Five years ago today my best friend in Toronto (at the time), MGFM, called me and begged me to go with him to a clinic. My Mom was in town, up for Christmas from Houston. Normally I wouldn’t have just gone out and left her with my grandparents. (Not that she wasn’t fine there, just that…you know, it’s Christmas and my Mom was up from another country.) There was something in MGFM’s voice that clued me into something being really, really not right.
The whole story didn’t come out until I was in the car with him.
He’d gotten a message from someone he’d slept with, saying he needed to go get tested for HIV. MGFM and I were positive in the car over to the next town, where they had a quick-acting screening test in a centre that was open two days before xmas. I honestly can’t tell you what I thought was going to happen. I can’t remember after the rest of the insanity that day. What I can say is I’d honestly thought that MGFM wasn’t careful enough. He had a stable of boyfriends…or just boys…who constantly rotated through his affections. He was young, only 19 and about the same age as my brother. I worried like a sister or mother might.
I wasn’t allowed to go with him while he took the test. I actually remember thinking that the woman there (not sure if she was a nurse or what) was quite rude to me. I remembered wondering if she thought I was somehow responsible for him needing to get tested.
Another lady came back out, this one much less grumpy. She came over to me and asked quietly if I was with MGFM. When I told her I was, she asked me if I minded coming back with her. I had a split second of wondering if they’d bother to bring me back if everything was fine. Then a door opened and I saw MGFM crying across from the rude lady, a small square of plastic in front of him. He didn’t acknowledge me, so I stayed at the door and waited.
MGFM asked the rude lady if he could take the test again. She said he could, but nothing would change. She got up to get all the required materials and added to me (with much more compassion), “You can go to him.”
I stood next to MGFM, one arm on his shoulder as he took the screening test again. I watched the reaction in the plastic square turn blue. I would later find out that the test wasn’t specifically for HIV. It was sort of an immune system test. If it was positive, that didn’t mean you had HIV, but it did mean something very serious was attacking your body. Still, given the fact that he’d had a former partner call…it just didn’t seem like it could be anything else.
Immediately he was referred to specialized doctors and Health Canada. His blood had to be taken for the actual HIV test. (As well as a plethora of other blood tests that go along with the treatment of same.) He was told to contact everyone he’d slept with since sleeping with the partner who contacted him. I remember wondering how he would manage to contact them all.
I called my Mom and said I’d be later than expected. MGFM had a weird sense of determination matched up with this wild feeling of spinning out of control. I just don’t think he could figure out what to do and having me there made him feel like one thing in his world was remaining constant.
One of the worst moments of my life was being there when he told his mother.
He’d called her home from work, vaguely saying something about news and needing her home. I think she thought he was going to tell her he was moving out of the house with me. I didn’t want to be there, and when he dragged out the telling for too long (in my mind) I lost my calm and told him to just tell her already.
I wasn’t trying to be a dick, I was just watching his mom rock while sitting on his bed, clearly going a bit crazy herself wondering what was up…how bad it was. I wanted her to stop thinking the worst. It never occurred to me that the truth was probably the worst.
MGFM finally managed, “Mom, I’m sick. Really sick.” She made this noise that still hurts my heart thinking of it five years later. Then she started sobbing and saying no, no. Over and over. I was a spectator to her pain, and I hated it.
In the following year, I went to appointment after appointment with MGFM. I was there for him, to listen and not judge. But something was changing in our relationship. Finally, one day I gave him shit for not going to his appointments unless I accompanied him. I asked him what, exactly, he was going to do if I got hit by a car and died? Would he not ever go again?
You see, besides his family, I was the only person who knew what had happened. At first I think that helped him. He had a solid person to hang onto. But then he came to realize that I could never un-know. Every time he dated someone I wondered at the back of my mind if he’d told them. I was less fun to be around. I become more of a mother figure than anything else. (Also partly because I was just getting older and less inclined to do the club ’til 6am thing.) Eventually, he just stopped returning my calls.
I still think of MGFM often. He was this burst of bright energy when I first moved to TO and didn’t really know anyone outside of family. I miss that energy and I hope he’s still got it.
Every December 23rd since then I think about the day we found out. I think about the many people all over the world who found out this year. I think about pain and sacrifice. I think about a mother’s breaking heart.
I’m religious, so the parallels to Christmas for me are a bit on the nose. I try to feel it all honestly, so that the celebration of Christmas has more weight when it arrives two days later. I also try not to let it devastated me in the same way it did that year. I was shell-shocked that Christmas, and barely remember it.
And that’s why despite the dedicated “awareness” times, December 23rd is my day. It’s my day to remember. My day to hope. Most of all, it’s my day to acknowledge that sometimes people come into your lives for a purpose, and once that purpose is fulfilled, they leave you. (Or you leave them.)
Spawn will likely never know MGFM. It’s possible he’ll come back into my life at some point, but really that seems unlikely. Still, Spawn will know about MGFM. I will tell his story, and my part in it. And maybe it will come out as a warning, but I also hope it comes out as a simple tale of how things happen to people you love. And how sometimes you just have to be there for them until they don’t need you any more.