It was hardly the seat where one expects a sermon, cold steel stirrups against my arches, legs propped up, my bare bottom against edge of the table, waiting for the pap-smear to be over. From the doctor, sitting at the open end of my hospital gown, I could expect clinical or politely skirted discussion. Or so I thought.
“How many people have you had sex with?” the doctor asked.
Hadn’t I already checked the boxes and answered the patient questionnaire? “People?” I asked. I drew a breath and answered truthfully: “Just one,” hoping the answer would satisfy (and silence) her. But she kept on: “Do you know that as a result of your just one sexual partner, you have contracted HPV?”
I didn’t know what to say. My decision to have sex wasn’t an overnight mistake I could easily denounce, but I also didn’t feel like I was in a position to argue. The simplest answer was that I was indeed aware of the weight of my decision. “Yes, I know,” I answered.
I knew my choice had resulted in the STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection), HPV. HPV is potentially cancer-causing, but it is also extremely common and the risk of cancer is greatly reduced, should one keep up the proper checkups, as I was.
Yet there I was, in this room, the burden of HVP falling upon me heavily, in the form of the barely-covering gown, the cost of the pap smear kit, wages for the doctor, the time from her schedule, and even the portion of crinkling paper under me. It seemed like I was a part of a national problem, which could have easily been avoided if not for that dirty three-letter word, sex.
As she removed her latex gloves she observed, “You seem a bit dazed.” And so I was. I tried to be more present, but I was still a little shocked, blinking and pausing to understand each further question, of which there were a few. She seemed to blame too high a dosage of Adderall, which I took for Attention Deficit Disorder, for my level of disorientation. Truth is, I’m never good at questions. I can’t count how many times my paper-thin self-confidence has been blown away by much less jarring queries than hers.
Since then I’ve wished that I had some quick comeback to shield myself, beyond the barely-there hospital gown. But the long answer seems more truthful then quick words anyway. My story, as with the stories of many others, doesn’t fit quick judgments. Yes, there was contact between myself and a male of the species. Not just of a sexual nature, though, but of a human nature. It was a close friendship, a first love: messy, imperfect, and largely supportive amidst each other’s faults. In that moment, to that doctor, it was as though that virus was the worst thing to happen to me–a blight to my health and a consequence of folly. But it wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me.
The worst thing to happen to me involved an absence of human contact. Consider a life perfectly controlled, unable to contract a virus, unable to take a risk and know or love another human being outside your own family. That was my life before I moved away from home. I was literally friendless, home educated and isolated, “protected” from danger. That life was the deadliest form of disease: the kind that steals all your potential, makes you a person with many dreams, but few actualities, little knowledge of your abilities, due to no outside practice, no growth.
The spreading of viruses are evidence of biological entities, or vectors, in proximity to each other. We get sick because we go places where other people are. That virus was evidence of closeness. Opposite of the doctor’s charges, the friendship was life-affirming, important to my whole being, and not destructive. Not perfect, no. But if there was a blight, it was in a world where I made connections with other human beings and was not paralyzed by fear.
My friend was a person who understood me, who took time to listen to me even when I didn’t have much great to say. Every minute I spent with him was a step away from the loneliness, self-doubt, and the educational and social neglect of my youth. A step away from insecurity and fear into acceptance and into a slowly growing confidence.
Perhaps the sex itself was not the best thing in the world; perhaps I could have withdrawn from his company when things got a little too serious. Perhaps it was a sin and a mistake, but it was a mistake I made while growing stronger, a mistake made while climbing up a mountain instead of hiding in the dark. So I don’t regret it as much as I might.
I do have regrets. We all do. But it’s not really your place to draw them out. What good are flickers of light and more shadows on the wall, when you live in a cave?
Not Love Perhaps
by Arthur Seymour John Tessimond
This is not Love, perhaps,
Love that lays down its life,
that many waters cannot quench,
nor the floods drown,
But something written in lighter ink,
said in a lower tone, something, perhaps, especially our own.
A need, at times, to be together and talk,
And then the finding we can walk
More firmly through dark narrow places,
And meet more easily nightmare faces;
A need to reach out, sometimes, hand to hand,
And then find Earth less like an alien land;
A need for alliance to defeat
The whisperers at the corner of the street.
A need for inns on roads, islands in seas,
Halts for discoveries to be shared,
Maps checked, notes compared;
A need, at times, of each for each,
Direct as the need of throat and tongue for speech.
And from the song “Easy Does It” by Waterdeep:
Don’t waste your breath
Don’t waste my time
The fire is hot
The walls are limestone
Living in a cave
It’s easy to behave
To think we call this saved
Don’t you miss the sky?