Thrown into a sobering reality, in his own words Dustin Smith tells what it was like when he learned he tested positive.
It was a day I won’t forget.
I have always been a healthy child; very few illnesses to speak of and very few of the “unwanted visitors” that come along with being a sexually active gay man. I’m referring to HIV/AIDS, the worst of the unwanted visitors, the one that can kill your social life, your mental well-being and throw you into the fire without a moment’s warning.
I spent several years as an advocate, spending time with those who have HIV and were in need of an ear to listen or educating those who knew little to nothing about it. I have been a safe player, using protection when necessary.
I moved into the area about two months ago and routinely got an HIV test. I went into AIDS Network and told the volunteer I was there for their free testing. She called one of the testing guys up, and I went back to the room for the test.
We started talking about the test, and I mentioned I knew it took 20 minutes. We talked a little about gay Madison as I have been looking for social outings in the area. It was a fun talk and in no time the 20 minutes were up. The entire time the test was facing away from us, then he flipped it around and said, “It’s reactive.” I was in a complete state of shock. My response was, “Are you kidding?”
He said no.
I looked as white as a ghost and was thinking, “Oh my god, what am I supposed to do now?” Everything I knew from years of prevention and advocating caused my mind to go blank. I was then told that a city nurse had to draw blood for the second test to make sure that the first was correct.
While waiting, my mind flashed to a picture of my partner, family and friends and past conversations we had about this, and some of the worst comments I got from them. I was so upset, but I couldn’t cry. It was a dead silent scream in my head.
When I realized about five minutes had passed, I told the testing person I needed to step out and go to my partner who was next door to let him know. He asked me if I was ok going by myself. I said, “Yep, I’ll be back in a few. Come get me when the nurse gets here.” I stepped outside and for a moment, and I stopped breathing. When I caught my breath, I walked over to my partner. He instinctively asked if something was wrong. I responded by saying, “I need to talk to you outside.”
I was still stone-faced and pale when we got outside. I said exactly what had transpired moments before. As soon as I told him it came back positive, I let out the tears that wouldn’t come out in the office. I told him that I had to run back to the Network for the nurse. I got in there and they had four people telling me not to jump to conclusions, that we wouldn’t know for sure for a week.
That week passed so slowly. I returned, and the test had come back positive. I completely blanked again as the director of life services came in and asked me if I had questions. She told me the services they offered for positive clients. She talked for a few minutes, which seemed like hours in my mind and then said, “A lot of people don’t remember this information, so we have it in print.” I still have it in my night stand.
I have many times since that day had quite a few interesting conversations with my partner and about his supportive efforts in this struggle. Which makes the days easier, but then ugliness rears its head and people who I thought were friends shut me out, make me cry and disown me because of something inside me that has nothing to do with who I am as a person.
I got online and was bombarded with questions asking how I got it. Most assumed I barebacked. A few even suggested I was a bug chaser—one of those people who go after the disease. It made me furious. I wanted to reach through the computer and choke the idiot saying it. I logged off feeling a bit angered and annoyed. Just because I am 22 and HIV-positive they think it was something I did to provoke heartache and pain into my life. My infection was not from barebacking or cheating. To my knowledge it was from some date I had; even with protection the infection occurred.
My message to anyone out there who thinks like that is this: Put yourself in my shoes, and even if you try, you will have no understanding of how I feel.
It’s like standing on top of a cliff… some days you feel like you’re falling… others, you’re on top of the world. I still don’t know a lot about what’s going on inside me with this disease, but soon enough I will find out more and know where this will lead me.
My parting thought is this: Be nice to someone you don’t know, as you don’t know their story.You don’t know how close to the edge of falling off they are.