What Story Do I Tell?
The first installment of Don Short's new column, "Stories in Transit".
If you could see the words spinning above my head, they spiral me in ever-expanding circles, spinning frenetically into a combustible tale.
The unexpected arc of this story shaped by words spoken in a doctor’s office.
You are HIV Positive.
This alone, not a standout storyline - quite uneventful these days, for I now blend in with a community of HIV positive story-tellers. As long-term survivors, our stories are numerous and celebratory. We didn’t die and the lives we now live carry us forward to a future we did not expect to have, or even dare dream about. We are incidentally reminded, on any given day, that there are far worse things to strike us down.
I avoid oncoming traffic in the same way most would do.
I now care. I have life back in my hands.
I also have hope in my back pocket- the opportunity somewhere down my storyline to thank science for rewriting the last chapter of my life as it advances towards the reality of a vaccine and cure – an epilogue waiting patiently to land.
But as storytellers know far too well, the heroic lives of those who have gone before us give power and substance to the stories we tell. My legacy now surfaces in the words I write and how I scribe them from a tireless hand.
In this present isthmus, I sojourn to arrive.
I was born to engage with the world, touched by forces inside and outside my body.
Love, hate, fear, faith, oxygen, water, nutrients, dreams. I marvel at these components of grand design, knowing my body was somehow built to handle their influence.
In living, I have embraced the good. The “oh so bad” was questioned, though often embraced with the good; a polarity of struggle present since my youth. The constant tension surfacing marked by my questioning: Who am I? Who do I love? Who could love me? Where am I going? How do I get there?
Science has never answered my questions. Science has informed me of my immunity, a built-in screening filter for unwelcomed invasions. This measure of resiliency proved beneficial for 40 years of my life until a fateful virus, equipped to glitch my immune system, entered my body during the summer of 2005.
Like the central character of any great story, he or she must confront or defeat his antagonist while demonstrating resilience in the struggle.
HIV was a foe I did not understand.
Upon diagnosis, I was thrown into a mysterious conflict. I studied my enemy’s tactile manoeuvres, immersing myself in online investigation. I sought out information. I became awestruck by the lives of HIV positive men and women – personal stories of survival that were heartfelt yet often laced with misinformation. I became more discerning once more characters entered the parameters of my story’s scope - men and woman living out their story before me…in real time.
In the years that followed my diagnosis, I widened the story parameters by immersing myself in the work of HIV/AIDS, impacting the HIV community on local and national fronts. Two stories were now spinning at the same time. I was living with HIV while actively working in the HIV sector.
Momentum, as the plot developed, perpetuated a chaotic crescendo. The weight of its action buried me beneath the pages.
An investment of energy, resource and pursuit brought me to an unexpected turn. My eight years of casework now personally catalogued. Forgotten by most.
…flip back a page or two…you will find chapters with riveting detail.
I made it to the present end of what could be considered my lost chronicle; a dusty, worn-torn treatise but a valued treasure for anyone who stumbles upon its finding. I have no intention of being placed on a hidden shelf. I took a pen in hand - scribbled and scratched, even forged another destiny. I surfaced above statistical documentation and service delivery. I survived the impositions of misplaced power in not-for-profits.
Now, even today, I choose to forget the war that waged for my very soul. I make room for crisp white pages and rewrite many wrongs that were done to me - and by me - during that time.
Expectancy now fills my open sky. I am being watched from above; the wider circle envelops.
I am somehow protected and guided in my story making. The words that now spin above me are collectively making sense. I pull them in and ponder over their significance for me - and their relevance for others. I feel compelled to arrange sentences and compute them into meaningful articulation, so that what I write down, will have magical, profound impact.
This gives purpose and planning to my story.
This is where the circle of my story closes in and shapes the man I am to become.