know if I’ll ever pass as someone who gets this whole life thing but I’ve found some ways to make it feel less painful and less alien. I should stop using alien in a negative way. Misunderstood mystical beings from other places should be cherished. (Oh when will our stigmatizing of aliens ever end?) The point is I’ve accepted and even begun to love merself. Even when hanging out at my condo pool.  On one of those Sweet-Jesus-Is-It-Possible-To-Die-From-Summer-Exhaustion days where the air is stifling and hot, I trotted out to the pool after work. Just a quick dip, a little float to help rinse off my day. Naturally, the bonus for pool situations for nosey people like myself is to spy on other swimmers. What are they wearing? What’s the group dynamic? Which one of those blonde girls in the denim cutoffs and bikini top is named Lauren? Why is that guy fixing his hair obsessively and taking selfies? There’s a lot to unpack at the condo pool and I’m ready for it. On this day, I was grateful that the omnipresent group of drunk people wasn’t there.

The last time my husband and I went out together, we were bombarded by a group of boozy forty somethings (or thirtysomethings who drank enough to look a decade older). They were day drinking, which was always a favorite pastime of mine, and swimming. The longer we hung out at the pool, the faster we could see them deteriorate. A woman in pigtails on a rainbow raft kept barking at us to push her to the other end of the pool. A large, loud man pounded cocktails from big plastic tumblers and stumbled in and out of the water. The other friends who hadn’t drunk as much packed their things and scooted off before they got messy, an ability I myself never possessed. As for the husband and I, we laughed and paddled to other, more sober parts of the pool. We causally looked at the booze fueled train wreck but didn’t make direct eye contact, for fear of more slurry speech interaction. It’s always enlightening to see drunk people in broad daylight.  Like now it feels so weird and out of place. My daytime hours are so dull and on such an autopilot, I forget that I used to live my whole life like those people at the pool. Yet the minute I wanna get super judgey about daytime drunks, I have to remember that I once drank and took ecstasy on a Tuesday afternoon just for something to do. It’s just a different life now and a sort of return to that mermaid existence where I am again a creature not doing what everybody else is doing.

Th large, loud and now certainly most hammered guy in the group soon was organizing where they all would drink and play pool one they left. In no shape whatsoever to drink more but had enough wits about him to get together a plan for more alcohol was a mission I certainly identified with. How can you enjoy a drunken daytime moment when you have to figure out how and where you can keep drinking? Anyway, we shuffled off to the hot tub as they left the pool in a wet huddle of swerving, yelling disarray. It was amusing from a distance. It was deserving of a few one-liners and eye rolls. But it certainly didn’t wreck our moment at the pool.

As we hopped back in the water, shivering from the temperature shock, the now silent area felt more like those waters where this merchild first floated. Just me and the water and my merhusband. When we went to the Caribbean a few years ago, I remember this amazing smile on his face as we jumped in the warm waves. That same smile comes back sometimes even when we’re in the pool. He doesn’t always fit in on this earth either. He doesn’t like what everybody else likes. But he loves the water and me so we can float through all of this together.

POZiversary

30420-birthday-candles1 2.jpgWell, that’ll do it. Nobody will love me ever again.

It was an overly dramatic train of thought to be sure but don’t blame me. I didn’t come up with it. As far back as forever, people have been saying they’d never fall in love again(Dionne Warwick) or that they were unloveable (Morrissey) or that they’d never love this way again (Dionne Warwick redux, just sub Burt Bacharach for Barry Manilow). These poor saps usually made these statements after having a broken heart. But people are whores so I’m sure Dionne, Morrissey and countless others indeed did fall in love again. My problem was different. Nobody would love ever again because I was broken. Love just wasn’t something my life would be full of because nine years ago today I found that I was HIV Positive.

I’m gonna go ahead and stop you from writing a comment that includes phrases like, “my cousin’s neighbor is positive and he plays on a softball team and is really happy!” or “they have great drugs for that now and so it’s not really a huge deal anymore!” These things are all true and really great but it’s hard not to feel broken in a zillion pieces when you get that kind of news. It’s fucking weird that since HIV still has the “well, you did it to yourself!” stigma attached to it that we don’t let people feel grief around it. We don’t let people have a journey of acceptance around it because it no longer kills millions of people. We do in fact have wonder drugs that keep people alive so let’s not talk about the difficulty those people still might have and just move on, shall we? So yeah I went through it in August 2009 when I got the news. I felt ripped in half. I felt like it was yet another shitty thing I had to “learn to live with.” But mainly I felt like the timing was really bad.

See, I was only 7 months sober at the time and was using everything short of Scotch tape to just hold my shit together at the time. This kind of news was really inconvenient. The same people who would write those comments are the same ones who would tell you when you get this kind of news, “God never gives you more than you can handle!” Well fuck those people because I could barely as handle being sober and I was given another ball to juggle.  Besides, how does God know what I can handle? I think handling things is overrated anyway. I never signed up for this life gig to “handle shit”. Anyway, there we were and it was something I could accept or drink over. How I didn’t drink over it is anyone’s guess seeing as I drank over (and over drank) everything. So I stayed sober and it was people who helped me, not Scotch tape, keep it together. Still, there was a nagging feeling that love was something that might not ever be in the cards.

But as with all the best parts of my life, I was wrong. Completely wrong on every level and ain’t that a wonderful thing? No, seriously.  In boastful, bullshitter times, there’s something wonderfully, punk rock about being totally, fucking wrong. Because once I’ve shut up and stop being convinced that I know what the outcome on every thing is, magic can happen. And magic did happen. I met a guy who didn’t care about me being HIV positive. Beyond this something else happened- love. Love not just from my beautiful husband but love from family members (even the ones who said shit like, “Well you knew this might happen when you decided to be gay” oy fucking vey). Love happened from other addicts and alcoholics who told they were sorry I was going through a tough time. They gave me permission to cry, they brought me burritos, they took me to meetings and they told me not to drink or use no matter what.  Even more amazing, love happened from other people with HIV.

Other people who maybe felt like they’d never feel loved again too, loved me, no questions asked. I shared about it and they showed up for me. They drove me home from meetings and told me it was gonna be okay and I believed them because they were like me. Even more amazingly, the universe put brave beautiful people with HIV in my life without me ever having to say a word. At four years sober, I met somebody days after being in a coma who I got to watch sobriety change his whole world. He turned out to be HIV positive too. We didn’t know this when we met each other but it was just one of a zillion things that latched our hearts together. But it wasn’t just him. Over the years there’s been lots of “him.” People I loved immediately would later share that they were positive too.  Again, we never planned on meeting. Something bigger just put us together and aren’t we lucky? That happened to me just the other day with a new friend who I instantly adored but who got even closer once we knew what we had in common. We exhaled when we shared it with each other. I feel less alone, less damaged, more lovable the more this happens. The thing is we’re able to fill in the blank spaces that the world, society and our broken selves tell us won’t ever be filled with love.

It’s even happened recently at my day job where I get to help other addicts and alcoholics. Again, it’s unplanned and not manipulated but I have certainly come out to my coworkers as HIV positive. In my field, this is an asset. When patients come in with HIV they know that I’ve been there and they can lean on me, no questions asked. Recently, a patient shared his rage that he felt discriminated against at his treatment center when a fellow patient said people like him shouldn’t be allowed in there. I told him that would have pissed me off too. I also offered to come down there and drag this asshole out of the rehab by the hair. We laughed and he said the staff was on his side and the drama subsided. My offer, however, still stands.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that nine years later, the news I got on August 11th 2009, the news that I thought would ruin my existence or make me go out and use again, turned out to be the news that changed my life. Now, when I think about the day and all of the days since, the only thing I can think of is love.