Living the Questions
BY Tyler Helms
November 03 2010 4:40 PM ET
With December 1 fast approaching, I've been catapulted into a place of reflection, looking back on this year. The questions are plenty. What had I hoped to be feeling in a year’s time? Had I expected that initial sense of freedom to last? Had I been prepared for all that would follow?
So much good — new friends, new issues, and perhaps a new perspective to a few. But as I thought back on the past year, something still seemed to be missing. I had, in many ways, a very full life, but I still lived a very lonely one. A life without true intimacy. I have had sex, I have been on dates, and I finally had that random make-out session I had longed for since going public last December. But this intimacy I wanted was something more — something beyond the physical, something we all long for, and something those with HIV often fear might not come their way again ... physical or not.
Essentially it's a connection, shared between two people, but one void of disease, absent of judgment. Pure. And so as the year closes on December 1, with this void, I can’t help wonder if the truth really did set me free. Introductions come often these days, a good thing. And so on a random Sunda,y another introduction seemed like nothing more than just that. But this introduction, this one person, has helped me to articulate what I spent almost a year trying to understand. His name is unimportant in this context; his presence and actions are what matter.
From the moment I was introduced to this guy at the door of my apartment, I was taken aback by his disposition, his mannerisms, and his seemly mysterious approach to life. He took a quick interest in my life, and in a few short hours I was caught in a gravitational pull that I soon found out was simply him. He is, of course, gay, a few years younger than me, recently out of a relationship, and also an advocate of living honestly. The Monday following our introduction, we exchanged e-mails, some of the most honest conversations I've had with anyone to this day, particularly so early in a friendship. He shared with me — failures from the years before, raw emotion left from his recent breakup, and his fear of all those things that left him feeling, in his words, “unsafe.”
And I shared with him — my past three relationships, the pain, the love that still existed, and of course my public disclosure and ongoing journey with HIV. Our relationship was built on transparency from the start, something he seemed to admire in me, something I had not expected from him. In two short weeks I felt like I knew him more than some of my closest friends. He and I went to dinner and then out on the town, not unlike any two friends might do on a Friday. Dinner, to me, was amazing — conversation like I had not had in ages. He challenged me, he captivated me, and he amazed me. He made me smile. It was more than a crush and more than an admiration. It was a state of being I didn’t know how to articulate.
That evening we went out and dropped in on New York City’s gay Friday night party Rockit. The scene was too familiar. I had come to know New York on a level I wish I hadn’t. Many of the faces I saw that night had shared their stories — some in secrecy, some not so kind. This lens into the masses often kept me on edge in public settings. But I found myself quickly forgetting the familiar faces, dancing, drinking, and singing. I spotted a guy who had taken me on a date just weeks before but was shocked when he discovered my status. He waved from a distance. I nodded, I didn’t care. The night ended around 2:30 a.m. He came back to my apartment — the very place we had been introduced just three weeks earlier. It was late; both of us intoxicated, he lived far away, and the natural invite for him to stay ensued.
Before I could finish my nightly routine, he was fast asleep in my bed. He must not have noticed the sheets I had pulled out for the couch. I realized later that I didn’t seem to care that he had hadn’t showered (a prerequisite for most anyone who shares my sheets). I warned him of my tendency to have very bad dreams as result of my medication. He mumbled, “It’s fine.” It felt so natural, though so foreign. And as I crawled into bed, I realized why and tears began to well. For the first time in nearly a year I was sharing my bed with someone else. It was a sad realization, in part because for him this was just a place to sleep, crashing at a friend’s. For me, it was likely the most intimate I had been with anyone in nearly 12 months. The brush of a foot to a foot is as intimate as we would get; no kiss, no contact, no sex. But in that moment I felt for the first the time an emotion I thought HIV had long since killed.