“When do I tell her?” for the AIDS2018 conference in Amsterdam (ENG)


When do I tell her?

As the wine flows, so does the conversation. More personal. More intimate. The initial shyness, nervousness and reluctance are replaced by a testing ground of interests, passions and past-times. First dates don’t always go like this.

The candlelit bar flickers in her beautiful dark eyes. Her honest, exaggerated laugh echoes my lame jokes.

Unlike so many other times, I really hit it off with this one. Talking of her literary favorites, quoting one or the other author, I take her around the world on my adventures. The air thickens with anticipation.

Another round of the dark and heavy red, we both have an idea for the rest of the evening. And yet we keep it hidden. The longer we refrain, the more tense it gets.

As the evening progresses, so does our body language. It takes over the conversation, to replace the light touches and shy glances with the first passionate kiss. Eyes closed we embark on the beautiful excitement of first times.

I inhale her scent, her bodies perfume and we give in to our bodies commands to let the hands do the talking. That wonderful desire to simply have body contact with the other. To touch at every opportunity. In closeness I observe that delicate collarbone. Those silver earrings. The gentle fingers. That oddly placed freckle. The perfect imperfections. We lose our bearings – staring into each others eyes the world around blurs into oblivion.

Having paid we head out into the streets, entangled in an embrace, knowing where we want to go, but we both hesitate. Like teenagers we can’t stop touching one another. Tongues twisting in tact. Hair disheveled. We both carry the smeared lipstick on our juvenile grins. Time to set course…to hers or mine. Into the uncharted.

And yet I stop. I start breathing heavily. I place her hands into mine. I’ve been here too often before. I memorize her face – her expression. Of happiness and joy and what-nows. For I know I’ll never see it again. I look away and under the lantern-lit alleys of Vienna, I take a deep breath…

“Theres something I feel I should tell you…” I say, clenching my jaw. She looks curious – expecting me to invite her or suggest the next moves… Eyebrows raised in seductive manner, she asks “yes….?”

I look away. Sweaty palms, slightly shaky. I can’t look her in the eyes – that would reveal too much agony. Head held in shame, I say.. “fuck… ok, umm…” I stumble on the tiny murmurs coming from my mouth…”I think you should know that I’m hiv positive…”.

And I lock my eyes on hers. Awaiting the reaction. Over the past years I’ve become excellent at reading expressions. Her panic stricken eyes already give me the story that’s unwinding. Its been like this too often. Over and over. I can see that infamous vertigo zoom surrounding her. Her breath stopping. Her eyes screaming silently in fear. An expression I have had to endure so many times – when telling my family, my friends, other lovers… When I became the messenger of a deadly tale that asked more questions than it answered.

And she was gone…watching that internal movie reel of questions and confusion in front of her. Shock and awe. Staring into the headlights, unable to move. “What was that again? Is it contagious by saliva? Sex? A touch?” Half-knowledge is dangerous and ever-present. Her life passes before her eyes, scraping together the bits and pieces of information that were battered into our teenage brains at the height of the aids epidemic….trying to find answers to questions she didn’t quite know.

There goes our future. I knew the procedure from here. Emotions take over, throwing facts and the rational overboard.

I can tell her about me being un-infectious. In fact, about me being safer than most people. Quasi the safest bet, for at least I know what I carry, and that its under control. About having children, about the ridiculous normality of life. Every detail of the virus I’ve come to know so well, and about its dormant state, due to my daily intake of medication. Not dangerous. Not infectious. Of viral loads and detection limits. Not able to be passed on. How safe I am on every level. How I get tested every three months. Fact after fact. Truth after truth.

But there are far greater powers at work now. Fears about a foreign virus inside the body. Primal fears as ancient as mankind – that were simply enhanced in the 90s. The price of pleasure and its punishment. Fear of poison. Of infection. Of difficulty. Dirty. Angst. Panic.

Not only that. Upon meeting someone new, there’s the beautiful, naïve and silly blindspot of attraction. You know the person has had lovers before – but you don’t want to acknowledge that. You ignore it. Pretend that person is untarnished and new. Not second hand.

You don’t want to know about previous lovers and affairs and those details…and here I was – tarnished. Stained with someone else’s poison. Dirty and used. Quite a fucking moodkiller.

And now it would continue as it always does. The long talk while walking the streets slowly, knowing it was over. Tensionless. About what it means, about the facts that don’t matter anymore, about where it happened.

“Do you know who gave it to you?” is on her mind – but nobody ever dares to ask it. Its never the “who” question. That would be too real. Too intimate. Too close to this strange, distant thing that suddenly became too real and too close…

We say goodbye. I walk home alone in freezing summer darkness. Regretting my ch confession.She writes me on facebook a day later. A few more times over the next weeks. Out of pity. Out of guilt. Out of confusion maybe. But I’m erased. I represent emotional difficulty, torn feelings and especially danger. A reality nobody wants to get too close to. Uncomfortable confrontation with uncomfortable fears. I always think the expression “dodging a bullet” is on their min

If I do see her again, it’s a chance encounter with awkward silences, and her carrying a very guilty and strained expression. And a few months later I’ll see her post pictures with a bland new boyfriend…

…and then I breath out.

The lantern still alight and holding her hands, I look at her again. My palms still sweaty. The night as warm and summery as always.

“Whats the matter?” she asks, still anticipating my next move.

“No, nothing…I just had to think of something” I replied, snapping out from the images that flashed before my eyes. The images that have haunted me from prior confessions.

I readjusted my mask, and put the virus back where it won’ t bother me for the next few hours. I lift her chin and kissed her passionately.

“How about a drink at my place?” I return to the charm that got me here. “I have some great wines to choose from…”