One of my favorite things to read/look at is Humans of New York. I love the rawness of the stories, and the perspective it allows the reader to gain.
A post today was of a woman who found out her husband was cheating, stayed with him for the children, then was later told by a physician that she needed to be tested for AIDS because he had contracted the disease. This really struck a chord with me and reminded me of a painful story of my own.
Four years ago, I was married to my son’s father. At the time, we had been married for three years. I would say we were “going through a rough patch,” as they say, but I can honestly not remember an extended period of time what it was smooth. I thought that’s just how living with another adult was, I never knew otherwise. After years of belligerent, often drunken, fighting, I sobered up while he continued to drink heavily, stay out all night, and at times, come home and get violent.
Fights with my high school boyfriend years before were more threatening and frightening, and again, I didn’t really have an idea of what was normal. With newly sobered eyes, I knew that things weren’t okay, but I was trying to save my marriage. Things continued on like this, and days within me being sober for six months, I came home to my crying husband.
I’ve never met someone who frowned so deeply–the corners of his mouth would nearly reach his Adam’s apple, tears hanging on as long as they could muster. His cheeks were aflush, eyes glossed over, and his face, it was stained with tears.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
He wasn’t okay. It took him a few unsettling moments to get the words out.
He went to a have a lab test done. He didn’t understand why he was always so sick. He was always getting rashes and feeling pain and it didn’t make sense, until it did make sense. He went to take a lab test to see if he had HIV. To see if HIV could be the reason for his ailments (rather than the all around despicable way he treated his body).
I shrugged it off. “You don’t need to worry about that! I had tests for all STDs when I was pregnant. Stop worrying yourself! I can’t believe you went and actually paid for a test.”
There’s a look that you receive, and when you get it, you know. Nothing more needs to be said, you can feel words and thoughts and images and the heaviness of secrecy pushing from behind the other person’s eyes. You see that, and you know.
It happened once, and it was a year prior. He thought about it all the time and felt guilty all the time. Not a moment went by without guilt and remorse. “Where was I?” “You were here. At home, with our son.” He had been thinking this whole time that he had contracted the disease, and that explained why he was so prone to sickness. The test would take a few days before he would hear the results, and waiting was so nerve-wracking, he needed to talk to someone, anyone. What would he do? He felt so bad. What if he gave it to our son?
I let him get it all out, and I interrogated him about who and where and what and why. As if the answers would make it better, as if sharing that part of the experience with me in words would matter against the fact that he shared himself with someone else. How naive.
After hearing it all out, I took a look around the room, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “So that’s why things have been so bad. You must have felt so guilty. You know what? If you have it, then I have it and we have it. We’ll just move to the beach and live well as long as we can. I love you.”
That was January 3. He didn’t have HIV, he had hypochondria. On April 1, after months of one-sided attempts at a happy marriage, I threw my hands up in the air. I couldn’t save what was never really there.