I was 35 years, 27 days, 5 hours, and 27 minutes old when I found out that I was going to die.
The reader of this might question how exactly I found out. There was nothing peculiar about it. I was at the doctor's office receiving my yearly test. I was propped up on the stand looking around as though it was like the other 34 exams that I have gotten in the past. You may think that the moments before The Awful Moment would have me doing something strange and odd. After all, it's not every day that you learn that you're going to die. But no, I just sat and twitted my thumbs, waiting for Dr. Evans to enter. Sometimes, thoughts of what I was going to do afterwards passed idly through my brain. Pasta sounded good right about now.
He came in, his shoes making a soft thud on the carpet floor. He was a middle aged man, balding, who seemed to desperately want to quit his job so that he could retire in Florida to play golf all day. He was rather short with a nervous chuckle, never seeming at ease with himself. Despite these personal ailments, he was good at his job. The fact that he was cheap didn't hurt either.
He approached me, his eyes looking at the ground rather than at me. If it were any other doctor I would have thought something was wrong. However, this was a normal occurrence between the two of us so I didn't think much of it. Silence continued until he cleared his throat. I reluctantly moved my eyes away from a scene of a mother and a daughter fighting to him. I stared at him expectantly.
He said nothing. I stared harder.
His discomfort was evident. If I looked closely enough, I thought I saw sweat beginning its way down the side of his face. The silence continued.
Finally, he spoke, "I have news for you."
I said nothing.
Dawning on him that I wasn't going to make this easy, he blurted out, "You have HIV."
The rest of the day didn't seem so important after that.
Like many people, I haven't thought much about death. Of course I know I'm going to die. It's inevitable as much as people want to delay it. Life tends to get in the way of existentialistic musings about the purpose of living and whether or not we control our fates. I'm one of those self absorbed people that get too caught up in the drama to realize the truth. In the aftermath of The Awful Moment, I kick myself for not thinking much about it earlier. I sigh. It's rather typical, I suppose.
Much like other people, when I was young, I had these grand plans that I was going to accomplish. Go to Harvard, become the President, have a family before the age of 35, and every other goal that only one percent of the population actually achieve. I haven't accomplished any of them. Instead, I'm a loser who flunked out of college, works a typical 9 to 5 job at a money sucking corporation, and can't find someone who's willing to overlook my negative attributes to marry me. Mom would be so proud.
A couple days pass in a haze of willful ignorance. I wallow in self pity and mindlessly float through life. I don't talk to anyone. I stay at home, ignoring work. I become a modern day hermit.
The buzzer rings. I'm tempted not to answer it. I look back and forth between the trashy talk show and the door, weighing each in my head. The buzzer continues to make its presence known. I would have ignored it just to anger the person responsible but in the end, I decided that was too mean.
The sight that greets me is a peeved, diminutive redhead who looks as though she could kill me right now.
"Hi," I offer, the word sounding lame even to my ears.
Her reaction is instantaneous. She pounds on me fiercely, bellowing curses and shouts along the lines of "Why haven't you called?" and "I thought you were dead!" Her rant continues, her eyes shooting imaginary sparks. When I don't make any effort to calm her, it infuriates her even more. Eventually after a couple of smacks and dire threats, she stops albeit reluctantly. I had promised her the full story only if her screeching campaign to harm me would end. She eyed me suspiciously until she eventually conceded.
I open my mouth, waiting for the words to fall out. Nothing comes so I try again and yet words fail me twice. She grunts impatiently, clearly in no mood for my hesitation. I swallow, saying, "I went to the doctor's about a week ago."
She raises an eyebrow, "So? You always go. How is this any different?"
"Well," I said pausing, trying to figure out in my head the best possible way to phrase this, "it was actually different. He told me some news that might change my life. Scratch that, will change my life." I tapped my fingers nervously before saying, "I have HIV."
"Oh," she said softly. For the first time I have ever known her, she seemed at a loss for words.
I started to ramble, "Yeah. I just couldn't deal with it. I needed to be alone. I didn't mean for you to worry or for anyone at all to think something was wrong. I thought that I had to deal with it by myself, that I'd tell you later-"
"Shh," she said, putting a hand to my mouth. "I get it." She looked at me, glancing up at me as though she had to make sure she was seeing me properly.
We stood together in silence until she broke it by saying, "I guess you must be nervous about God, huh?"
My relationship with God is pretty much nonexistent. I grew up the child of a devoted Christian and a devoted atheist. My parents were never able to figure out how to raise me so I divided my time between the two. I first began life believing in God, thinking that he was there to watch over me. Slowly, as I got older, that disappeared. There was nothing dramatic about it. No life changing event that made me question if he ever existed at all. I just stopped believing because it didn't match up with what happened in real life. It served me well over the past years until now.
The idea that you're going to die soon changes the way you think. Now, I realize that I have a pretty good chunk of time compared to some other diseases, 10 to 15 years rather than 6 months but I started to reexamine my relationship with God. Part of it is fear that he will actually exist but the other is just curiosity. Can the guy that I spent a part of my life dismissing be a tangible force?
So I started researching. I read different philosophies about God. I read the Bible and even started attending some churches. I fell asleep in some of them while in others I wondered what I had been missing all of these years. Religion gets a bad rep these days with hypocrisy spreading amuck yet when I saw members actually doing what they preached, my heart welled. Eventually, I started to think that perhaps, God does exist and that he is a potent force in the world that wasn't absent all of my life.
I was at a hospital, waiting for a friend who was visiting his uncle. He was undergoing treatment for cancer and spent the past few miserable weeks losing hair, weakening rapidly, and growing thinner. My friend had asked me to come along for support, not knowing of my condition, and I couldn't say no. I went along, uncomfortable with the sense of death that pervaded throughout the place. I sat on the plastic chairs outside of the room. I couldn't sit still. I must have looked like an overgrown two year old.
"Is this your first time here?"
It comes from a woman who looked like she had seen better days. She couldn't have been out of her thirties yet there were wrinkles framing her forehead and tight lines around her mouth. She was dressed modestly, in an old shirt and pants that were too baggy for her small frame. She wore no makeup but didn't need it anyways.
I turn to her, uncomfortable. "I've been here before when I broke my leg but other than that, no," I said, shrugging, trying to pull off a careless air.
"Oh," she said quietly, nodding to herself, "I thought it was since you looked so nervous. My mistake."
I turn in my seat towards her, "Why are you here?"
I had never asked a question so direct before.
She smiled wanly, "I'll tell you if you tell me."
And so I began. It started with my friend and his ailing uncle, and my duty as a friend to support him. Then slowly as I started to reveal more, I told her about my HIV positive status, my fears on life and my eventual fate after death. I mused whether or not thirty five years living on planet Earth had been wasted on a pedestrian like me. Eventually I said everything I had wanted to say to someone but couldn't because there was no one to confide in. When my long diatribe ended, she sat there with her hands folded calmly in her lap.
"So that's what scares you? God?" she said.
She said it so dismissively that it made me envious.
I snorted, "Why wouldn't he? I spent the last twenty something years acting like he doesn't exist. According to a lot of people, he doesn't exactly forgive a heathen."
She stared thoughtfully, "I actually think that God's opinion is overrated. If you ask me, more people should be pissed off at him than sucking up to him."
"I'm guessing this is coming from a bitter person."
"You deserve a cheap, made in China prize for that. Why do you think I'm here?"
"Because you like sitting on plastic chairs?"
"I'd go to the food court for that. Actually my son's here for the same reason as your friend's uncle. Coincidence, huh?"
"I," I gasped, "am so sorry."
"So is the rest of the world," she murmured, "so is the rest of the world. He's only seven years old. I'm out here since it hurts too much to be in there. My husband's the braver one."
I was about to reply when a nurse comes, whispering to her in a hushed, hurried tone. They both rush off. A few minutes pass and I see her on the floor weeping.
It's funny how sometimes in the grand scheme of things, it's the moments like that change your life in ways you can't imagine. After the incident at the hospital, I quit my visits to random churches and stopped wondering about God. I stopped caring and resumed my former apathy. My life went on as normal.
I am sitting here, writing this long narrative in hopes that maybe someone can take something from this. I do not hope for much considering that in all honesty, I'm a loser in life. My final words are that when I die, I am not afraid.
Thank you for reading my story. Opinions are welcome.