His friend died of AIDS, but he still believes AIDS isn’t real
When I received news that he came into town to visit a friend, my childhood memories resurfaced. I’d had a crush on this guy since preschool, and it was the kind of thirsty love that Lucy van Pelt has for Schroeder. (Peanuts fans, you know how strong that is.)
He’d found me on Facebook initially, but in an odd bit of confusion thought I’d died. (I was participating in Alicia Keys’ “Keep a Child Alive” campaign at the time, which required users to be “digitally dead” until they reached the $1 million mark.)
I hadn’t seen him in more than two decades, although his younger brother popped up to visit my childhood home one Thanksgiving after I graduated from college. I wondered if his older brother, who lived in my childhood Chicago apartment building, was still finer than a mothersucka. We would sit on the porch and eat popsicles. I would chase him through our backyard and tell him, “You’re my boyfriend.” And I even wrestled him down one time to kiss him. (In retrospect, somebody really should’ve yanked me up by my collar and told me to calm my frantic little butt down. My older brother and our landlord’s grandson thought my child harassment of this kid was hilarious.)
With news this week of the first new HIV strain in nearly two decades, I can think of no better timing than now to get tested.
I carried on like this when we went to pre-school. By first grade, I’d moved into a South Side Chicago home across the street from our old building. His family then moved to Indiana. When he and his mom came back to visit us during our teenage years, I immediately went into my closet to find a baseball shirt that matched his and put it on. I didn’t even like baseball, just thought the shirt was cute. Keep in mind I did not act like this with any other boy in my entire elementary or high school, but shame went out the window with this kid.
So the idea of seeing him as an adult when I still wait on any man who likes me to make the first move was exciting. But all I kept thinking was, “Gawd, Shamontiel, don’t be Lucy van Pelt. You are better than this.”
The day I met my childhood crush as an adult
I knew he had traveled from his Houston home to Chicago to visit a friend. I did not know at the time that his friend had passed away of AIDS. To make matters worse, his grandmother had also passed away during the same time. He was having a rough time dealing with both deaths, and unfortunately we never did see each other face-to-face.
But nine months later (I know this because he kept bringing up this timeline), he and my mother set up a surprise visit at my parents’ home so I could finally lay eyes on the man I thought I’d marry. And he was even finer as an adult than he was as a kid. To give you a visual, several of his Facebook commenters joked about him being the non-famous version of Morris Chestnut. Although his time in Indiana made him rougher around the edges than the “Best Man” actor, he definitely missed his calling as a model. By this time, he’d given up his Houston home to travel here. He’d moved into his father’s old apartment a few blocks away from my own apartment —and none of us had any idea how close in proximity we were until that day. The stars were aligning. This was destiny!
I sat on my front porch with German Shepherd hair all over my clothes and a messy ponytail when an unfamiliar car came to a stop. As soon as he stepped out of his father’s car, I thought, “Well, I totally screwed up the ‘look what you missed out on all these years’ outfit I assumed I’d wear.” After getting all the fur rolled off all my clothes, off we went on a double date with him, his father and his stepmother.
This was the easiest person I’d ever dated. I’d already grown up with his mother. His dad and I met and went on a double date that day. He and his wife were extremely chill people. Although I’m sure I still smelled like a German Shepherd and had the occasional dog hair still sticking to my clothes, that didn’t stop my childhood crush from grinning and pretty much staring at me the entire ride to the restaurant. In my mind, all that ridiculous childhood flirting paid off.
While I’m a stickler for getting to know someone before being intimate, and have zip zero interest of ever being in a one-night stand (I’m not built for it), this was obviously going to be someone I’d be with. That is, until later that night, after we’d kissed (me initiating it once again but at least the poor guy voluntarily agreed) and tip-toed around the idea of being intimate, he made an off-hand comment about how he didn’t believe AIDS was real anyway. And the record player scratched.
No sex tests, no sex: My background in HIV/AIDS awareness
I’m a stickler about annual physicals. I get tested for stuff I know I don’t have “just in case.” I wrote an entire book about a college kid in denial of his own HIV risks. I spoke on college campuses about safe sex and HIV/AIDS testing. I volunteered at auctions and fundraisers, and passed out condoms and reading material for an HIV/AIDS organization in my neighborhood called Better Existence for HIV (BEHIV). And I have had conversations with all past partners about getting tested. (At BEHIV, HIV/AIDS testing was free.)
Because any man who does not love his own body enough to keep it safe can never love you or your body.
I’m not sure what it is with some men when it comes to going to the doctor, but there is a different level of fear when it comes to getting tested. (Yes, I’m aware of the Tuskegee experiment and the history of Henrietta Lacks in United States medicine, but seriously, how long are we going to hold onto that?) The hesitation to get tested is draining. I don’t just have a loose understanding of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). I’ve gone out of my way to learn as much as I can about them. I am a walking, talking condom commercial. Additionally I don’t ever want to have kids, so contraception is absolutely imperative to me.
Recommended Read: “My doctor is not my boyfriend”
I’ve shut men down flat after they skirted around talk of STIs and STDs, and been accused of ruining the mood. Frankly, I don’t give a f**k about ruining the mood more than I care about ruining my body. So I ask every single time. But for this particular person to tell me he just wasn’t convinced AIDS was real after his friend died from it was the biggest slap in the face. That one comment made a tear-your-clothes-off-yes into a put-on-a-chastity-belt-over-a-winter-coat-no. And I stood my ground.
Single adults who are sexually active need to have this conversation more often. While some of us are convinced that it’s “not my job” and a “forgone conclusion as an adult” that everyone will practice safe sex, statistics prove otherwise. As much as we write posts about sexual innuendos and sexual escapades and wag a finger at slut-shaming and promiscuity, I wish adults would do a better job of educating themselves (and their hormonal teens) about contraception and STD/STI prevention. (I even had a Medium user block me for bringing safe sex up.) Conversations about safe sex should not be this tense. Hell, Lyfe Jennings somehow managed to make a twerk-happy R&B crooner that’s better than half the R&B music out today.
The denial of how his childhood friend died made me reevaluate every single thought I’d had about him since our popsicle days. I could not wrap my mind around why he was so convinced that AIDS is a hoax and dodged every single opportunity to get tested. We were off-and-on for several years before I finally (and literally) walked away — on his birthday — and never looked back.
All the talk of dating and love and marriage (and me temporarily humoring the idea of motherhood) went down the drain. Because any man who does not love his own body enough to keep it safe can never love you or your body. With news this week of the first new HIV strain in nearly two decades, I can think of no better timing than now to get tested. You don’t have to wait until World AIDS Day rolls around in December. You live in your body 365 days a year. Love yourself and your partners enough to be tested, Schroeders included.
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