“What kind of person does this?”
I teetered on one leg in the bedroom doorway, hurriedly trying to hoist up my underwear. Nearly 40 years of getting dressed, and suddenly the whole process seemed labored and clumsy. I needed to leave, to be far from the name-calling, far from that look of disappointment, far from everything that had just happened. Or, more accurately, that hadn’t happened but should have.
This may not have been the first time I’d hastily thrown on clothes and slunk away from a hookup into the bright, mocking glare of daylight. But, I’d never experienced a walk of shame until now.
For months, I had chatted online with Paolo (not his real name). South American, athletic, handsome; from everything in his profile, he definitely fit my type and he pursued me aggressively. Finally, one Sunday morning, I acquiesced.
When I arrived at his place, he immediately answered the door and didn’t disappoint. He led me to the bedroom, my hand firmly grasped in his. We kissed and a lingering note of tobacco — normally a turnoff — tasted earthy and rich on his tongue. A ceiling fan half-heartedly pushed hot, heavy air around the room. Quickly, shirts were shed, shorts pulled down, underwear yanked off and heaped on the floor.
Paolo pushed me down onto the bed and climbed on top of me. He held me down, his chest firm and damp with sweat. He used his knees to drive my legs apart and pushed himself into me. He was strong and his breath, moist on my ear, huffed in short guttural sighs. Each thrust drove harder until the last, when his body slackened and he finished with a soft kiss to my neck.
Panting and spent, we rolled over onto our backs. I let out a shy, nervous laugh and watched the blades of the ceiling fan circle overhead. I liked this guy. I wondered if he might want to go out on an actual date.
“You’re negative, right?” I turned toward him, our eyes locked. Not only had he broken the silence, he’d shattered it.
A rapid-fire internal dialogue took its place: How do I respond?
I could lie. Just tell him I’m negative. I’m undetectable and healthy, after all. He’d never know. I mean, I hadn’t really put him at risk, right? Ugh, now I’m just rationalizing.
Of course I have to tell him the truth. I don’t lie about my status. I’ve been HIV-positive for over eight years. I don’t hide it. Everyone close to me knows. Clearly, he must know too, right?
Damn it. Why is he asking me this now? He seriously can’t think negative guys go around bottoming strangers unprotected. Can he? There’s a bottle of lube and stack of condoms on the nightstand behind his head. Why hadn’t he grabbed them? Why hadn’t I?
All of that in a half-second eternity before I replied, “No, I’m positive.”
Paolo jolted upright. His face contorted. Was it disbelief? Or disdain. “You need to get out.”
How had this gone so wrong? I’m up-front with my sexual partners about my status. Why not today? And if Paolo had such concerns, why not ask me beforehand? Was all he needed to hear that I was negative? What if I’d said it through deceit or because I didn’t really know? Would he have barebacked me anyway and then just gone about his day?
I regret neither of us made different choices that morning. But we hadn’t. I hadn’t. In the end, I can only be responsible for my own actions, and I had made a mistake.
So I left Paolo’s house, slinking out into the bright, mocking glare of daylight, feeling shame — not shame for being positive, but because I hadn’t been up-front, owned my status, and behaved true to myself all along.
Bart Lily is a pseudonym.