21 and positive
It was exactly a week before my 21st birthday when I found out that I’m never going to be able to leave my parents’ house, get an apartment in Manila and work for a Fortune 100 company, or visit the Grand Canyon in the United States, or have kids of my own, or get health insurance that would give me at least 10 sessions with a psychiatrist.
It was exactly a week before my 21st birthday when my test results came out— and I found out that I’m HIV-positive.
* * *
I never wanted to work for a Fortune 100 company. In kindergarten, I wanted to be an astronaut, then, in third grade, a scientist. Before graduation from grade school, a classmate asked what course I’d take after we get our high school diplomas. I said I wanted to have a degree in education, “so I can teach people like you what pang-ulam is in English.”
Come high school, I joined the school paper and wrote my first poem about how I’d never be able to move on from my first boy-crush. Our adviser said it was good, and that was when I decided to be a writer. And then, when I learned that our school’s main building was more than 100 years old, I decided I’d be a historian or a museum curator. There is no functioning museum in my city, after all.
So I decided that that’s what I wanted to do—study history and build one. Until my parents told me that I’d never go to a school that offers a BA in history because we can’t afford the tuition.
I enrolled in a local university and took a course that would supposedly make it easier to go to law school. I met new people, made new friends, joined the student organ, and came to the realization that I might be fated to actually be a writer.
Then I turned 18. Quit school, left the pub, left my friends, left home, and worked for a call center which, by the way, I had no idea was a Fortune 100 company. I stayed there for eight months and then got fired for sleeping while on a call. Fortune 100 companies suck.
* * *
I’ve always wanted to move out of our house. I had this plan in my freshman college days to stay with my family until I was 18 and then move out, get a job, and save enough money to go to the school that I wanted, to study what I wanted. And then I’d graduate, and only go back home to visit my mother and younger siblings, probably during Christmas or New Year, and shower them with gifts bought with my hard-earned yearend bonus. It’s the stuff you see in TV dramas.
When I turned 18, I moved out and got a job. But I never got to save enough money to go to the school that I wanted, which means I never got to study what I wanted, etc.
I still read up on history, though. I borrowed my older brother’s copy of Nick Joaquin’s “A Question of Heroes” a few weeks before I got fired from my job, but I only got to crack it open after I had a vial of my blood taken to San Lazaro Hospital for testing. That’s what I was doing while I was waiting for my test results—four grueling weeks of waiting doing nothing but reading how Filipino Burgos was or how Mabini was borderline sociopath who argued against anyone with two functioning legs again and again.
It was very fascinating and I still open that book from time to time, but I honestly don’t see the point in knowing those things anymore.
* * *
I used to want to see the Grand Canyon; it was sort of an entry in an earlier version of my bucket list. Then an American that I had befriended said it was just some deep, giant hole in the ground, that there’s really nothing to see there. Well, I figured that since he’s American and he had seen it with his own deep blue eyes, he must be right. So I scratched Grand Canyon off my list and replaced it with cherry blossoms in some old Japanese city like Kyoto or Nagasaki.
Days after my test results came out, I learned that Barack Obama had lifted the ban on HIV-positive patients entering the United States and that Japan never had such a restriction. I was momentarily happy. But then again, what’s the point?
* * *
I hate kids. I don’t do baby talk or squeal in glee when they coo or suddenly laugh with their tiny, high-pitched voices.
I think they’re disgusting little things that put anything they grab with their small fingers into their mouths. I think early childhood is a stage of mental retardation, really. I tolerate my nephews when they’re around, though. Or at least I can tolerate their sticky hands and runny noses for a few minutes because they sort of remind me of what I must have looked like when I was their age. But my mother disagrees, says they look better than me.
But when I found out that I’ll never be able to have children because no one will be sane enough to marry me (not that I liked girls before I was diagnosed), or that I’ll never be able to afford artificial insemination (granted that someone would volunteer to be a petri dish for my virus-infested sperm), a part of me wished I could have kids.
Even just one, just so my mother would have a living remembrance of me when I’m gone.
* * *
And let’s not get into how health insurance providers in the country look at those with HIV, or those with diabetes, or lupus, or cardiovascular problems. There is no language strong enough for those corporate (fill in the blank).
At least there’s PhilHealth that provides P15,000 to each HIV patient annually. At least there’s a foreign cosmetic company that supplies the afflicted with free antiretroviral medications. Hurray for PhilHealth! Hurray for makeup!
* * *
Something changes, or dies, or awakens, in you when you realize that you might have more years behind you than ahead. You may end up trying to live a better life and be a better son, daughter, parent, whatever. Or something dark like hate may build up in your heart and make you start blaming others for what happened to you, or worse, the hate may convince you to infect more people. You tell yourself it’s not your fault that you got HIV, and you may be right. Maybe it’s not your fault. But whatever you do after you find out, is.
I was a week short of 21 when I found out I’m HIV-positive. My family knows, most of my friends know, and I’m lucky that they didn’t chase me away with a bolo or shun me, like most people would probably do.
The virus will probably not kill me, or at least not in a few more years. What it has done is limit me. It made me know that I’m never going to be an astronaut, or a scientist, or a teacher, or a museum curator; that I’m never going to work for a Fortune 100 company or get to see the Grand Canyon or watch cherry blossoms as they fall to the ground at four centimeters per second; that I’ll never have children, or get health insurance with at least 10 sessions of psychiatric help. And it showed me the dangerously high possibility that all I’ll ever have are the things that I have now.
But my last checkup said lab tests are good, X-rays are good. Not great, but good. The next checkup may not be as pleasant, but right now things are good.
Today, I chose to try to live a better life, to be a better person, to just keep it together. I don’t mean to sound like I’ve turned into a Mother Teresa; I’d still fool my youngest brother into giving me his extra slice of cake any time, and I’d not hesitate to punch anyone in the gut if he or she calls me rabbit-tooth to my face. But I’m trying. It’s something that I chose to do this morning as I sluggishly got out of bed.
I can’t say the same thing for tomorrow. But today, I’m trying.
“Mr. Rapid Eye Monday” is now 22 and unemployed.
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