Chapter 1: Bad News

In November of 1991, I got news that changed my life forever. The HIV counselor shifted her gaze between the sheet in her hands and my face. I saw sadness and panic in her eyes. “Your test results came back positive,” she said.

My head spun as I looked at the sheet with test names on it that prior to this had only been concepts that I had studied in grad school. The word “reactive” leapt out at me, signaling the presence of antibodies to HIV. However, I didn’t react. I just sat in stone-faced shock. She gave me some pamphlets, and the name of a local infectious disease doctor. I thanked her and left, driving home on a gray and windy day, full of dread to tell my dad the bad news.

A photo from my time in grad school, where I learned I was HIV+

When I told him, his face crumpled into a mask of grief. My heart broke, and the depth of the challenge ahead of me came further into focus. Dad had to leave, but promised to come back in a couple of days. I needed some time to digest and grapple with my diagnosis, so we parted, and I was left alone and terrified.

From the beginning, Dad and Liz were there to support me. They came to College Station so they would be there to discuss what I learned at my first visit to the doctor. There news was mainly good: my T-cells were still in the normal range, meaning we had discovered the infection early in its course. The doctor believed in being aggressive with treatment and wanted to put me on AZT. I was eager to start treatment, as I wanted to feel that I was taking action to fight the disease, so I agreed. This was a decision that would have profound consequences a few years later.

Dad and Liz went with me to get the prescription for AZT filled. The pharmacist was a very kind man, who pulled us aside and told us that his son had come out to him in the last year. He wanted me to know that he would do anything he could to support me. I felt both gratitude and shame, and sheepishly thanked him.

After the visit to the pharmacy, we went out for lunch. We had a long lunch talking about what the doctor had told me about the disease, and about actions I could take that may be beneficial. I told them that I intended to beat this disease, and that I would do whatever it took to do so. Dad told me he believed in me, and that he was proud of me, the first of many such reassurances. I’m not sure I believed my own assertions of victory over HIV, and the pride my father took in me didn’t quite sink in at that time, but the love I was offered from so many directions was having an effect. It was slow, like rain falling on dry, hard soil, but something new was being watered.


Visit http://clayrides.bike to learn about my cycling to support Housing Works, an amazing organization that provides lifesaving services to homeless people living with HIV/AIDS.

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