Different?

This essay appeared in the health magazine SexVibe and was written in the weeks preceding the death of Shane Michael Sawick.

My boyfriend Shane has AIDS.  I’m HIV negative.  We’re what would be considered a sero-different couple.  Do I feel different from Shane?  Not significantly.  We laugh together, we cry together, we enjoy the same things–traveling, quiet nights with friends.  The only times it truly slaps me in the face are in the morning when we divvy up his pills and my vitamins, or in the all too frequent moments when he’s in pain.

I was aware of Shane’s status well before we ever got together.  He’d come to speak to a group I was volunteering for, and I was intrigued from the moment he entered the room.  (Although at the time, I denied it.)  He was wearing blue jean overalls and a bright orange shirt.  Funny, the details you remember.  Despite my attraction, we didn’t have sex until we’d been dating a month — not because I was concerned about contracting HIV, but because I needed to be sure.  In the past, too often have I confused love and sex.  This time, I wouldn’t become emotionally attached until I was confident that I wouldn’t bail at the first ugly moment.

At the time, I guess I romanticized the idea of sickness and death.  I pictured a somewhat muted version of Terms of Endearment, with me playing Shirley MacClaine.  There would be great highs and great lows, I imagined.  What I didn’t, or wouldn’t, envision was the boredom.  The long hours in doctor’s waiting rooms.  The endless time spent staring at a television set because that is about all Shane can do.

After two years of togetherness, with no true major Opportunistic Infections, Shane recently took a turn for the worse.  Although the brain biopsy results are not yet in, everyone is sure that Shane has contracted PML.  No one says that, of course.  Have to wait for the test results.  But it is there, in their eyes; in the way they speak, carefully and gently.

For the past month, Shane has lain in bed, getting up only to go to the bathroom, to the doctors, or on one of his mandated walks.  But he cannot walk unassisted.  He can barely speak.  He has to be fed.  It is this part of AIDS that I had blocked from my mind.  I knew it existed, of course.  But I did not want it to exist.  I did not want to be involved in the horror of watching someone slip away.  Where is that editor who can cut quickly to the funeral, bypassing the pain?

Recent weeks have been difficult for me.  I dread the approach of each caring face, inquiring about Shane, about me.  “Who do you talk with, Kergan?  Who do you share things with?  You’re so closed off.  You’re such a good actor.”  Fuck you.  As if I don’t care.  As if I’m impervious to the pain, anger, and rage that wells up inside of me every day.  From the minute I wake up to bathe and feed Shane, to the hours I attempt to focus on work; everything is done with the knowledge that tomorrow could be my last day with him.  And yet, even with that knowledge, I have certain responsibilities, to myself and to Shane.  It may seem heartless, but prescriptions have to be ordered and picked up; doctors called and updated; countless friends stop by or phone–each one needing the latest; rent, credit cards, disability forms, utilities, food, tax time…

Part of me wants this to be over–now.  And there’s another part that clings to the hope that Shane will be one of the small percentage who totally recover from PML.  This situation could go on for months, or it could be over tomorrow.  As much as I want what’s best for Shane, I can’t help but selfishly wonder what is in store for me.  Will I be a basket case?  Will I move on?  Will I love again?

Love is the bottom line here.  I do what I can, what has to be done, because I love Shane.  I love him as I have never loved before.  And I don’t want to see that end.

But if it should, and I do go on and find love with someone else, what will I do if they’re positive as well?  Will I be willing to go through this again?  Will I chicken out and play it safe?  I hope not.  Real love is rare.  It is neither the high notes of a soprano, nor the dungeons of despair.  Love is the boredom of doling out pills, not because you want to, but because you couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  I want that love.  I want it with Shane.

Shane Michael Sawick, age 38, actor and coordinator of the Southern California AIDS Hotline, died on March 22, 1995 at 12:22 PM, due to complications from AIDS.  He is deeply missed.

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