In Reality Bites, Janeane Garafalo refers to the free clinic HIV test as “the rite of passage for our generation,” and I think she’s right on the money. Whether the choice to get tested is simply a precaution or the result of some hazy drunk shenanigans, it’s something that every university student ought to do. And hear you me, it’s a thought-provoking trial.
I had my first HIV test with my family doctor, who has known me since infancy. I think this only made things more awkward when, clad in a paper gown that I definitely had put on backwards, I gathered the stugots to look her in the face and tell her, “I want to be tested. For everything.” She immediately asked if I had broken up with my boyfriend. I answered, “Yes” and was grateful that she skipped on questions about the split. This was really just a reprieve, however, because I guess she considered a pelvic exam a more appropriate time to have girl talk.
While inserting a speculum, she busted out, “Do you think he cheated on you?”
“Uh,” I managed, “Maybe?”
With the swabs for gonorrhea and chlamydia came, “So, having fun finally being single?” I began to question my supposedly carefree single life, and could only think of how terrible it would be to have to call every conquest of the past year to tell them I had the clap.
Before going down to the lab for the HIV test, my doctor sat down with me to fill out the form. “Are you having the test because of an encounter?” she asked delicately. My mind went blank: if I wasn’t doing any “encountering,” would I be having this test? “A…suspicious encounter,” she qualified. Furrowing my eyebrows, I mentally ran through the men I have slept with like a photo album of mug shots. A motley crew, yes, but not exactly Robert-Pickton-type-suspicious or anything, so I felt okay telling her it was just precautionary.
She told me I could expect the results in about two weeks, and she’d only call if there was a problem.
The HIV test itself was fine, even for me, a bona fide needle-phobe. However, having come to the doctor the morning after a night of heavy drinking, I was maybe looking a little worse for wear. Still in a red dress from the night before, I sat sweating in the vinyl chair, waiting for my injection. The lab technician eyed me skeptically. I think she thought that I looked like a suspicious encounter.
In the weeks that followed, I relentlessly called my doctor’s office asking if they had the results yet. “Honey, we’ll give you a call if anything is wrong, you gotta just chill out,” the receptionist cooed. Easy for her to say, I thought melodramatically, when here I was possibly – no, probably – dying of AIDS.
When I finally got the green light that everything was fine, I felt like my sense of self had returned. It had been a strange period in limbo, a time of anxiety, reflection, and swabbing, but it was well worth the peace of mind. That’s all until next summer, when I get to relive the mystery.