The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
— Hebrews 13:12-14
A sexually active gay male should be tested for HIV/AIDS monthly or at least every other month. — Cascade AIDS Project
The Test of the Past
My years at Tigard United Methodist Church were some of the most meaningful and enjoyable years that I had ever spent in ministry. I had found a place in ministry that few pastors find … a place where I was loved and a place in which to love and serve.
I began my ministry at Tigard as a church secretary. I was thankful for the job and they seemed thankful for my service. Tigard was my first exposure to the United Methodist Church. I was leery of their wild-hair, willy-nilly theology. And I was terrified of their constant discussion of the issue of homosexuality.
I was a closeted, frightened, celibate homosexual. I spent my adult life as a Nazarene pastor terrified that someone would discover my secret desires and burn me at the stake.
I served as church secretary for the Tigard church for four years before becoming their Associate Pastor. In my fourth year there, I began to hear rumors and innuendoes that the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Portland was gay. And then those murmurs shifted: the pastor of First Church had AIDS. And then the murmurs were silenced when Rev. Laron Hall died of complications due to HIV/AIDS.
It would be another two years before I would even begin to crack open the door of my closet, but Laron’s death had a profound influence upon me. And when I was deciding whether to stay in ministry under “don’t-ask-don’t tell,” I thought about Laron Hall being in a church where he was loved and in which he loved to serve, yet dying disconnected when he needed the body of Christ the most. That was the turning point for me in deciding that I could not live and die in the shadows.
The Test of the Present
When you turn 50 there is a switched that is turned on in your body. All the aches and pains of your life are now magnified and you begin to analyze bowel movements and aching joints with unmerited attention. I knew that it was time again for a full physical exam.
I have not been a huge fan of the Kaiser-Permenente medical system. I had found a doctor that was reasonably personable and at least came across as concerned for my general well being.
I went to Dr. Saldivar with a printed narrative of my concerns … my decreased ability to walk and increased pain … diabetes, it runs in the family history and I had an unexplained increase in weight (okay, partially unexplained, Ben and Jerry could explain one part) … and sexually transmitted diseases. I had a small sore in an intimate area.
When the handsome and young Dr. Saldivar came into the small examination room, he brought with him a Chinese medical student from OHSU. Now I would have an audience for “turn-and-cough” and my prostate exam.
The examination was fairly routine and Dr. Saldivar answered my questions earnestly and accurately. He would arrange for appointments with a physical therapist and a podiatrist to address my concerns regarding my decreased ability to walk. He would add an HIV/AIDS test to the battery of routine tests.
He instructed me to dress and wait for the nurse who would bring the paperwork. The young female Hispanic nurse handed me a consent form for the HIV/AIDS test. The form was clearly marked with 24 point Helvetica type. I awkwardly signed it and returned it to her. She directed me down the hall for the lab work.
I as I sat across from the woman drawing my blood, the first thing that came to my mind was, “What is it like to have a job where you spend your entire day poking people with needles … taking their blood?” The needle prick hurt a little and there was a bit of a knot in my stomach as she put a gauze pad on my arm. What, no lollipop for not crying?
“We also need a urine sample.”
“I hope I can pee.”
“We don’t need much. The bathroom is down the hall. Return the sample to the marked window. Next …”
I have been tested before and there is that awkward wait. Several days passed and I assumed, “No news is good news.”
“Then I got the test results in the mail. I started reading them at the mailbox and then tripped over the threshold as I entered the house. I sat at the kitchen table and tried to make sense of the various pages. My cholesterol was okay. I did not have diabetes. No mention of HIV/AIDS. I had not anticipated that the test would come back positive, but I had spent several days playing the “What If Game.”
Two days passed after the test results arrived in the mail. I was at work and had returned from lunch to notice I had voice mail. I listened to several messages that were work related and then the final message came on, “Please call Dr. Saldivar’s office at the Beaverton clinic.” A detached distant voice left the number.
My heart raced as I dialed the number. I requested Dr. Saldivar’s office and was put on hold and he muzak began. I began to shake and tears formed in my eyes as I listed to the white noise of the muzak. I prayed that no one would come into the office and see me on the phone crying. In my mind this call could only mean one thing … my test had come back positive.
I had told myself that I could handle a positive result. I had close friends who were positive. They were leading fairly normal, healthy lives. I knew there were side effects and complications that I was not privy to, but a positive result was not the immediate death sentence that it had been in earlier years. A friend had told me of earlier years while living in the San Francisco area he and his partner would go to every service of a passing AIDS victim. It simply had become to depressing and they quit. Then began lighting candles and then ran out of candles and out of spirit.
My biggest fear in testing positive was not so much for myself. I wasn’t sure I could face former sexual partners and tell them that they would now need to be tested. The thought that I would inflict pain on someone else is unbearable to me.
The musak ended and a voice came on the line, “Hello, David. I’m Dr. Saldivar’s nurse. Let me read you his notes …” There was a brief silence and rustling of papers, “Your sore is a common staph infection and you will need to pick up an antibiotic at the pharmacy.”
I mumbled a thank you and put down the phone. Someone came into the office and work had to resume. I cleared my throat, “Hello, how can I help you today?”
The Test of the Future
It is a curse in Chinese to say, “May your life be interesting.”
Among my newly acquired vices is spending too much time in gay chat rooms … bars are smoky and depressing … and gay bowling and gay roller-skating are out … so I chat in gay.com.
Many of you have no idea what I am talking about and people have asked me what chatting is like. For the most part chatroom talk is comprised of the following: Fifty percent of the time is spent saying hello to people who enter the chat room and the other fifty percent is saying good-bye to people who are exiting the room. In between your browse peoples’ pictures and profiles.
Because I am a writer I tend to be a “good chatter” and occasionally I find someone interesting to talk to for an extended conversation. On rare occasion those chats turn into real friendships: Chuck, Robert, Boz, Buzz, and Bob, to name a few.
I became friends with someone who lives in a distant city. His picture was striking and we had a nice easy conversation about a variety of topics. Our chats led to an exchange of emails. One of the things had has kept this exchange from becoming stagnant is that we take turns asking a “significant question” in each letter. The questions are sometimes silly and sometimes very serious.
In the course of our exchanged email I learned that my friend was Catholic, was HIV positive and had cancer.
His last question had been on religion. It was my turn to ask the question: “What is your most vivid memory of your father?”
His responses were generally fairly prompt. But a long period went by before his reply arrived:
Well, I held off writing my answer to your last question until today. It seemed appropriate since today is his 80th birthday. I think the interesting word in the question is “VIVID”, that is an understatement when thinking about my father. My relationship with my father is at best, “interesting.” Similar beings with distinct differences, makes for interactions of a charged nature at times. I didn’t begin to enjoy my father until way into my adulthood and I am not sure the word is “enjoy or tolerate.” But we certainly came to an adult understanding that seems to work for us.
His health is failing on many levels and it is time to let go of childish anger towards my early life with him. It took many years before I stood up to him and that will be my VIVID memory of him.
My father is a very competitive man. He likes games; he can win at, and rub your nose in afterwards. His particular favorite is dominoes, but on this night we were playing our version of “Trivial Pursuit”. We had made up our own rules, as usual; the ones on the box did not suit my father. Now playing games with him is more than the game, its conversation and well … just doing family stuff, very Ozzie & Harriet, only its like playing with General Patton, with a Republican stick up his @#$%$. Now I should tell you that if my father loses more than two games in a row, he pouts and won’t play anymore … I’m tired or some other lame excuse is used to quit. So often, I would let him win, although I would never tell him that, but in reality, my mind is full of wasted space, full of needless facts.
But the game is secondary to the question. My father and I were having a conversation; he started about HIV and AIDS. Now mind you, I had already noticed that my father did not want to touch ANYTHING I had touched, it was so obvious. Now the conversation was really an attempt on his part to let me know his particular point of view. He knew I was HIV positive, but at some point he let lose the words that changed my life with him. “I THINK THAT ALL THOSE MEN WITH AIDS SHOULD BE LOCKED UP TO PROTECT THE REST OF THE WORLD, THEY SHOULDN’T BE ABLE TO SPREAD THEIR DISEASE TO EVERYONE.”
I was stunned to say the least. I asked him, “WHAT ABOUT ME, SHOULD I BE LOCKED UP?” and he relied, “No of course not, you’re my son.”
“Well the people you are talking about are my friends”… and he started to make his argument … and I just stopped him. I told him, “Maybe we shouldn’t have this conversation.” But he kept on … in his usual way …
He found a weak spot … and drove his point home … over and over and over …and seemed quite pleased that he had again “found victory” in battle of words.
But the “VIVID” part was that when I walked out of his house, I felt relief. I no longer was obligated to be around him for some reason. My commitment too him was over as a father, it was very liberating. I had stood up to him and from that day on, I have. Needless to say I didn’t see my father very much after that and it took years for me to let him back into my life, but when I did, it was on my terms.
Today, he and I get along. It is more of a need than a friendship. He needs someone who can take him to the doctor, play a little dominoes, change his sheets. We get ‘along’ but it doesn’t go much further than that. His emotional needs are met by other siblings, I just happen to be “caregiver.”
So the day I was liberated from my father… is and remains, my most vivid memory of him.
OK … so it’s another “couch” moment.
He signed his name.
My life has been a series of tests. I spent much of my life thinking that the goal of all those tests and trials were to make me “insightful.”
There is a scene in the wonderfully odd and profound movie, “American Splendor” in which the protagonist utters a line I will never forget. The movie is the true story of a man who is a file clerk and leads a miserable and negative life. His only solace is turning his miserable life into a comic book. In a bizarre twist of events he meets the girl who will later become his wife. He is reviewing his sad, depressing, and negative life. She offers, “But see how insightful it has made you.” And she holds up one of his comic books.
“I would trade ten years of insight for ten minutes of happiness.”
I’m not ready for that trade, but am tired of taking tests.