I woke up with a terrible toothache. It all started from there. From this rotting tooth, which has been bugging me on and off for several months now. Of course I couldn’t help but think of Raskolnikov. I wasn’t only psychologically and emotionally in pain, I was, damn it, also disintegrating physically. This has been my thinking ever since the year kicked in: My life as I know it is over. Over!
And so I woke up with this toothache and the physical pain soon turned into an emotional one when I saw that the guy I’m currently infatuated with hasn’t sent a text message. I knew then I was off to a rocky start. But first, of course, something has to be done with the toothache. My plan was to have the tooth extracted. I wanted it out of my fucking life. Ganun lang naman dib a? If something is causing us pain then we should simply take it out. But the dentist, after seeing how swollen my gums were, said: Nope, no can do. Apparently I have to live with it until the swelling subsides. On the upside, I get to snack on painkillers for the entire week. What really bothered me, however, was the diagnosis. The swelling, it turns out, was caused by my waning immune system. And my god, my immune system hasn’t been so hot lately. In fact, ever since the year started I’ve been sick several times and have grown considerably thin. Although there are legit factors as to why I’ve gotten scary thin. For one, I run every day, and two, until recently I was on a strict diet. But then, yes, given my improprieties in the past several months I’ll have to be stupid not to worry. I was panicking internally. Have I finally gotten it?
Several people have told me to get tested. I knew I had to. For the last three months I had this suspicion that I’ve finally had it. There was even a moment early one morning when I woke up totally convinced that I’m sick. I was sweating and I kept lighting one cig after the other and pacing around the apartment muttering incomprehensible words while thinking of my imminent doom. Finally I sat down and admitted to myself that at 36 I still needed to be parented. Even at my age I needed adult supervision. Yes, I lost my marbles that morning.
But I can’t get tested, I would always argue to myself. I have begun to be emotionally invested with someone and the mere thought of telling the guy that I am infected scared me no end. I wouldn’t be able to do it without breaking down. I’m not even sure if I could handle the result if things didn’t go well. I might kill myself. I might just finally go berserk for real. I definitely wouldn’t be able to handle it, not with this kind of year, not when I’m having a terrible day. But the trip to the dentist had already set off a series of paranoid thoughts and as luck would have it I had an entire afternoon free. Alam kong masisiraan ako ng ulo sa kaka-isip so fuck it, I thought, let’s do it!
But I wasn’t prepared, not by a long shot. I was scared shitless. Even before I had stepped into the clinic, I was already breaking down. I walked around the mall vacillating if I really should do it or not. I kept thinking: What if? What if? What if I’ve been infected? What will I do? Could I even handle it? What about the people I’ve been with? Should I tell them? What on earth should I tell them? That sorry I fucked up and you’re one of my casualties?
I paced around the mall with my mind running in several directions when --- Bam! --- I bumped into, well, Bam, who is a very dear friend. He doesn’t visit this particular mall but on this faithful afternoon, just as when I was so lost, we found each other in its decrepit corridors. And his presence brought me relief, sort of. Apparently, I needed a friend that afternoon. I dragged Bam to the nearest cafe and with my frayed nerves told him my plans. He had this serious look on him and he said: “Do it. Do it now.” I don’t know why but knowing that there was one soul on this miserable earth who knew my predicament made me braver. And I just knew the moment I saw him that I had to do it. I had to get tested, now.
The afternoon was already over and the clinic was almost empty except for the nurses and this cute guy who I assumed was also getting tested. After taking my blood pressure I was made to wait and so I started reading a book. While reading though I kept my eyes on my surroundings and I kept seeing this gay nurse. I sort of wished that he wouldn’t be the one to counsel me because I needed eye candy for this situation. I wanted a cute counsellor to divert my growing fear. But faith, apparently, wasn’t on my side that afternoon because I eventually found myself sharing a cubicle with him, with me telling the gay nurse the nitty-gritty details of my sexual history. It was at that moment when I realized that despite having an open mind I still had a few prejudices. And my prejudice was directed at him. He wasn’t straight-acting. He had make-up on and the uniform he wore had a woman’s silhouette. I have nothing against transguys but I thought that he wouldn’t be able to relate to my story. The counselling wouldn’t be effective because I thought we lead totally different sexual lives. But eventually though I would realize how stupid and wrong I was.
As usual I tuned out during the lecture. Instead, in my mind’s eye, I was framing the nurse in a shot. He was discussing about repercussions while I, imagining him in the middle of the frame, was seeing a man with a huge window behind him and beyond the window a noisy train running across the tracks. Perhaps the train could mean a transition? A literal visualization of how I am moving from point A to point B. I only found myself focusing on the guy (the camera zooming in) when he said that the results might be inconclusive. I thought that in the event that the result turn out positive I could hold on to that piece of information for hope. Though I was generally nice to the nurse, deep inside I knew I was being a pompous ass.
And then they had to get a blood sample. Usually, I’m scared shitless of needles. The only time when I’m not frightened of it is when... well, never mind. But of course I survived the ordeal without fainting and of course I was made to wait again. Having to wait for tests like these is excruciating. This small pocket of time is mostly wasted on anxious thoughts and grand declarations of sins and desperate prayers of absolutions from one’s god. I, for one, ditched Sartre for a bit and talked to my personal god, who I’ve known to have a terrible sense of humor. I felt that I was at a crossroad and curiously enough I haughtily thought that somehow I had a choice in the outcome. I really did. If only I could be really sure that I wanted to have my life as it is then I would have it. But if, in a fit of rebellion, I decided to fuck it let me know how this story ends then my personal god would give me the ending that I wanted. Out of fear though, I begged to be spared. Even if, as Saint Teresa once said, more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones I pleaded my god to give it to me this time. Just this time, let me have a lucky moment. The cute guy was finally called in and in a few seconds came out with this big cute smile. Fuck! If I came out of that door with a reactive slip I would definitely do a Dolzura Cortez on them (“Diyos ka ba? Ikaw ban a nagbigay ng buhay sa akin? Sino ka ba? ... Ayoko pang mamatay!”).
When I started walking towards the room I still wasn’t sure of the outcome. Normally, I’d have this instinct, this feeling that somehow everything will be okay but at that moment I had nothing. I felt that it was up in the air. Parang Russian Roulette lang! My heart began doing summersaults. My limbs were almost non-existent. Outside the train continued to cross the line. Inside, I was a fucking mess. The gay nurse started talking about precautions in the event that I am, indeed positive. Yada, yada, yada... I wasn’t paying attention until he said are you ready? Yes, just like a game show host but this time I know I’m not to win big bucks but if things turn out well I do get to have my life back. And it was...
Fuck it, non-reactive!
The gay nurse leaned towards me and sheepishly asked: “Are you happy?” He himself looked relieved. Yes, I was fucking wrong. It didn’t matter if we led different lives or didn’t date the same set of guys. In fact, it was a bonus that he was a gay guy like me because at that moment I knew that he understood me all along. We were one and the same and I was just lucky that he was as compassionate and as patient as he was.
I looked at the piece of paper and I started to grin. And the grin turned into this big fucking smile. I was relieved. I was fucking relieved big time. And I started searching for the nurse’s name on the paper because I wanted to thank him. I wanted him to know that I appreciate his help and his kindness. And so I said:
“Thank you Deville.”
“Ay,” he said, totally surprised. “Hindi Devile ang name ko!”
Ahhhh... no wonder his name sounded weird. His name, apparently, was Divine. Talk about signs heh? And Divine, thank you so, so much for the help. I apologize for being such a pompous ass.
Divine ushered me out and asked if I wanted condoms. Man, I grabbed as many as I could but of course I wouldn’t be using them anytime soon. I think my libido just committed suicide.
When I got out of the clinic I had the sudden urge to smoke an entire pack (so para next time, lung cancer naman ‘di ba?). I went inside a 7-11 outlet and saw this cute guy. When I got out I saw another cute one. Suddenly the entire Quezon City was filled with beautiful, desirable men! But sorry guys, I think I’ll enjoy my new life first. And yes, I sort of consider this as another shot at life. I’ve been unbelievably careless before but now baby I’ll live by Freud’s Reality Principle. My id will now have to take a back seat because damn it I still have a movie to make.
Note: And yes, after writing this kumanta ako ng “Dahil Mahal Kita.”