He is HIV-positive, so what?
I receive a text message from a friend who is working as an intern. I haven’t received any message from her in a long time since both of us have been busy with our studies. She asks me if I still remember my friend Light who I introduced to her years back, and if I have news about him. I feel a little weird that she’s asked about my friend and not me.
I reply to her, “I know you have a crush on him but it would be nicer if you asked about me first and then him.”
She replies, “Crazy! Have you heard from him?”
“No. Why? I know he’s busy with work. He travels a lot too. It’s hard to keep up with friends nowadays, you know that.”
“Well, I think, you better visit him. He is in the hospital. It’s been three months and I hardly see people visiting him, except his nanny.”
Panic-stricken, images of sickness and the smell of strong medicine begin to surround me. I always remember Light to have a bubbly personality—always smiling and laughing, always ready to give you a big warm hug! I told him once that he was the big brother I always wanted to have because I was so sure I’d be spoiled by him and that he would be a great partner in crime like going home late at night from a party or buying books forbidden by the Opus Dei or having tattoos on our backs. He’d go to school with tie-dyed summer pants and with green/purple highlights on his hair. He was a school heart-throb not just because he was such a cutie but because he was so sociable and loving, not to mention a talented writer. He was two or three batches older but we shared two literature classes and INTSTAT (Introduction to Statistics) where we were seated at the back quietly singing Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Other Side, while laboriously answering the problem in front of us. Both of us were hostile to STAT but he was worse, he was hostile to all Math subjects.
What kind of a friend am I that I don’t even know that my friend is seriously sick? Panic turns to guilt.
“Why, what’s wrong with him?”
“I can’t tell you. It’s confidential. Just pay him a visit.”
“Please, please, please tell me now. What’s wrong with him? Why that long?”
“Sorry. I really can’t tell you. Just visit him. He’s there in his room. He is not allowed to go out.”
“He’s not dying right?”
“Visit him. Let me know when you’re coming so I can see you too.”
I can’t seem to quiet my mind. I am so worried about him. My tears trickle down and I begin to sob. I don’t want to call him now because I’m not ok. I don’t want him to think that I’m already mourning for him when he is still so alive on the other side of the phone. What am I to do? Who am I going to tell if it’s a confidential thing, and if he does not want people to know? Still in confusion, I take my mala (a Tibetan Buddhist rosary) from its bag and offer one whole round for the fast recovery of my friend Light. Immediately after, I send a text message to my best friend who is also close to Light. Myra is actually closer to Light than me since both of them served as editors in our school’s literary journal. The two of them spent countless nights burning cigarettes and drinking coffee to meet their deadline.
“Sis, where are you? A friend of mine told me Light is in the hospital. Let’s visit him. When are you free?”
“Why what happened to him? Sure, let’s visit him when I get back. I’m still in Hong Kong with *Ate. We’ll be back after 4 days.”
“My friend won’t tell. Sis, I’m so worried about him. Let’s visit him as soon as you come home ok?”
“Of course. Don’t worry, sis. Let’s pray for him. Let’s ask God to heal him. Be positive. Everything will be alright.”
Myra picks me up to visit our friend, a day after she arrived in Manila.
“Sis, I made you a cup of coffee, it’s brewed; and peanut butter jelly sandwich. I know you haven’t eaten breakfast. And, the paper bag behind us is yours, that’s my *pasalubong for you from Hong Kong.”
“Aww. Thanks sis. That’s sweet.”
“How’s Light? How serious is his illness?”
“No idea. My friend won’t give me a hint. She says it’s quite serious and he’s been there for months and there’s hardly any visitor.”
“Do you think our other friends know?”
“I doubt it because if they do, they would have informed us.”
“Did you tell anyone?”
“Aside from you? No one. I don’t want to say anything unless I know what I’m going to say. But I also don’t want to go alone, you know me.”
In the hospital, the hospital attendant asks as to sign the sheet.
“How are you related to Light?”
“He is our friend.” Myra tells him.
“He’ll be surprised to see you. Did you tell him you’re coming?”
“No,” I reply.
Hospitals are usually dull and the feeling you get is always negative—loneliness, melancholy, rejection. I dread going to hospitals. The site of wheelchair and stretchers makes me tremble, and the smell of strong disinfectants and medicine makes me sick. The hospital wing where Light is has less people, and very quiet. You can hardly hear footsteps except our own.
We enter this room, with 3 empty beds on either side of the room. Towards the end there are three doors with small glass window. The middle door has faint white light coming from a mobile phone. The two doors which sandwich it are totally dark.
“It must be his room.” Myra tells me quietly. I just give her a nod. She peeps in the window and tells me that he is awake and texting. She knocks at the door and a few moments later, the light is on. Light, without looking at the window tells us to come in.
“Oh. My. God!” In his high-pitched voice. “How’d you know I’m here? Who told you?” He is so surprised but happy to see us. ‘Geez. I haven’t even taken a shower, I’m so embarrassed.”
“You’re still handsome with or without a shower.” Myra assures him.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! It’s such a long time…I miss the two of you. How are you? Oh my, look at me. I’m in this freaking room. Damn. Who told you I’m here?”
“Your doctor. She said you’re here so now we’re here.”
“What did she tell you?”
“Nothing. She just said I should visit you because you might want to see some of your friends.”
“Oh my Katea, I just love your friend. She’s the only doctor who can find my vein! Look.” He stretches his arms which are full of rashes and bruises.
“What happened to you? What’s wrong with you? When are you going out? Are you allowed to go out? Let’s go out. Katea and I will treat you. Lunch? Coffee?”
“If I could I would. Doctors said I still have two more weeks for the medicine and vaccine. Can’t wait to go out. Look at me. I’m turning white. I was never white in my life. I was always tan. I am so secluded from the real world.”
“So, what happened?” I ask him.
He tells us his story about the guys he met. He explains to us that it was actually the pigeons that started living on their rooftop that made him so sick and made his immune system down. He got meningitis. That was the only time that he asked to be tested for HIV.
Myra and I are as quiet as the two other vacant rooms.
“Don’t worry guys. It’s not as if I’m gonna die soon. There’s medicine to make me live a normal life you know. It’s just that I have to be careful with my diet and avoid getting sick. No more parties for me. No more late nights, as I need to sleep 8 hours a day, can you believe that? No more wine and liquor and beer. No more old self. Oh my, I have to be celibate for the rest of my life. Hahaha. I’m a good boy now.”
“You’ve always been a good boy, always.” Myra says to him.
“Yeah…” Light turns a little serious. “I guess I really have to take care of myself. I’m planning to attend yoga and meditation classes right after I get out of this horrible place. You know, be more spiritual.”
“That’s good. Tell me where you’re going to take the yoga class, I’ll join you. I haven’t taken the class in a long time. And yes, you can take meditation class with me if you like.” I suggest to him.
“Have you told anyone about this?” Myra asks.
“My family, my best friends and the two of you. For a time, I really didn’t want to hear from anyone. I didn’t accept any visitor except my sister and *yaya, but I’m glad the two of you came. I’m dying of depression more than anything. But I will tell everybody when the time comes, when I’m out of here. I really don’t intend to keep it anyway.”
“Good to know that Light. That’s what we love about you. How did your dad take it?”
“Pap? Haha. He didn’t speak to me in months when he found out. But funny you asked. He was here a week ago. When he was at the door he was smiling and making faces. He was trying to look funny, like a dad to his toddler son. The moment he got near me, he started poking my head and then he began to weep. He was already punching the walls calling my name several times. Mom hugged as both and said that it was ok and everything would be fine. Sigh. I really owe a lot to me family. For the longest time they wanted me to stay close and I always pushed them away, now, I still have them.”
“You’re lucky Light to have your family behind you. We are behind you, too.” I promise him.
Myra asks Light and me to bow our heads and she offers a Christian prayer for the complete healing of Light.
“See you in two weeks?”
We kiss him goodbye on either side of the cheek. His eyes glow and smiles big.
Light is back to his work as a writer for a popular lifestyle magazine. He’s also come out on tv and newspapers to educate people about HIV. Light says in an interview on t.v., “It’s a good thing that it happened to me because I’m not scared about anything that’s gonna come out with coming out in public. I’m not afraid to deprecate my life to make sure nobody gets it.”
His dad, who’s one of the famous directors in our country, has been interviewed on t.v. about his son’s revelation.
“Sir, what do you feel about your son having HIV-positive?”
“He HIV-positive, so what? He is my son. I love him. His family and friends love him.”
In my country, sex is not an open issue. Young people go astray because there is hardly an authority who would want to discuss it, as if it’s the most unnatural thing in the world. Reproductive health issues are being silenced. The use of condoms and safe sex is almost illegal. Worse, people who are HIV-positive and who have AIDS are misjudged and often discriminated thinking that they are being punished by God. It is because that people don’t want to talk about it that keeps more people from getting Light, the Truth. It takes courage and concern for other people to speak about these issues. And I am proud of him for making the first step and taking the lead.
*Ate—Filipino term of endearment for big sister
*pasalubong—roughly, take-home gift from one's travel
*yaya—Filipino term for nanny
**Light—English translation for his Filipino name Liwanag