The waiting room was small, smaller than I had expected anyway. It had taken me 6 and a half minutes to approach the building, I was barely able to even step out of the car. I had never gotten an HIV test before and the concept of going seemed more sinister than any other nightmare I could dream up. As if, as long as I didn’t go, and as long as it was just a concept that I kept my distance from, there could be no way I had HIV.
I had gone with my two friends Austin and Angel, all three of us young gay men who had only applied AIDS to situations like the mass outbreak in the 1980’s and the classic Jonathan Larson musical, “Rent”. Admittedly, I was the only one who had actually seen ‘Rent’ but I happily provided the entire synopsis on our ride there.
All of us were nervous, but being the more expressive one out of the trio, I ended up having what my friends would later refer to as an ‘HIV-related tantrum’.
“Adam, we just drove twenty minutes to get here, you need to get up. Everything will be okay I promise”. Angel’s usually indifferent tone had become stern, and I looked up at him from the parking block I had impulsively sat on, and responded “fiiiiiiinnnneeeeee”.
We walked around aimlessly searching for the right address, the clinic was situated in a mass of industrial buildings across from John Wayne Airport, each one just as similar as the next. Taupe, taupe, and you guessed it–more taupe. We had found the clinic via yelp, and found it was the only place near us that did not only do anonymous and free testing, but also gave you your results within twenty minutes. That was the only option for me, if I had to wait a week to get my results, by the time they came back my insides would have already rotted from nerves.
When I get nervous, I ramble, which although not especially uncommon was especially annoying (so I’ve been told). The more we walked, the more I felt pressed up against the very real possibility I could have something. So therefore, the more we searched the more I rambled about anything that popped into my head. I felt charged with nervous energy, at this point I just wanted to get the whole ordeal over with, I walked ahead of my friends, looking around manically like a parent who loses their kid at Target. Through the mighty power of google maps, we finally found ourselves face to face with the right door, and it occurred to me then that I might leave here a completely different person than when I came in.
I entered speedily and kept my head held high, not allowing myself to feel any shame that is usually associated with getting an STD test. Inside was a large empty room where a blank faced receptionist sat, looking bored and uninterested.
“I am here to get an HIV test” I proclaimed, probably louder than necessary, and to boot the almost-vacant room had caused my words to echo.
“Wrong room, they’re in the building behind us”. I swallowed hard, gave the receptionist a hard grin and a polite nod, and left just as speedily as I had entered, ignoring the chuckles of Austin and Angel behind me. I didn’t really care, my anxiety had washed away any feeling of embarrassment, sometimes you just don’t have room to feel anything else.
The small waiting room felt as compact as it looked, with chairs lining against the wall, giving the impression that they were trying to stuff as many seats as practically possible. The three of us sat side by side, avoiding eye contact with the other two men who had already been waiting. One was a skinny guy, couldn’t be older than his mid-twenties, dressed effeminately, and I remember thinking at the time that when conservatives think of gay people this is the stock photo that probably enters their head. The other was a complete polarity to the skinny guy, a man in business wear, his tie was loosened, I would guess somewhere in his mid to late forties. He looked tense, even more than I, he kept his face in his hands and I felt badly for him, enough to wear I almost forgot my own reason for being here.
The cream colored walls left me feeling more tense, and so I kept intimate eye contact with the white ribbed carpet as I filled out the information sheet. There was a side table before the very first chair, which had a bowl of condoms and lube, a stack of brown lunch bags in case you wanted to take home a goodie bag, and a rack of pamphlets with sayings like “You Have HIV, What Next?” and with pictures of couples looking distressed on the front.
Eventually the person doing the test came out of the examination room, a younger guy, dressed aesthetically like an extremely cute gay librarian.
“Who is next?” He was cute, like weirdly cute for a volunteer at an HIV clinic, and really the last thing I needed at this specific low-point was to be around a cute person.
“Me” I said instinctively, I needed the agony to be over, I turned to my friends and they both gave me a reassuring smile, and so I went in.
It was quick, a simple swab test, I sat and the cute guy asked me questions about myself and I talked and talked and talked. Between every 300 words I would add a “sorry I’m nervous, that’s why I keep talking” and then proceeded on with my explanation on what life is like with an untraditional body type.
I sit and wait while he calls in Austin and Angel, and we all wait together for our results which he pulls us in one by one for.
“Your tests came back clean!” It felt like I could breathe again, colors were brighter, this guy was now even cuter, and I felt safe. My body felt like mine again. It’s a scary feeling being young and thinking something so catastrophic has already happened to your body. It’s such a loss of control, and it’s a brush with mortality that no one at seventeen should have to bear.
I was right about one thing, I did leave a different person. I had one of those ah-hah moments that you only have after the storm has cleared. It was one of my first real grown up situations, my mom was not there to coddle me and ask the doctor questions, this was on me. My safety and my responsibility to myself and my body is on me. Getting tested is scary, but the not knowing is worse.
The three of us drove back home, we laughed, listened to music, and all silently thanked whatever higher power there was for giving us a little more time with the illusion of immortality.