Chapter 2. We were afraid

What do I know?

What do I understand?

What do I fear?

We are all familiar with this line that says humans fear what they do not understand, and hate what they cannot conquer. I have not understood HIV, and so I feared it. Recalling this moment, I realized it was the fear that deliberately shattered everything into pieces. Not the HIV. Fear grew bigger and more powerful as I was willingly, yet unknowingly, giving my head for it to feed. When fear became nearly impossible to tame, it called another specie of monster to join in. Hate crept in for treats.

Year 2011.

I lived most of my life in a small city in the southern part of Mindanao, Philippines. When I got into Law School, I started leading an independent life in another city, Davao. I decided to take my HIV test in a private hospital in Davao City thinking that it was more developed and a more open society.

My father came with me when I claimed my HIV test results. He insisted on coming along because I may not be able to carry myself. In just weeks, I dropped rapidly to 88 pounds from 132 pounds because of incessant diarrhea. He was lightly assisting me as I led myself along the corridor. Picking my own body weight was not a problem. It only was a problem when fear, anxiety, and uncertainty became heavier to carry than my own body weight.

We found ourselves sitting on a row of chairs along the corridors of the private hospital, waiting. I was very nervous and I could tell that my father was, too.  Our silence was broken by a loud call of my full name from the nurse station. “Please come here and get your results and sign on this notebook,” said the female nurse in front of the other waiting clients, her face blank and nonchalant.

My father stood up and helped me stand up so I can walk towards the nurse station. On the desk, a note book with a printed label “HIV TEST RESULTS” was waiting for me to open and sign my name on.

The nurse handed me my test results and my father led me back to an empty seat. My nerves almost made me crumple the paper. “My father . . .” I thought, swallowing a small amount of saliva into my rather dry throat and tightly gripping the unopened paper with my two hands. “. . . and HIV test result. These two are an unlikely combination.”

It took me a few moments and countless number of deep breathes, to remind myself that I had decided to know the truth. With heart that drummed forcefully, as though a bird was desperately wanting to break free from my ribs, I flipped open the white paper. The result was not apparent as we have to run our eyes to the whole matrix of unfamiliar medical acronyms and numbers before we fixed our sights to the word “POSITIVE”.

“Why me?”

I did not know the answer. I never did. The concept of understanding jumped out and disappeared after it struggled to escape from my grips. I could not understand anything. I could not see any reasons. Everything was deep black that I was totally not successful in finding something inside my head that I could hold onto for support. Down to my very last nerve, I struggled for control. In a span of few minutes, I engaged into a battle for understanding, reasoning and control. My will was conquered. I was defeated.

I have not feared fear as how I have feared it in that moment.

I remained looking down and refused to look up to my father whom I thought was expecting me to look into him in distress. I continued to sit still, yet in my mind I was desperately screaming for understanding. My brain suddenly became empty. Reason escaped and abandoned me.

“I need to understand this right now!” my mind exclaimed. I was so flummoxed that I could barely blink even if tears started to flood my eyes. I tried exerting an effort to conceal my sobs, but I ended gasping. I opened my mouth slightly to catch a breath that almost broke away. Small sounds of cry started to resonate from within my throat. The truth that I decided to know, that I thought would set me free, chained me in petrifying embarrassment within my father’s presence, creating generous amount of emotional pain and mental bruises.

I waited for his warm grip to ensure that he is okay – the same grip that he gave my shoulders when I came out as gay. That grip that said “Do not worry. It is okay. I still love you whoever you may be.” I waited for him to lessen my burden. I waited for any gesture that would say the same – that would ensure that he will be there even if we were not sure where this would be going. I longed to hear “Do not worry. It is okay. I am here. Do not be afraid.

But we were afraid.