I’ve known for a long time that my brother was HIV positive. I’ve known for a long time that he would be at the mercy of an endless array of drugs, treatments, and doctors for the rest of his life. I’ve even known, deep down somewhere, that more than likely one of the myriad opportunistic diseases that prey on the weakened immune systems of HIV patients will eventually be what takes his life. I know that he works hard to live, but that sometimes it feels like more than he thinks he can bear.

Always, though, there is a disconnect. Maybe no more than that I am not my brother. Maybe no more than a human inability to truly acknowledge mortality. Maybe distance. Maybe fear. Maybe denial. Maybe selfishness. Maybe weakness. Maybe.

I can hug my brother, laugh with my brother, eat with my brother, share a soda with my brother and not acknowledge the fact that he has HIV. I have talked to him about how the side effects of his medicines make him feel tired, or tingly, nauseated, or itchy. I have looked in his cabinet and seen rows of white prescription bottles, and watched him take pills from those bottles. And while I certainly wasn’t completely unaffected, somehow none of these things were able to penetrate the thick skin I had developed to deal (or not) with his disease.

Now I’m standing beside him with a hypodermic syringe in my latex-gloved hand. My other hand rests on the shoulder on which I used to ride. Part of my brain is listening to my brother tell me how to angle the needle–“no, a little bit more than a 45 degree angle”–and depress the plunger. Another part is thinking “I can do this because I love him.” I prick him once because I pull back suddenly. His blood looks just the same as mine. And then I do it, just like he does three times every day–stick the needle in, depress the plunger, extract the needle. . .

For that moment, the needle under his skin had penetrated mine. For that moment I was fighting his HIV just as hard as he was. Right then, I knew, and I didn’t think anything could ever be the same again.


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A blog about my life and other stuff.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.

Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)


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